How calorie restriction changes your body to slow aging

“There is nothing that even comes close to the benefit that we will have for almost nothing … by changing our food habits. And it could be revolutionary,” says Dr. Valter Longo, an expert in using caloric restriction to combat the effects of aging.

In early 2023, a first-of-its-kind study proved Dr. Longo’s point, showing how calorie restriction can indeed slow the pace of aging, not just in mice, but in humans.

More recently, scientists are going back and taking a closer look at this breakthrough study to find out precisely how calorie restriction changes the body, and how these changes help us to age more slowly.

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The CALERIE study

In early 2023, researchers at Columbia University conducted the CALERIE study— which stands for Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy — the first-ever investigation into the effects of long-term calorie restriction in humans.

They chose 220 healthy and non-obese clinical trial participants who were randomly assigned to either a 25 percent calorie-restricted diet or a normal diet for two years.

They analyzed blood samples at the start of the trial, then again at 12 and 24 months, looking for chemical tags on each participant’s DNA sequence that are known to change with aging.

These measurements are sometimes referred to as epigenetic clocks. The researchers focused on three of these:

  • PhenoAge and GrimAge are like the odometers of aging. They give a static measure of how much aging “mileage” a person has experienced.
  • DunedinPACE is more like a “speedometer” that shows how fast the aging process is going.

Most participants were only able to restrict calories by about 12 percent, but the effect of this calorie restriction intervention on DunedinPACE represented a 2 to 3 percent slowing in the pace of aging.

This translates to a 10 to 15 percent reduction in mortality risk, which is similar to the impact of quitting smoking!

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Calorie restriction, genes, muscles and inflammation

So how exactly does calorie restriction change the body and slow the aging process?

To find out, scientists at the National Institute on Aging used thigh muscle biopsies from CALERIE participants that were collected when individuals joined the study and at one-year and two-year follow-ups.

Their analysis yielded two significant conclusions…

First, a lower caloric intake upregulated genes responsible for energy generation and metabolism, and downregulated inflammatory genes leading to lower inflammation.

In other words, restricting calories resulted in genetic changes leading to lower inflammation.

“Since inflammation and aging are strongly coupled, calorie restriction represents a powerful approach to preventing the pro-inflammatory state that is developed by many older people,” says the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Luigi Ferrucci.

And second, calorie restriction strengthened muscles.

Although CALERIE subjects lost muscle mass over the first year, they did not lose muscle strength.

Calorie restriction improved something called muscle specific force, the amount of force generated by each unit of muscle mass. With sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) being a huge factor in accelerating the aging process, this is good news indeed!

 Want to give it a try?

If you want to give calorie restriction a try but are feeling intimidated, it’s probably best to start slow. Pick one day a week and cut back your calorie intake just by 500 calories. If you can handle that two days a week, give it a go for a couple of weeks and decide if you want to try it for three days.

Or, give Dr. Valter Longo’s “longevity diet” a try. It mimics fasting but is not as strenuous.

Dr. Longo describes what eating for longevity could look like in real life: “Lots of legumes, whole grains, and vegetables; some fish; no red meat or processed meat and very low white meat; low sugar and refined grains; good levels of nuts and olive oil, and some dark chocolate.”

If you’re thinking it sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet, you’re not wrong!

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Calorie restriction in humans builds strong muscle and stimulates healthy aging genes — Science Daily

Calorie restriction modulates the transcription of genes related to stress response and longevity in human muscle: The CALERIE study —  Aging Cell

Calorie Restriction Slows Pace of Aging in Healthy Adults —  Columbia University

New article outlines the characteristics of a “longevity diet” —  Eureka Alert

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.