Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Calorie Restriction for Longevity

I have intermittently subscribed to the Calorie Restriction Society mailing list, even when I periodically go berserk and tear into packages of my favorite cookies. (Regular readers may recall that I am quite passionate for Ginger-O's by Newman's Organics! YES!) For this reason, I have never actually contributed to said email list, since I am a mere dilettante. But New Year's resolutions being what they are (or aren't, in my case), I have taken another look at the program. I re-uped on the list, and have finally started opening the email digests that I had been summarily deleting out of guilt. And I am evaluating, once again, the whole idea.

When I do something, I tend to go whole hog, as we say in these parts. Thus, if I should begin this program again, it won't be undertaken lightly.

I assure you, I haven't lost my feminism. I am not particularly interested in being thin, although it would increase my access to the way-cuter thrift store clothes.

The reason I would undertake this hard-core regimen? They say you will live longer!

Did somebody say... live longer?

Since the 1930s extensive scientific research has shown that calorie restricted (CR) diets improve health and extend lifespans of nearly every species tested, including worms, spiders, rodents, dogs, cows and monkeys. We believe it is likely that people who carefully adopt a CR diet will see similar results.

The CR Society supports the efforts of people who practice CR for current health, future longevity, or other benefits; those curious about or interested in understanding the effects of the diet; and those interested in the development of related, science-based health-enhancing and life-extension technologies.
Okay, now you're talkin!

Admittedly, my fear of death (the pale horse) is comfortably banished to the fringes whenever I encounter this sort of stuff. In addition, the scifi geek in me loves the idea of being a guinea pig, but of course, I don't want to ingest anything dangerous.

This seems perfect for me, since it involves NOT ingesting things.

Katherine Seligman wrote an article about the Calorie Restriction lifestyle for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007:

[Barry] Gamble practices calorie restriction, packing all his daily nutrition into close to a quarter fewer calories than his body needs to maintain his natural weight - which used to hover around 195 pounds. At 6 feet tall, he now consumes 1,800 calories each weekday (he adds 200 on weekends when he gets more exercise) and weighs 164, his slimness cloaked by an extra layer he wears to keep warm. Being thin, which causes him to feel cold, is a side effect, not the goal of calorie restriction, or CR, as it's called.

But it's worth it for what Gamble says are his benefits - more energy, fewer digestive problems, better measures of heart health and mobility and perhaps, although there are no guarantees, a longer life.

"The real reason I do it is because I feel better today," said Gamble, who happened to be celebrating - although not with cake - his 67th birthday the day I met his friends at the Breakfast Club. His face was deeply lined, but his energy level was evident. After his non-breakfast he planned to head to the gym for a light workout, then to his office. "I have more bounce in my step than I did before," he said, jumping lightly from one foot to the other in his Birkenstocks.

No one knows how many people are practicing CR, what followers say is "a way of living" instead of a diet. The Calorie Restriction Society, based on the work of the late UCLA gerontology researcher Roy Walford, was founded in 1994 by a small group of people interested in the science behind CR and in creating a social network. It now has about 2,000 members (approximately 70 percent of them male, although society officials aren't sure why), with thousands more on its mailing list.

The well-respected but eccentric Dr. Walford, who studied the immunological and molecular aspects of the biology of aging, published hundreds of scientific papers. He alternated lab research with sabbaticals where he worked on such projects as living in a 3-acre glass-enclosed environment called the Biosphere to test its effect on health, and traveling India in a loincloth "measuring the rectal temperatures of holy men," according to the Los Angeles Times. He emerged as a CR guru with his books "The 120 Year Diet" and "The Anti-Aging Plan," which was written with his daughter. Hoping to live to that magic number, he rigorously restricted himself to 1,600 nutritionally scrutinized calories a day. His health failed when he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known at Lou Gehrig's disease, which he attributed to oxygen deprivation from living in the Biosphere. He died from it in 2004. But not before reinvigorating a field of research that had been around since the 1930s.

