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Fat Tuesday: Caloric Restriction’s Days Are Numbered

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” – Mark Twain

Twain may have been correct about health, but longevity  may be another matter altogether. Eat, drink, and be merry… if you want to die: that is what the evidence has shown for the last 75 years, right? In a way, perhaps it was too good to be true: go on a diet and live happily ever after… forever. Well, not forever, but, yes, for significantly longer. It still seems to be a robust finding in mice and rats, where lifetimes are short and easily measured in the lifetime of a single grant funding cycle. But a recent careful, well-controlled, and decade-spanning study from a group at the National Institute on Aging has shown that, whereas monkeys that are put on a restricted diet long-term may be healthier than monkeys that are fed 50% more, they don’t live longer. But you have to admit, the monkeys do look spritely.

Nature 489, 318–321 (13 September 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11432


Stephen L. Macknik About the Author: Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik are laboratory directors at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Follow on Twitter @illusionchasers.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. c laird478 8:02 am 04/10/2013

    With the mice, they probably did the calorie restriction on fat mice, which prolonged their lives just like reducing the weight and cholesterol level of fat people would prolong their lives by reducing their risk of heart disease and diabetes from obesity.

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  2. 2. Heteromeles 10:00 am 04/10/2013

    The link given leads to a sign-in at Arizona State. It would be nice to see even an abstract of the original paper.

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  3. 3. geojellyroll 11:16 am 04/10/2013

    The monkeys in the photo have life spans much longer than a decade…how can ten year study show anything?

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  4. 4. OlgatheGreat 3:43 pm 04/10/2013

    To point out: neither the experimental nor the control group had unrestricted caloric intake. It’s just that the control group had a limit at what the researchers considered “sufficient” and the control was “limited.”

    The other study (which **does** show CR extending primate’s lifespans) had a control group where the monkeys were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Arguably, that approximates modern conditions much better.

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