Live Longer By Eating Less?

How do I stay young for longer? Or, another way to put it: how do I slow ageing? A new study, published in the journal Molecular & Cellular Proteomics, says the answer lies in eating less.

Eating less might be the secret to a long life—as simple as that. The new research explains how cutting calories affects the ageing process at the molecular level. A lower amount of calories has been linked with slower ageing, an association brought about by a reduced activity in cells’ ribosomes.

Ribosomes are the cell organelles that synthesise proteins. In case of malfunction (which happens) in ribosomes, they are not destroyed as this would be unprofitable given that they use up 10-20% of the total energy of the cell for protein synthesis. They are repaired, instead. The repaired ribosomes keep on putting together important proteins, extending to a length of time longer than usual. This process might be favoured with a lower calorie intake.

A decreased calorie consumption appears to reduce the speed in the activities of the ribosomes which leads to a lower production of proteins, giving the structures more time to undergo self-repair, thereby decelerating ageing. Study’s senior author, John Price, compares this effect to car tyres maintenance.

“The ribosome is a very complex machine, sort of like your car, and it periodically needs maintenance to replace the parts that wear out the fastest,” says biochemistry professor John Price, from Brigham Young University. “When tyres wear out, you don’t throw the whole car away and buy new ones. It’s cheaper to replace the tyres.”

Now, how does reduced calorie intake slow down the ribosomes? Through biochemical changes triggered by the decreased amount of calories, say Price and his team.

Upon observing two sets of mice—one with unrestricted access to food, and another limited to consuming 35% fewer calories—the researchers found that the second group was more energetic, and affected by fewer diseases. Price explains that these mice were not only living longer, but they were also doing better at preserving their bodies, remaining “younger for longer”.

The authors do, however, add that one cannot simply expect to stay younger for longer if one just starts restricting calorie intake. This has not been tested in humans, and therefore, it cannot be said with certainty that calorie restriction constitutes an anti-ageing strategy. Rather, as Price points out, their results are meant to drive home the importance of taking care of one’s body in terms of diet.

“Food isn’t just material to be burned—it’s a signal that tells our body and cells how to respond,” says Price. “We’re getting down to the mechanisms of ageing, which may help us make more educated decisions about what we eat.”

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