Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rodents, Longevity and Anti-Aging Science

Rodents and Longevity

This is my top story. Check it out:

A new mouse study suggests fasting every other day can help fend off diabetes and protect brain neurons as well as or better than either vigorous exercise or caloric restriction. The findings also suggest that reduced meal frequency can produce these beneficial effects even if the animals gorged when they did eat, according the investigators at the National Institute on Aging (NIA)

There's more.

Dr. Mattson and his colleagues are currently studying the effects of meal-skipping on the cardiovascular system in laboratory rats. The findings of this study, which compares the resting blood pressures and heart rates of rats that were fasted every other day for six months with rats allowed to eat unlimited amounts of food daily, should be available soon.

Now, we've known for a long time that caloric restriction is an effective means of extending lifespan, at least in rodents. It very likely works with humans, too. The trouble with these calorie restriction diets is that they're a huge drag. I read Beyond the 120 Year Diet, which is an expanded version of the diet book by Roy Walford based on his life-extension research with rodents. My normal pattern is to buy a diet book, read it, try the diet out for anywhere from 10 days to three weeks, get bored, and quit. But with the 120 Year Diet, I didn't even get that far. All I had to do was read it.

Essentially, you just eat one big salad every day.

Let's be real, here.

No way am I sticking to something like that. I mean sure, I'll eat the big salad every day. And then I'll follow it up with a well-marbled steak and a baked potato.And possibly a big dish of ice cream. Because, frankly, I don't care if some of the other mice do live longer. At least I had a decent dinner.

To be honest, I pretty much skip the baked potato and the ice cream these days. I've been living on a highly modified (read: I cheat a lot) version of the Atkins diet for several months and it seems to be working for me. I read the late Dr. Atkins Age Defying Diet and noted that his criticism of the calorie restriction diet was the same as my own: it's just too damn hard. Reading his book, I got the impression that Atkins wanted to make the assertion that his low-carb program has the same effect on the system as Walford's calorie restriction, but he didn't have anything to back it up.

Now with this new research, we have evidence that something other than calorie restriction might produce the same benefits, or at least some of the same benefits. The fasting mice were not on a calorie-restricted diet per se. They got to pig out every other day and ended up eating as much as (or more) than the well-fed mice. I don't know whether this every-other-day diet thing would be easier than the big-salad-a-day diet, but it might be worth a try. In fact, I did try an eat-every-other-day diet for about 10 days to three weeks back in the early eighties. I can't remember whether it worked very well. All I remember is that I was dizzy all the time.

However, there's something else in this new research:

...Dr. Mattson and his colleagues found mice that were fasted every other day but were allowed to eat unlimited amounts on intervening days had lower blood glucose and insulin levels than either a control group, which was allowed to feed freely, or a calorically restricted group, which was fed 30 percent fewer calories daily than the control group....[emphasis added]

Dr. Mattson's team found that nerve cells of the meal-skipping mice were more resistant to neurotoxin injury or death than nerve cells of the mice on either of the other diets.

The reserch implies that the control of blood gluecose and insulin levels is what provided the mice their enhanced resistance to diabetes. This would be some vindication for Dr. Atkins, since getting these levels under control is at the core of his diet. So is it possible that a low-carb diet would provide the same diabetes-resistance as eating every other day? Maybe so. What I find intriguing is the possibility that this same moderation of insulin and glucose levels might have provided the mice with their resistance to neortoxin injury and the death of nerve cells. I have to be careful to point out that there's nothing in the research that makes this connection directly, but what if?

If such a link could be demonstrated, we would be well on our way to having people seek not only to lose weight, but actually to extend their lives by eating heavy cream and porkchops. Wherever Dr. Atkins is now, I have a feeling he's smiling.