Scientists have long known that calorie restriction increases the life span of earthworms, mice, dogs and monkeys. Studies have shown that mice and rats fed reduced calories but the best possible nutrition have a 40 to 50 percent increase in life span. The same was true of rodents fed every other day. Researchers have noted that both groups show a decrease in glucose and insulin levels. Researchers believe that metabolic changes from reducing calories lowers cell turnover, meaning there is less chance of DNA damage - associated with cancer, which is a major cause of death in mice and rats. While they can see these results with CR, they aren't certain why they occur. They theorize that reduced glucose curtails the production of free radicals in cell mitochondria or that the stress of CR makes the body learn to cope with more serious stress at a cellular level.

"It's the only thing that is known to extend the life span in warm-blooded animals," said Dr. Marc Hellerstein, a professor at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley who studies human nutrition and metabolism. He recently started recruiting people for a study where subjects will eat a near-fasting diet every other day, alternated with a normal one. "It's the most amazing thing in all of biology."

And there is a growing impetus to find out if humans reap the same benefits, over time, as lab animals. The Baby Boomers are aging, and just as they felt the need to revolutionize attitudes toward child rearing and midlife, they are interested in a better old age. They are the ones who promoted 50 as the new 40. Could 100 will be the next 90 - or 80?

"This is definitely a Boomer diet," said Robert Cavanaugh, secretary of the Calorie Restriction Society and a retired Marine, who, along with his wife, has been following the diet for six years. "We used to be considered a bunch of extremist wackos who were starving ourselves to live longer. But now most any major university that does research is doing some on CR."

The National Institute on Aging and National Institutes of Health are both funding research at major universities. Private industry is also studying the metabolic effects of CR, working to create a pill that will mimic it and bypass the need for a rigid diet.

That's not to say that CR lacks skeptics. More than one person mentioned to me the line that CR "won't make you live longer, but it will feel longer."
Yes, that's what I worry about.

Do we really want to live longer if we aren't eating Ginger-Os? Aye, there's the rub.

And does it really work?

Seligman writes:

So far there is tempting evidence but no conclusive long-term studies on CR in humans. Partly this is because it's difficult to study longevity in people. Rats have no choice but to stay in their cages and wait for food pellets. Human research subjects would have to be followed for decades, and not many humans can, or will, stick to the rigors of the diet. And those who do it tend to follow disparate regimens. Some severely limit calories every day, while others fast all or part of every day. Without feeding each subject the same diet, results are hard to come by or duplicate, say researchers.

Some of the first willing research subjects were volunteers from the Calorie Restriction Society, who in 2002 offered themselves as subjects for an ongoing study at Washington University School of Medicine. Researchers there have measured markers of health and aging, and their findings, published by the National Academies of Sciences in 2002, say CR led to "profound and sustained beneficial effects." These included lowered cholesterol and blood pressure, less body fat and reduced levels of a protein known to cause inflammation, which is believed to be a factor in diseases.

Washington University researchers and doctors at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Center are all continuing federally funded work on CR and humans. The Pennington team, in results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, found that CR decreased fasting insulin levels and body temperature. The same group published a paper in PLoS Medicine this year saying that CR decreased whole body oxygen consumption and DNA damage in young non-obese adults. The team is now recruiting for a larger study group that will be followed for several years.
I have attempted this lifestyle several times, usually accompanying my attempts to go raw. I usually stall out at around 50-70% raw foods; meaning, that is the percentage of my diet that is totally raw. Raw foods tend to be low-calorie, and munching on raw veggies easily turns into a default setting. (My last attempt went decidedly kaput after I had gum surgery during the summer; good luck munching on raw veggies after gum surgery!)

I have also read the late Dr. Walford's book, temptingly titled Beyond the 120-Year Diet.

The problem with the diet is, it tends to make me a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. Is there anything they can do about that?

