Restricting your calorie intake could slow down ageing – study

Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer

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The path to longevity is long and precarious, with various health conditions lurking at every corner. Fortunately, a healthy diet is one of the greatest weapons against longevity-threatening health problems. What’s more, new research suggests that restricting your calorie intake could be enough to do the trick.

While colourful fruit and veg can be very effective at adding some years to your lifespan, a new study suggests that what you restrict is also important.

The research, published in the journal Nature Aging, found that low-calorie diets could slow down the pace of ageing by two to three percent.

This translates to a ten to 15 percent drop in mortality risk – the same decrease people see when they quit smoking.

Looking at 220 healthy, non-obese men and women from the US, the researchers put the volunteers on either a 25 percent calorie-restricted diet or a normal diet for two years.

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The volunteers were first provided meals of smaller portions for 27 days.

They continued dieting alone, typically losing around 15 percent of their weight in the first year.

Not everyone achieved the target of cutting calories by 25 percent throughout the trial.

The team also measured the ageing pace by testing their blood DNA methylation, using an algorithm called DunedinPACE.

The participants’ blood samples were analysed before they started their diet and then after 12 and 24 months again.

Dr Daniel Belsky, who led the study, said: “Humans live a long time, so it isn’t practical to follow them until we see differences in ageing-related disease or survival.

“Instead, we rely on biomarkers developed to measure the pace and progress of biological ageing over the duration of the study.”

The research team analysed methylation marks on DNA, which are chemical tags known to change with ageing, extracted from white blood cells.

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The scientists focused on three measurements of the DNA methylation data, sometimes known as “epigenetic clocks”.

The first two – the PhenoAge and GrimAge clocks – estimate biological age or the chronological age at which a person’s biology would appear “normal”.

These “clocks” can provide a measure of how much ageing a person has experienced.

The third measure estimates the pace of ageing and biological deterioration, using the DunedinPACE algorithm, also known as a “speedometer”.

Dr Calen Ryan, co-lead author of the study, said: “In contrast to the results for DunedinPACE, there were no effects of intervention on other epigenetic clocks.

“Our study found evidence that calorie restriction slowed the pace of ageing in humans. But calorie restriction is probably not for everyone.”

While this approach might not sound tempting, the researchers are now determined to look at other dietary interventions like intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating that could “appeal to more people”.

A follow-up trial is now ongoing to determine if eating less calories could have a long-term effect on healthy ageing.

Dr Sai Krupa Das, the leader of the follow-up, said: “Our study of the legacy effects of the intervention will test if the short-term effects observed during the trial translated into a longer-term reduction in ageing-related chronic diseases or their risk factors.”

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