Slowing the Aging Process, But At What Cost?

We’ve all heard the mythical fountain of youth. You know, the legendary spring that restores the youth of anyone who drinks its water. The anti aging products and services industry is valued at more than 25o billion dollars. We’re not naive though, we know that no one can live forever. Yet we take ridiculous measures to slow the process. Anti-aging creams, hair plugs, chemical peels, botox. Even dying our hair is a way to hide our age from the world.

This is a nutrition blog though, so you’re probably thinking “the secret to youth must be in the food!” Well, yes and no. In the age of science we usually consider stories of the fountain of youth to be only tales: living forever just sounds implausible. Nevertheless, in the last few decades there have been dozens of fascinating studies about longevity. This one experiment, however, may be one of the most fascinating on longevity.

Our story begins at the University of Arizona‘s project: Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 was constructed outside of the city of Tucson in 1987 in order to explore the complex interactions within life systems in a closed biosphere. Another goal was to explore the possibility of using a closed biosphere in space colonization. To achieve this latter goal, a crew of eight astronomers lived enclosed in the facility for two years starting September 1991. They were expected to grow their own food, produce their own oxygen and live fully self-sufficiently, just as if they were on a different planet.

Their agricultural system was able to produce most of their total diet, including bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes, beets, peanuts, beans, rice and even wheat, all grown organically, without the use of any toxic chemicals. However, what they didn’t succeed in doing, was to grow enough food as anticipated. In fact, already during the first year, they continually reported hunger. Fortunately, the food they grew was of supreme quality and nutrient-dense, so they at least consumed enough nutrients.

Roy Walford, the medical doctor and researcher in the group, regularly tested the health indices of the crew members. They were constantly hungry and lost 16% of their pre-entry body weight within the first year. However, Dr. Walford’s tests revealed striking results. Surprisingly, the crew health indices seemed to be getting better: their blood cholesterol and pressure dropped, the immune system was enhanced. They indeed lost weight, but the low-caloric diet seemed to slow down their aging process.

Two years after the beginning of the experiment, the crew left biosphere 2. Dr. Walford spent the rest of his life practicing caloric restriction and conducted many studies on the subject. Together with many other research groups, it was shown that following a diet that restricts caloric intake while including the necessary nutrients decelerates the biological aging process and increases lifespan. These results were proven on yeast, fish, rodents and dogs, but until today no clinical trial has been performed on humans.

How come a calorie-restricted diet seems to extend life span? In what way does it slow down aging? How well does it decelerate the process of aging? More importantly, is there a way to slow down aging without suffering from constant hunger?

Restricting your calorie intake may be one way to slow the aging process. Eating until you can’t anymore might not be the way to go. You can download Nutrino to get healthy meal recommendations that will stay within your desired calorie range.