A lot of the topics that I address here at Newsburglar, such as eating calorie restricted diets, tend to be a bit extreme. I do this for a number of reasons, none of which is to cause you to go out and live the rest of your life on 1350 calories a day as some of these people do. That’s just insane. But I do find the science to be fascinating, and I believe that discussions of this sort focus our brains on the core of the issue: Eating less causes you to live longer.
Scientists are not yet sure why animals with restricted diets continue to resist environmental stresses like oxidation and heat as they age. The leading hypothesis revolves around the idea that the animal’s cells, with limited access to energy, are put under positive stress. The stressed cells train themselves to become more efficient, much as a long distance runner repeatedly stresses his muscles, lungs and heart, increasing the distance he can run. By becoming more efficient, and repeatedly repairing and defending themselves your cells extend their lives. But if your cells are provided with far more energy than they need then they have no reason to conserve resources.
“The stressed cell is really pulling out all the stops” to preserve itself, said Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “This system could have evolved as a way of letting animals take a timeout from reproduction when times are harsh.”
“In mice, calorie restriction doesn’t just extend life span,” said Leonard P. Guarente, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It mitigates many diseases of aging: cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease. The gain is just enormous.”
If you’ve been remotely paying attention over the years then you should already know that obesity plays a significant factor in the epidemic of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure that the developed world is facing. Now, the World Cancer Research Fund has found that obesity is responsible for a significant number of cancers as well.
One of the significant conclusions of the WCRF study casts into doubt the current consensus on optimum body mass index (BMI). The study found that the best way to reduce the risk of cancer was to maintain a BMI between 21 and 23. This is significant because the National Institute of Health’s guidelines currently provide that a Normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. (Calculate your BMI). Essentially, what the WCRF study found is that even those people who have a body weight that is in the upper range of Normal increase the risk of 10 of the 17 cancers studied.
Yes, the WCRF gave us this significant caveat: “We don’t want to give the impression that being overweight is in the same league as smoking, but it is a risk factor and people need to be aware of it.” FWIW, smoking causes about one in three cancer deaths in the United States.
Ultimately, I find it ironic that the overuse of resources and the American lifestyle may not only be negatively impacting the planet but also our bodies. If you have infinite amounts of land you end up with the suburban sprawl of Altanta rather than the efficient living of NYC. If you have limitless petroleum extracted from the ground cheaply, you end up with plastic spoons and forks that you can toss after one use instead of stainless steel that can be used for decades. If your body has more energy than it requires, it replaces damaged cells with new ones rather than repairing them.
For a while this works fine. Then, Atlanta finds that its endless expansion has left it with arteries so congested that everyone has a three hour commute. We find that our landfills are full of plastic water bottles and forks and petroleum isn’t so limitless. Our body finds that the new cells that it creates are cancerous, unable to be efficiently repaired.
So, are you gonna do anything to extend the productive years of your life? Probably not. Like a good American, you’re gonna drink some red wine while waiting for science to synthesize an effective form of Resveratrol, which appears to provide many of the same benefits of eating less without you having to, you know, do anything.
One further note. Here is one more article on calorie restriction from MSNBC. While it does contain some new information, its really just puff piece from a puff news organization. Stick to the NY Times or The Economist and you’ll be better for it.