Some of us, you know, are already flaky enough.

Dean Pomerleau gave a fascinating presentation on the psychological effects of CRON*--which uncomfortably hit home with me:

Manifestations of CR Obsession

Food Obsession:

*“Orthorexia Nervosa” – Obsession with healthful eating - endless diet tuning, unwillingness to eat “forbidden” foods.

*Sight – magazines, Food Network TV – ironic, most don’t actually make, let alone ever taste, featured recipes

*Taste – heavy, exotic spices, proclivity for strong tastes (e.g. peppers), flavor “spritzing”, sucralose reliance, toothpaste eating

*Food tasting, and even more harmful eating disorders (e.g. bulimia and anorexia).

*Perhaps a natural result of scarcity mentality – food is scare, so need to maximize experience from what one is willing to eat or contemplate eating.

Yes, my acute interest in TOP CHEF began around this time. When you start reading bizarre vegan cookbooks (with no intention of actually cooking!) on your off-hours, you know you've hit the wall.

Thus, I think it is obvious that such a diet, over long periods, can rapidly turn into NO FUN. Although I am also aware that many of the saints, ascetics and holy people I admire, have usually eaten in just this manner. (My first excursion into this lifestyle, not surprisingly, was during a very austere Lent, some years ago.) Your humble narrator believes that spiritual enlightenment is the most fun of ALL, and I am always in the market for more. This seems like still another way to go there, and my curiosity is getting the best of me. Dean says:

CR Promotes/Attracts:

*Introspection / awareness

*Self-discipline / zeal

*Cessation of desires

*Smoothing of emotions – equanimity

*Recognition of cause and effect - interdependence

*Realization of impermanence – tough one for CRonies
As I have often discussed with my dear friend JW, that last one is the big prize, for me. I want this spiritual lesson in the worst way... only to discover that it finally dawns when one is fully ready to accept it, and not before.

It doesn't come cheaply; I realize that one must work hard for it. Will CR properly prepare me for this lesson, at long last?

Where do I sign up?

I promise, I will try to start slowly. I am already a committed vegetarian of well over a decade. Processed sugars (my beloved Ginger-Os!) will be most difficult to give up when one is overworked, upset and/or need emotional comforts (see reference to gum surgery, above). Other bad eating habits include actual cream in my coffee and fabulous samples of expensive, aged cheeses from exotic places, at my place of employment... the whole reason, I often joke, that I have never been able to go completely vegan. I will likely have to avoid a whole area of the store I work in, since I seem patently unable to keep my hand out of those damnable samples, which are (no other word for it, people) simply heavenly. (Unlike most folks, I would gladly choose cheese over any chocolate or sweets.)

If I mess up, it will the fault of EVIL EXOTIC CHEESE, probably from France.

Gonna give it a shot and see what happens. If I start watching too much TOP CHEF or reading woo-woo cookbooks in my spare time, I will know it's time to slice up some of that cheese. Gimme!


*This stands for Calorie Restriction/Optimal Nutrition, as opposed to 'starving' in an unhealthy way. Participants maximize the nutrient content in the few calories they take in (i.e. lots of greens and phytonutrients) and ingest a boatload of supplements, as I do anyway. Practitioners often call themselves CRONies, for short.


Rachel said...

Eat to live or live to eat?

I live to eat. I love food. I do eat mindfully (I try to do everything, even fly off the handle in a rage, mindfully), but my mindfulness is in the expression of appreciation. Spinach salads, brownies, twice-baked potatoes with bacon and yogurt -- and cheese, god I love cheese. So delicious. I pay such close attention to the flavors of the food that I eat that I can taste something in my mind before I make it.

I probably could do CR and just enjoy smaller quantities of what I love, I just don't have the willpower... or even the desire. What would life be without food? Perhaps I am still too young, but I'm not the type to sacrifice cheese for a few more years at the end of my life.

