Caloric restriction for long life? The results are mixed.

A new, 25-year study of rhesus monkeys is muddying the waters around the theory that heavily limiting the number of calories you eat can prolong your life. You've probably heard about the studies with worms, and mice, and rats, showing that those animals live longer, healthier lives when they eat significantly less food than control animals. But, as Nature News points out, those results aren't always consistent from study-to-study—a fact which suggests we don't really understand all the factors in play just yet. In fact, the new rhesus study flatly contradicts a previous rhesus study. But that previous experiment could have been flawed because control monkeys were fed high-sugar foods in unlimited quantities, rather than a reasonable, healthy diet. Basically, if animals really do live longer on super-low calorie diets, there's probably more going on there than just super-low calorie diets.


  1. I’ve always had questions about it’s validity, especially as it extrapolates to humans.  We’ve plenty of examples of cultures, individuals, societies, famine where folks are always hungry, and it hasn’t been noted that being hungry is associated with longevity.  Cyclical dieting (which is what fad dieting often leads to)  has been generally associated with poorer health.  To suggest severe calorie restriction is a rational long term approach for living longer in humans seems sketchy to me.  I know, no one here or in the article is saying that, but I’ve heard it previously.

    1. I remember reading decades ago that actuarial data said that the less you weighed, the longer you lived, unless you were clinically malnourished.

        1. Malnutrition is only partially related to caloric intake. You can be obese and malnourished. CRON emphasizes both Caloric Restriction and Optimal Nutrition.

        2. At least in terms of blood work, fasting two days a week (non consecutive, and free eating the other five)  is much the same as harsh caloric restriction full time, and much easier to live with.

  2. Maggie,

    Don’t have time to look up the paper but, if memory serves, someone recently compared adult-onset caloric restriction vs juvenile-onset caloric restriction in mice and found that survivorship improved only in the juvie mice!  So, it may be too late for most of us, anyway.

  3. Methionine restriction appears to be more promising, and may help reduce factors involved with Alzheimer’s. 

  4. It has also been suggested that it’s not actually the restriction of calories that causes the increase in lifespan, but the improvement in DHEA retention from cutting certain foods out of the diet (or reducing them in calorie restricted diets), which may explain why only testing against calories leads to mixed results.

  5.  There are indeed many ancient midgets hiding amongst us. I haven’t seen them, but I know they are there.

    Also reminds me of the yogic master in David Foster Wallace’s novel, who lived in the gym, subsisting on the sweat he could lick from the skin of willing patrons.

  6. Personally, I feel that it’s as much about how much you enjoy life as about how long you live. When I was in college, a friend had a poster that read, “If you give up wine, women and song, you may not live longer, but it will certainly SEEM longer!” Eating is a great pleasure to me, and I don’t want to live longer if I can’t enjoy it.

    1. That statement is based on the same flawed logic that dieters often base their decisions on, that is, if something is good then the more you do it the better.

      Because something is enjoyable, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have an overall more satisfying and entertaining life by doing that thing more and more. In fact quite the opposite. The less you eat, the better food can taste and the more enjoyment and satisfaction you can receive from eating.

      As an experiment, try not eating for 24 hours. Then afterwards, break your fast by going out to your favourite cafe. Observe how insanely good that breakfast tastes!

      Often deprivation can create much more fulfilling and rewarding experiences.

  7. “Life should not be a journey to the grave with
    the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
    but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up,
    totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”  –Hunter S Thompson

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