Imagine you could slow down aging just by cutting down on the calories you consume daily. A new study at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City has proven that living a calorie-concious life results in slower aging. Led by professor of epidemiology, Dan Belsky, the study pointed out that over 220 healthy adults who consumed up to 2000 calories daily, reduced it by 25% notable results were recorded. He and his team found out that compared to people who maintained their normal calorie intake, people who cut their calories slowed the pace of their aging by 2% to 3%. By slowing aging by 2-3%, Belsky added that they increased their longevity by 10-15%.
Aging is a natural process and everyone who lives long enough would go through it. While it is inevitable, many people try to delay aging via unsustainable methods like controlling the wrinkling of their skins, greying of their hair, etc. With this new study showing that a calorie-restricted diet may slow down the aging process in healthy adults, there is likely to be a surge of interest in the potential health benefits of calorie restriction. This is especially so because it has been scientifically proven to impact the health and longevity of people across the world.
How does it work? Calorie restriction is a diet in which caloric intake is reduced, leading to a decrease in weight and body fat. This type of diet has proven to have positive effects on various health markers and has been linked to longer lifespan and lower risk of age-related diseases. The results of the study carried out by Professor Dan Belsky and his team showed that adults who followed a calorie-restricted diet for 6 months had a decrease in oxidative stress and an increase in levels of sirtuin, a protein that is associated with increased lifespan.
Aside from this, the results were arrived at after comparing data collected with the algorithm created by studying 1000 people over a period of 20 years to ascertain the speed at which vital organs like the liver, lungs, kidneys, and heart declined over time. The algorithm, according to Professor Belsky, became a kind of “speedometer,” which helped the research team to measure the “speed” of the aging process of the 220 people in the study. While the results of this study are exciting, the calorie-restricted diet is for healthy people. This means that it is not recommended for people with an existing health condition. Hence, a calorie-restricted diet should only be followed under the guidance of a physician, as it can lead to negative effects for a sick person.
Some argue that in Africa, where many people struggle with malnutrition and hunger, the calorie-restricted diet may not be the best option. Despite this, healthy and well-nourished Africans can be placed on a calorie-regulated diet to slow down aging. In addition to this, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a combination of balanced diets and regular physical activity to help maintain good health, reduce the risk of age-related diseases, and ultimately lead to longevity.
Another important point to note is that participants in the study received behaviorial counselling about dieting for about 24 weeks. This contributed to enlightening the participants and helping them make sense of the study. This is why physicians who place people on restricted-calorie diet should draw up programs that provide education and resources on nutrition and healthy eating for optimum and longterm results. This can help them make informed decisions about their diets as modification of lifestyle and behavior is key to consciously slowing the pace of biological aging.
In conclusion, the recent discovery that a calorie-restricted diet may slow down the aging process in healthy adults is exciting, but it is important to note that this type of diet is for healthy people only. By reducing the calories available to the body, you put some pressure on it to judiciously use what is available but this pressure will result in further breakdown for an unhealthy person. For this study to be of greater impact in Africa, we need to fight malnutrition, increase access to food, educate our people about nutrition, and encourage regular exercise. With these in place, more Africans will have an enabling environment to work towards a healthier life and be able to try calorie-restricted diets.
Ehi-kowoicho Ogwiji is a storyteller and science writer who advocates for a science-literate Africa. She aspires to be a science development communicator and leader of important conversations around gender imbalances in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine) in Africa and around the world. She writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Connect with her on social media @ogwijiehi or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org