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Restrict Calories, Revive Your Life

Forget about super-sizing, a restricted-calorie diet may add health, youthfulness, and longevity to your life.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Looking to tack a few years on to the end of your life, or enjoy your golden years with vigor, good health, and youthfulness? Research on animals shows a restricted-calorie diet may have these effects and slow the hands of time.

Now, practitioners of calorie restriction are hoping that human beings can also drink from the fountain of youth. While only time will tell if it actually works, experts and believers weigh in on the science behind the theory, and the pros and cons of a restricted-calorie diet.

The Science

With evidence dating back to 1935, when Cornell scientist Clive McCay unexpectedly discovered that rats on a calorie-restricted diet lived nearly 30% longer than those on "normal" diets, according to a Cornell press release, scientists have been testing the impact of a calorie-restricted diet on everything from mice and worms, to flies, spiders, guppies, dogs, and primates.

"There seem to be two mechanisms by which a restricted-calorie diet increases life span," says Mark Mattson, PhD, chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. "First, it reduces free radical production, or the production of highly damaging forms of oxygen, and the second is that calorie restriction increases the resistance of cells to stress. We think that both of these are important in protecting against a number of different diseases that have a negative impact on life span, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer."