Eating Less May Contribute to Living Longer


Americans spend billions every year on all sorts of supplements and remedies claiming to help us stay young. But new research shows that to some degree, simply not overindulging in food may go a long way toward keeping you youthful.

It’s not as simple as staving off the myriad problems that come with weight gain. In brand new research published in Molecular & Cellular Proteomics, scientists studying mice learned how a previously unknown mechanism of action in cells, the building blocks of life, leads to longevity and youthfulness.

Credit: Joshua Rappeneker/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

“The researchers found that when ribosomes — the cell’s protein makers — slow down, the aging process slows, too,” Brigham Young University reported in a news release.  “The decreased speed lowers production but gives ribosomes extra time to repair themselves.”

When you eat food, those ribosomes go to work to make that protein. But as we age, our cells age, too. They need to take a break every now and then.

The researchers divided mice into two groups. One group had unlimited food; the other had their calories restricted by 35 percent, but still had enough food to survive. The mice on the restricted diets lived longer.

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“Indeed, ribosomal defects are commonly associated with loss of protein homeostasis, implying optimal ribosomal function, is associated with disease resistance and increased lifespan,” the researchers wrote. “Dietary signals impact the rates of both new ribosome assembly and component exchange. Signal-specific modulation of ribosomal assembly and degradation could provide a mechanistic link in the frequently observed associations among diminished rates of protein synthesis, increased autophagy, and greater longevity.”

In the news release, lead author John Price, a Brigham Young biochemistry professor, further explained his findings in plain language. “The ribosome is a very complex machine, sort of like your car, and it periodically needs maintenance to replace the parts that wear out the fastest,” he said. “When tires wear out, you don’t throw the whole car away and buy new ones. It’s cheaper to replace the tires.”

However, Price cautions that Americans shouldn’t expect to live longer simply by eating less. The experiment has not been replicated yet in humans. However, his research does further emphasize the benefits of healthy eating habits, he said.

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“The calorie-restricted mice are more energetic and suffered fewer diseases,” Price said. “And it’s not just that they’re living longer, but because they’re better at maintaining their bodies, they’re younger for longer as well.”

Per the news release, ribosomes use 10-20 percent of the cell’s total energy for their work. “Repairing individual parts of the ribosome on a regular basis enables ribosomes to continue producing high-quality proteins for longer than they would otherwise. This top-quality protection in turn keeps cells and the entire body functioning well.”

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”