Intermittent fasting and other restrictive diets are all the rage these days — and new research has shown calorie restriction can provide tremendous health benefits. The most comprehensive study of calorie restriction to date was just published in Cell Metabolism, and its findings show that a decreased food intake has a profound effect on human health. But, as sources note, this finding is more about gaining a deeper understanding of human biology and metabolism than peddling diet advice. At its most basic level, metabolism is what gives us life. While most people use the term “metabolism” to describe the rate at which they burn energy, the word’s meaning is far greater than just that. Indeed, metabolism is defined as “all chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells and the organism.”
Most people think a fast metabolism is a “healthy” metabolism, but the new research from Comprehensive Assessment of the Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) research network at Duke University has shown that a slower metabolism may actually be the secret to long-term health.
Calorie restriction, metabolism and long-term health
Calorie restriction (CR) is the term scientists use in experiments featuring deliberately reduced calorie intake. The scientists working on CALERIE have conducted multiple studies as CALERIE is a multi-phase research project. In the latest study, CALERIE scientists studied 53 young, healthy participants at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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To conduct their research, the team used metabolic chambers to gather data on the participants’ oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide exhalation. Urine samples were also collected, so the scientists could get a full picture of how much energy the subjects were using, and where that energy was coming from (whether it be carbohydrates, fat or protein). Thirty-four people were placed on a (roughly) 15-percent CR diet, while the remaining 19 individuals were placed into the control group.
What they found was shocking: Over the course of two years, participants on the CR diet “lost about 19 pounds, experienced metabolic adaptation (meaning their bodies used less energy and started using energy more efficiently), produced fewer reactive oxygen species, and generally had improved biomarkers associated with aging.”
CALERIE scientists have posited that their findings could be connected to two possible theories of aging: The “rate of living” theory, as well as the “oxidative damage” theory. Sources explain that together, these two theories “roughly assert that a faster metabolism produces more reactive oxygen species, which in turn causes more cellular damage — and that causes aging.”
Eating less for better health?
While a 15-percent calorie deficit would generally be considered unsustainable for the long haul, this study is sure to inspire more research. This study, after all, was not designed to create the next big fad diet. However, past research has shown that intermittent fasting and modest calorie reduction can have long-term health benefits.
Experts caution that the recent CALERIE study should be taken with a grain of salt, due to the severity of calorie restriction. But, it’s not the first study to suggest that eating a bit less — or simply eating less often — can hold the promise of better overall health.
A recently published study found that calorie restriction could help promote better learning, for example. But perhaps most impressive are the well-documented benefits of intermittent fasting (IF). IF is not really a diet so much as an eating pattern; it relies on fasting for a set interval of time either daily or a few days a week. Research has shown that IF, even without calorie restriction, can provide a myriad of health benefits, and could be a viable approach for fighting obesity, metabolic disorders and other health issues.
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