Eating less may lead to longer life, says expert on ageing

Theory that reducing calorific intake could aid longevity has been around since 1930s

Eat less and live longer is the simple message from an expert in the natural process of ageing. His advice has nothing to do with dieting, it is research that hints at greater longevity for those who reduce their calorie intake.

The possibility that going around hungry all the time might help you live longer first emerged 80 years ago and has been under scrutiny ever since, said Prof Steven Austad of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“For the longest time it was the one tool we had for investigating ageing,” said Prof Austad, distinguished professor of biology and a biogerontologist at the university.

“It was a way we could actually slow ageing and understand what was going on with ageing. It has been there since the 1930s but we still don’t understand how it works,” he said.



Why it happens might be a mystery but calorific restriction has been shown to extend lifespan in some species.

It has been tested in monkeys and mice, fruit flies and worms, with calories cut from between 10 and 40 per cent yielding a life extension of between 10 to 30 per cent.

The record holder is actually a microscopic worm which enjoyed a 50 per cent longer life.

Does it work in humans? That isn’t clear, and no researcher would win ethical approval to run a human trial where you basically starve subjects for years on end.

Ethics have been taken out of the equation by the Calorie Restriction Society. These are people who come together to enjoy the apparent health benefits of cutting down on your victuals.

Prof Austad said: "One thing that came out of studies of them is cardiovascular risk factors. These people are not going to die of heart disease."

Prof Austad is giving a talk in Dublin this evening hosted by UCD’s Earth Institute entitled: “Can we starve our way to better, longer health?” Tickets are sold out.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.