Turning down the thermostat may be just as good for you as cutting calories

Going on a calorie restriction (CR) diet isn’t easy. Some of them are extreme. I’ve even seen CR diets that cut your calorie intake down to just 700 or 800 calories per day! But man, do these diets come with a long list of jaw-dropping benefits…

And I’m not just talking about weight loss (you can lose weight with plenty of diets that don’t require severe calorie restriction). I’m talking about calorie restriction’s potential to ward off aging and disease and increase longevity.

So far, CR diets have been proven to increase longevity and prevent age-related chronic diseases in rats, mice, fish, flies, worms and yeast. In humans, they’ve successfully lowered blood pressure, balanced cholesterol, reduced insulin resistance, reversed type 2 diabetes and improved a marker for inflammation known as C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is linked to age-related diseases like heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline, so this could indicate that calorie restriction has the same anti-aging, disease-fighting benefits in humans as it does in animals.

But why is cutting calories so good for you?

That’s the million-dollar (or calorie) question. And there are a lot of different theories out there. But a new study shows it may all come down to the fact that cutting calories makes you cold…

Cool temps may have the same metabolic benefits as calorie restriction

Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute just discovered that the benefits of calorie restriction may occur because it makes your body temperature drop.

It’s well known that mammals (including humans) experience a drop in body temperature when they cut calories. And these researchers wanted to dive a bit deeper into that reaction…

So, they closely examined the metabolic response of mice when they were on calorie restriction diets and exposed to different temperatures. One group of calorie-restricted mice was housed at a temperature of about 68 degrees Fahrenheit and another group was housed at a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers then used a technology called activity metabolomics to measure the metabolites (chemicals released in the body during metabolic functions) these mice were producing. They specifically looked for metabolites in the bloodstream and in the brain that are associated with the reduction of nutrients or body temperature. And here’s what they found…

In mice, body temperature had an equal or greater effect than the nutrients they consumed on metabolism during calorie restriction. In other words, their body temperature gave them just as many (or more) metabolic health benefits as the number of nutrients they consumed. And that makes perfect sense considering some past research…

In their previous work, these researchers found that reducing body temperature alone (without any calorie restriction) can increase life span. And other studies have found that preventing body temperature from dropping during calorie restriction can actually prevent some of the health benefits of reducing calories. In fact, in one study, mice didn’t experience the anti-cancer benefits of calorie restriction when their body temperature wasn’t allowed to drop. So, being cold could be just as good for you as cutting calories.

The cool way to stay healthy

This study was performed in mice, not humans… so we don’t know if the results will hold true for us. But it seems like there’s something to this whole-body temperature business that could keep you healthy… and maybe even keep you alive longer.

In fact, it kind of reminds me of a popular health practice that’s gained a lot of momentum recently — the Wim Hof Method.

The Wim Hof Method involves using cold therapy to improve your mental health, immune response, energy levels and more. Check it out if you’re interested in harnessing the power of cold temperatures to give your health a little boost. Or if you want to keep things simple, you could always just turn your thermostat down a few degrees.

If intentional physical discomfort in any form (whether through extreme calorie restriction or cold temperatures) just isn’t your thing, I don’t blame you. Luckily, there’s one other potential option that could have similar benefits — a form of B3 called nicotinamide riboside (NR).

In one small study, a nicotinamide riboside supplement triggered a similar biological response as calorie restriction and even lowered blood pressure. So, that may be worth looking into as well.

Sources:

Linking calorie restriction, body temperature and healthspan — EurekAlert!

Linking calorie restriction, body temperature and healthspan — Scripps Research.

Calorie restriction and aging: review of the literature and implications for studies in humans — The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Why even slim people may benefit from calorie restriction — Medical News Today.

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.