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Starvation Not Necessary for Long Life

Scientists once thought that a restricted calorie intake led to a longer lifespan, but this has now been discredited (thank goodness!) While lots of us need to lose weight, none of us enjoy starving.

In the August 30th edition of the New York Times, Gina Kolata writes: "For 25 years, (a group of) rhesus monkeys were kept semi-starved, lean and hungry. The males' weights were so low they were the equivalent of a 6-foot-tall man who tipped the scales at just 120 to 133 pounds. The hope was that if the monkeys lived longer, healthier lives by eating a lot less, then maybe people, their evolutionary cousins, would, too. Some scientists, anticipating such benefits, began severely restricting their own diets."

The idea that a low-calorie diet would extend life originated in the 1930s, with a study of laboratory mice. Kolta quotes researcher Steven Austad as saying that the response to that study was "absolute disbelief. Even though the authors are well-respected calorie restrictors, people said the result was not interesting, that there was something weird about the mice (in the first study)."

But when monkeys were studied in the same way, they didn't live any longer than their fatter friends. The causes of death from diseases such as cancer and heart disease were the same in both the underfed and normally fed monkeys, despite the fact that males had lower levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, but these levels stayed the same in the females.

Kolta quotes researcher Steven Austad as saying, "This (new study) shows the importance of replication in science. (The earlier study) was not nearly as conclusive as it was made out to be."

She quotes neuroscientist Mark Mattson, who weighs 130 pounds, but still skips breakfast and lunch on weekdays and skips breakfast on weekends, as saying, "I get a little hungry, but we think being hungry is actually good."



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