I wish you the best of luck since this is something you want to do, though.

John Powers said...

Daisy I like you so much. This post shows how much we are not alike. LOL!

Dean Pomerleau's presentation is very interesting and it seems from your post that you really are on board with the idea of CR as a tool not an end in itself.

I was interested that you describe realization of impermanence as the "big prize." There are lots of different ways of coming at that. But what came to mind in the moment was Creation Spirituality. I've not noticed you ever referring to it. Okay, I know it's Catholic heresy, but in a way that seems like it only would make it more interesting to you.

While searching for a good seems as good as any-I wound up at Read the Spirit and an interview with John Dear. Dear mentioned one of the 7 deadly sins accidie. I didn't know the word, except as sloth, adds: "Sloth is usually thought of as mere laziness, but accidie means much more. It includes the idea of becoming numb, unfeeling, unmotivated, perhaps due to despair or apathy."

Alas, accidie fits me. One of your many wonderful qualities is how much less so you.

shadocat said...

considering that Alzhiemer's runs in my family (no gallops, really) I'm not so sure I want to live more than 25 more years anyway. (I'm 53). My dad was thin, practically vegan, and now he can't feed , toilet or dress himself. Some things are worse than dying "young"...

Meowser said...

I just think it would be weird to live to be 120 years old. Imagine thinking 85-year-olds are just too damn young to identify with you.

I'm really not sold on the idea that CRON in and of itself leads to greater longevity and better quality of life in humans. Inasfar as it works at all, it's probably in societies where old people are valued, rather than kicked to the curb as useless when they're 40 as Western societies do.

So then I have to ask myself: Is it the food, or is it the being valued as wise rather than as ravaged by time and woefully out of date, that makes people live longer and better? (The "better" part is essential, of course; it would probably be torture to live to be 120 and be in horrible pain all the time.)

JLK said...

OMG, Daisy.

A 6ft tall man weighing 165lbs is NOT HEALTHY. That is an anorexic weight for a man that tall!

There is no way for them to prove that humans will live longer by eating fewer calories. Diets haven't been a "fad" long enough for a longitudinal study on humans to have been done.

Should we all probably consume FEWER calories than we do now? Yeah, most likely. Because being overweight makes your life span shorter by virtue of related negative effects on your health. That doesn't mean that consuming fewer calories than your body NEEDS is going to make you live longer!

But restricting yourself so much that a 6ft tall man weighs 165?? That's just fucking nuts.

You want to live longer? Replace refined carbs with whole grains. Replace snack foods with vegetables and salads. Replace red meat with fish, but still eat a burger once in while or take iron supplements. Replace potato chips with low or unsalted nuts or munch on some edamame.

It's all about GOOD calories, not necessarily FEWER calories.

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...

I have been doing Calorie Restriction for many years now and I find it to be beneficial. I feel great, hardly get sick, I look 6-8 years younger than my real age (most long term CRONies look much younger than their age). Calorie Restriction is the most effective non genetic intevention to extend lifespan, and maximum lifespan depends entirely on the number of calories you take in. You're welcome to check out my Calorie restriction blog anytime. (just click on my name here).

As for Alzheimers disease, calorie restriction is very effective in reducing this. You can google "calorie restriction alzheimers"

Matthew said...

JLK Said;
"A 6ft tall man weighing 165lbs is NOT HEALTHY. That is an anorexic weight for a man that tall!"

Yes this is completely normal, in fact he is far from the kind of skinny people we see who do Calorie Restriction. By using a BMI calculator you can see that his bmi is 22.4 and the normal healthy BMI is between 18.5 - 24.9!

Anorexia is a more complex disease and more than just how much someone weighs.

JLK said...

Matthew said "Anorexia is a more complex disease and more than just how much someone weighs."

I am not a moron. The physiological component of anorexia is NOT EATING ENOUGH, otherwise known as NOT GETTING ENOUGH CALORIES to sustain your body's systems. The complexity of anorexia nervosa results from the psychological aspects of the disease, not the physical. The physical component is very, very simple.

