How to Live to Be 120 (cont.)

Walford concedes that we don't know for sure whether what's true for rodents applies to humans, although ongoing studies at the University of Wisconsin and the NIA using monkeys as subjects may give us a better idea. The monkeys, studied for 10 years, have demonstrated a lower rate of diabetes than their regularly fed counterparts. They've also maintained higher than normal levels of the hormone DHEA, which is associated with youth, according to Mark Lane, PhD, head of nutritional and molecular physiology in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the NIA and principal investigator on the study.

Again, the closest thing to a human study is Walford's Biosphere experiment. After two years of functional caloric restriction, the inhabitants had declines in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose, which Walford says are markers of aging. Lane, however, isn't convinced -- despite his great respect for Walford's work. "The study shows that you can produce positive health changes in people through calorie restriction, but the data I've seen don't show anything about aging."

His Own Guinea Pig

Walford, who is currently editing a video documentary about Biosphere 2 and doing animal research at UCLA, has himself been adhering to the CRON diet since 1984. Today he carries about 134 pounds on his 5-foot-8-inch frame. "My set point is about 155," he says. "I was a Big Ten wrestling champion at the University of Chicago and I had to train down, so I know it pretty well." To stay underweight, he consumes about 1,600 calories a day, but says he doesn't feel deprived. "You get accustomed to it after a while," he says. "If you change your eating habits to include more whole food (beans, rice, vegetables, and fruit), then you'll eat less."

Walford eats out about once a week, usually at one of the neighborhood's tonier restaurants. At home, on a typical day, breakfast might be a banana-strawberry milkshake or half a cup of millet with wheat germ and fruit. Lunch is a large bowl of fish chowder (made with skim milk) and a whole-grain roll or a sardine sandwich. For dinner once a week, Walford has a mega-salad of his own creation, consisting of an assortment of raw vegetables (lettuce, spinach, peppers, broccoli, sweet potato, onions, cabbage), rice and beans, and dressed with expensive (get the best, he stresses) balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A dinner roll and nonfat yogurt with apricots for dessert round out the meal. The diet is hardly fit for a gourmand, but it's not quite as austere as a monk's menu, either.

The 21st century, Walford says, will be the age of the "long-living society." In the near future, there will be advances in modern biology that will extend life spans. "But calorie restriction is the only thing that we can be relatively confident works now. If you want to hang around to take advantage of the newer techniques when they become available, this is what to do now."

Daryn Eller is a freelance writer in Venice, Calif. Her work has appeared in Health, Cosmopolitan, and many other publications.

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