I am currently trying to starve a cold (due less to science, and more to a phlegm-induced lack of appetite), so I guess this might count as good news. According to recent research reported by USA Today — “Could ‘extreme’ low-cal diets bring longer, healthier life?” — living in a state of constant deprivation might help extend your life. (Though it’s debatable just how happy you’ll be in the meantime if you have to forsake fried chicken, key lime pie and pork belly sandwiches. But maybe I’m just projecting.)
Science has already determined that slashing the caloric intake of mice and monkeys will prolong life. And the new research, from Washington University, found that people who do the same have lower core body temperatures, which helps the body function at maximum efficiency. And slashing calories, by the way, does not actually mean starving oneself. Individuals who restrict calories to optimize lifespan consume about 25 percent fewer calories than typically recommended.
Another study at the University of California, San Francisco is attempting to gauge the potential health benefits of restricting calories. Participants from England, Japan and across the United States are being tested for cognitive and physical measurements, including body fat, sleep patterns and stress levels.
So far, the results are inconclusive. USA Today quoted researcher Janet Tomiyama: “It’s an interesting paradox because restriction in animals seems to be the fountain of youth, but all my prior work in humans has shown not such great outcomes.”
The concept of caloric restriction also raises questions about quality of life. Are people who restrict their calories by 25 percent living five more miserable years? I have read previous interviews with people who restrict calories and they report feeling cold and hungry most of the time. Plus, food intake has to be monitored vigilantly to ensure that a precise number of calories isn’t being exceeded — so good luck mindlessly sneaking a couple of bites of your friend’s Reuben sandwich. Though, others have reported a surge in energy levels and that they no longer get colds or the flu.
So what do you think? Would you make a significant cut in calories if science could demonstrate that it would add years to your life?