Juvenon Health Journal volume 3 number 5 may 2004
By Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D.
Researchers have found only one technique that reliably extends life span in multiple species. That technique is caloric restriction (CR). In experiments with yeast, fruit flies, worms, and mice, CR has been proven to extend life by as much as 70%.
WHAT IS CALORIC RESTRICTION (CR)?
Caloric restriction, as the name implies, involves consuming 30-40% less than the average Western intake of calories/day, but at the same time avoiding malnutrition. In other words, for an average 150-pound person who consumes about 2,200 calories/day, CR would mean limiting calories to 1,500-1,700 per day. To maintain maximum health, the method prescribes a nutritious diet including lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, legumes, protein from lean meat and fish, polyunsaturated fat (omega3:omega6 in a 1:1 ratio, 2% of total calories), monounsaturated fat (20-25% of total calories) and little saturated fat (<10%). The amount of carbohydrates, 44-46%, is rather high when compared to currently popular diets. The Atkins and South Beach diets recommend a much lower level of carbohydrates. Nevertheless, the caloric restriction diet results in weight and body fat loss.
We discussed caloric restriction in the very first issue of the Juvenon Health Journal in July 2002. We return to it now because an exciting recent 6-year study has demonstrated caloric restriction to have a significant effect on humans, with respect to improving the profile of markers of heart disease and atherosclerosis, and hence, possibly, life span. The caloric restriction diet, in addition to dramatically improving biochemical markers reflective of a healthy vascular system, also reduces plasma levels of a marker of inflammation (as indicated by C-reactive protein). Consequently, the likelihood of dying from heart disease or stroke, and perhaps cancer, may be greatly reduced.
The recent study involved two groups of 15 men and 3 women. Their ages ranged between 35 and 82. One group consumed the CR diet, the other a control diet. The average results were impressive at all ages.
As the table demonstrates, the results are nothing short of fantastic. The table shows results after 6 years, but significant positive health effects were realized within a few months following the initiation of the diet.
Just imagine what would happen if the majority of us would switch to this diet. With the possibility of less cancer and fewer heart attacks and strokes, the cost of health care would be a fraction of what it is today!
Let’s assume you adopt the CR diet, your heart and blood vessels are scrubbed impeccably clean of plaque and inflammation, and your chance of dying from heart disease or stroke is greatly reduced. What about the other great scourges of man, diabetes and cancer?
Precisely how CR improves overall health in animals is currently under intensive investigation. Tools to probe the underlying mechanisms and unlock their secrets are now available. Some of these discoveries are discussed below.
Caloric restriction studies with animals have demonstrated a 30-40% decrease in incidence of death from cancer. It appears the body perceives CR as a form of stress and responds to it by sending messages to the control center of the cell (the nucleus containing the DNA blueprint), which in turn alters the activity of specific metabolic pathways. Such pathways include the conversion of food to energy, the specific and programmed pathway to rid the body of precancerous cells (apoptosis), the production of insulin, and the burning of sugar and fat for fuel. As shown in the table, there is a dramatic decrease in blood glucose and insulin levels, which in turn help prevent insulin resistance or the pre-diabetic state.
Interestingly, the healthy young heart burns fat for energy and little glucose, whereas the converse is true for the aging heart. The age-associated burning of glucose for energy appears to be at least partly responsible for the increase in toxic oxidant production that contributes to aging. CR appears to reverse this effect and helps convert the unhealthy glucose-burning aging heart to a more youthful fat-burning organ.
One way to visualize the healthy metabolic state is to consider the following: Our bodies are the product of millions of years of evolution. Our predecessors ingested enough food to subsist, and any extra was stored as fat or glycogen to be tapped when there was an energy demand. There was rarely an excess of food, and certainly little of the simple sugar type common today. The circulatory system did not have an excess of glucose and therefore exerted little demand on the pancreas to produce insulin. These conditions placed the body on auto-control with respect to energy production. An excess of blood-glucose or fat, as occurs in the over-fed state, upsets this balance, overcharges the battery (mitochondria) and promotes the production of toxic oxidants.
Supplementing the CR Diet
Some currently available dietary supplements may support the positive effects of the CR diet. The supplement acetyl-L-carnitine is an important cofactor in transporting fat into the organelle, the mitochondria, to be burned for energy. This factor must be present in sufficient amounts or the positive effects of CR may not be realized.
Recent work reported from other laboratories has demonstrated the capacity of another compound, alpha lipoic acid, to help promote the production of a potent antioxidant, glutathione, which may support a healthy heart and brain. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated in experiments with animals that alpha lipoic acid activates some of the same genes activated by CR. Therefore, supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine, lipoic acid and additional supplements may achieve some of the positive effects of the CR diet.
Obesity is increasingly recognized as a looming health disaster. Diets to induce weight loss seem to be more popular than ever. Scientists have long known that the benefits of low-calorie diets go far beyond weight loss. Until now, serious research on caloric restriction has focused on species other than humans. However, a recently published study in humans showed that caloric restriction is highly effective in reducing the risk for atherosclerosis. For more information, click here.
This Research Update column highlights articles related to recent scientific inquiry into the process of human aging. It is not intended to promote any specific ingredient, regimen, or use and should not be construed as evidence of the safety, effectiveness, or intended uses of the Juvenon product. The Juvenon label should be consulted for intended uses and appropriate directions for use of the product.
Dr. Treadwell answers your questions about Juvenon™ Cellular Health Supplement
QUESTION: I have been taking Juvenon for about 6 weeks now, and it has made a tremendous difference in the way I feel. However, yesterday I read the Question and Answer section on your website. Can you give more information about the statement “Some evidence suggests acetyl-L-carnitine may interfere with thyroid metabolism”?
A.H., via email
ANSWER: I know of no adverse effect on anyone taking the Juvenon formula, with respect to thyroid function. We make the statement that the Juvenon formula may interfere with thyroid function only because it has been shown in cell culture and animal experiments that high doses of acetyl-L-carnitine can compete with thyroid hormone. We prefer to be cautious on such matters. However, we are not aware of any evidence in humans that acetyl-L-carnitine produces clinical symptoms of thyroid hormone deficiency. Nevertheless, we recommend that if you have any thyroid condition, you consult with a doctor before taking the Juvenon formula<
Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D., is a former Harvard Medical School associate professor and member of Juvenon’s Scientific Advisory Board.