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New study: Does calorie restriction keep you young?

Scientific studies suggest that calorie restriction extends lifespan. However, these results have so far only been shown in animal experiments. For example, feeding rats 10-40% fewer calories but all essential nutrients has been shown to extend the lifespan of many animals and reduce the rate of chronic diseases (such as cancer). However, this observation has not been confirmed by all studies and so far no conclusions can be drawn as far as humans are concerned.

A recent US study by the National Institutes of Health has now shown the positive effects that a reduced calorie intake has on human health. Although this does not prove that a reduced calorie intake prolongs life, it could provide an initial indication and help to prevent chronic diseases.

What was investigated in the study

The study participants were healthy, slim to slightly overweight (BMI 22.0 - 27.9 kg/m2) middle-aged women and men (21-50 years). The test subjects were divided into two groups. The first group (143 participants) was asked to reduce their calorie intake by 25 %. There was no restriction on the choice of food. The placebo group could eat as much as they wanted. Over a period of two years, cardiometabolic risk factors - such as blood pressure, highly sensitive C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation) as well as blood lipid and blood sugar levels - were measured at regular intervals.

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How many calories should you cut out?

Although the test subjects were encouraged to restrict their calorie intake by 25%, it was found that on average a calorie restriction of only 11.9% was achieved. This corresponds to around 300 kcal. Many of the participants therefore did not manage to save the 25% in their everyday lives. Nevertheless, they benefited in terms of health: the calorie restriction caused a sustained and significant reduction in all measured cardiometabolic risk factors. In addition to the cholesterol/HDL ratio, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure also decreased. There was also a significant improvement in C-reactive protein and insulin sensitivity. In contrast, the placebo group without calorie restriction had no improvement in their initial values.

William Kraus, principal investigator of the randomised placebo-controlled study, was himself surprised by the magnitude of the change: "Even the combination of five drugs would not produce such a change."

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Calorie restriction: Conclusion of the study

The results suggest that a moderate reduction in calories in healthy young and middle-aged people represents a considerable benefit for cardiovascular health. Whether it can actually prolong life, however, requires further research.

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