Small Servings = Long Life?

In the past month, calorie restriction (or CR, as the kids are calling it) has become the hottest new health craze to read about, if not to try. Last week there was the gonzo feature in New York magazine, which described the near-starvation diet that CR practitioners live on in the hopes of increasing their lifespan. And Tuesday saw two CR-related pieces in The New York Times (requires registration) and The Wall Street Journal. Readers are eating this stuff up—in just a few hours, the Times piece floated to the top of the “Most E-Mailed” list and stayed there.

Perhaps its popularity is due in part to its promise that in the future, we may be able to get CR’s benefits without the hunger pangs. Recent findings about the link between calorie restriction and longevity in lab animals, the article says,

suggest that other interventions, which include new drugs, may retard aging even if the diet itself should prove ineffective in humans. One leading candidate, a newly synthesized form of resveratrol—an antioxidant present in large amounts in red wine—is already being tested in patients. It may eventually be the first of a new class of anti-aging drugs. Extrapolating from recent animal findings, Dr. Richard A. Miller, a pathologist at the University of Michigan, estimated that a pill mimicking the effects of calorie restriction might increase human life span to about 112 healthy years, with the occasional senior living until 140, though some experts view that projection as overly optimistic.

The life-extension community may be psyched about the possibility of a CR diet-in-a-pill, but I’m more inclined to side with the skeptics discussed in the Journal piece (and notably absent from the Times story): Do researchers “really understand the workings of CR well enough to mimic them in a drug?”

And, I’d add, do they really want to? The kind of people who are interested in living that long might not actually be the type you’d want to have hanging around for more than a century … but maybe that’s just me.

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