165lbs for a 6ft tall man may be within "normal" range according to the BMI, that doesn't mean it isn't dreadfully and unnecessarily skinny.

But to each his own, I suppose.

sheila said...

The M&J Show had a good diet on yesterday. Some place in Florida. Even the docs on the show gave it a thumbs up

La Lubu said...

I never would have figured you for a Calorie Restriction proponent....until you referenced ascetics and saints. Then your interest made sense to me! Especially in light of your struggle against that hedonistic, luscious cheese! (speaking of which, I think I'm cooking butternut squash risotto for lunch---I'm home with my daughter today since school was cancelled for the cold. Your mention of cheese made me remember the Parmigiano-Reggiano I still have in the fridge.)

I'd like to live a long time, too. In fact, when I came back from the 100th anniversary of the IBEW in St. Louis (the IBEW was founded in St. Louis), I vowed to fellow union members that I'd live long enough to be at the next one, too! I just don't think I could ever get there on CR. Any time I ever restricted my calories, I didn't have energy for shit, and caught every bug that went around.

I'm wondering how this jibes with studies on whole populations of folks who tend to live much longer than average. I remember reading something in National Geographic about different groups of people who had a much-higher-than-average lifespan; IIRC, the common factors were: eating fresh, high-fiber foods (mostly plants and grains), getting plenty of physical activity, and having a tightly-knit, congenial community where older people are respected. The Sardinians weren't eating any fewer calories---just that the calories consumed tended to be high in fiber, and olive oil was the main source of fat.

That's something I could get behind. Problem is, finding that community of people where older people are respected, along with that high level of social interaction.

Amber Rhea said...

Best of luck, Daisy!

Zan said...

I'm stuck on why you consider real cream and cheeses bad habits :) It sounds far healthier than overprocessed, unpronouncably chemical-ed "lite" cream and cheese "product."

I can understand the lure of restriction (of many things, not just calories) in a spiritual sense. It's not a path I could ever take, but I do understand the allure. I just don't get the wanting to live longer for it's own sake. I mean....say you did live to 120. By that point, your body will be so very worn out that you'll be wishing you'd have died years earlier. The human body has a finite shelf-life, regardless of how we eat, etc. Maybe we can push it to its very limits, but will it be worth it? And would we want to go on living when everyone and everything we have known and loved has gone so long before us?

JoJo said...

I've given up on the new years resolution to lose weight and go to the gym, ad nauseum. I'm only good about keeping the promise till around May.

Like Rachel, I will not sacrifice cheese! lol

Besides, people are outliving their lifespans and causing a terrible drain on the health care system & social security. When Social Security was created, the average life span of an adult was in their early 60's. It was not meant to be a system that paid benefits for 20-30 more years.

La Lubu said...

Besides, people are outliving their lifespans and causing a terrible drain on the health care system & social security.

WTF??? What are you suggesting, that we have suicide centers a la Soylent Green, or that we continue to pollute ourselves into better, faster forms of cancer?

Did I hear you correctly? "Why don't you old folks just hurry up and die?!"

Marion said...

I fast every so often; it unclogs me. But I love make and to eat. So sometimes, balanced days go out the window (mostly when I eat cheese!)

I want to live to be 104, with all the experiences longevity such as that entails. One day I'll be on a restricted diet...just not yet.

John Powers said...

I'm sure you're already on this latest really bad lawmaking from the great state of South Carolina:

"Section 16-15-370. (A) It is unlawful for a person in a public forum or place of public accommodation wilfully and knowingly to publish orally or in writing, exhibit, or otherwise make available material containing words, language, or actions of a profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature.

DaisyDeadhead said...

A hearty welcome to all folks visiting from BlogHer! I've always wanted to be linked there, so this is thrilling to me...