The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More on Caloric Restriction

“Caloric restriction every other day works on people? Wow. I'd only heard of it before in rats.”

I’m not saying it works the same way. Here’s what I know.

1) Caloric restriction (30-40% reduction in average calorie intake while preserving all nutritional values) increases remaining life span by about 50% in all warm blooded animals it’s been tested on. It also has a positive effect on cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and of course obesity. When rats are kept on such a diet from birth, you get small skinny rats that are abnormally healthy, and live a very long time.
2) If you start such a program after the rats have matured, you increase their remaining life span by 50%.
3) Human experimentation, begun (perhaps) by Roy Walford Phd, produces skinny people who claim great healthy and superior biological markers. For instance: 55-year olds who have been using CR for over a decade had blood chemistry comparable to 20 year olds.
4) CR represents the ONLY life extension approach with this level of scientific backing: both experimental and theoretical.
5) Rat (or mouse) experiments were conducted by feeding every other day. Someone wondered if it was the meal spacing, rather than the caloric restriction, that gave them the positive results. They tried feeding every other day, but allowing the mice to eat all they wanted on those days. The result? The mice ate as much as the uncontrolled mice, but lived 50% longer, and were at least as healthy (and larger than!) the CR mice.
6) Humans who have tried “Intermittent Fasting” report blood chemistry changes similar to CR testing.
7) Several methods of IF have been proposed: eating every other day. Eating in one 3-hour block at night (“The Warrior Diet” for instance). Eating until 6pm one day, and not until 6pm the next. Some preliminary, anecdotal data suggests that all of these have some positive effect.
8) There are various theories about the mechanisms involved in CR and IF. These include: decreased obesity contributing to health. Decreased caloric intake makes people more careful of the calories they DO consume, increasing overall quality of nutrients. Fasting allows the digestive system to recover from the stress of digestion (and the ph in the mouth to stabilize, protecting tooth enamel!) Fasting places stress on the system, triggering a health/fitness response to improve hunting ability. Fasting simulates EXTERNAL environmental stress: your hindbrain believes there is a famine or war, and decreases the “death drive” to protect tribal population levels (!!)

This is all really fascinating. I remember reading “The 120 Year Diet” by Walford, and thinking that the CR theories made perfect sense, but it felt like too much deprivation, and the people who practiced it looked scrawny and weak. Wasn’t interested.

But frankly, IF sounds doable, especially if the benefits are anything similar to those gained by lab animals in controlled experiments. A pill that provided the values would be the hottest drug in history. A single technique that increases lifespan by up to 50%? Cancer? Heart disease? Obesity? Diabetes? Increases energy? Good Lord—it’s the magic bullet.
Now, as to hunger pains. Drinking tea or diluted juice could handle some of this. An herb like Hoodia could deal with more. My suspicion is that COMPLEX carbohydrates and proteins are the things to be avoided on “fasting” days. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if fruits, light salads, and vegetable juices were just fine.

But time will tell. I’m fascinated, because I’ve always had the number “120” in my mind in terms of life span, and something like this actually puts that number in shooting distance. So…until (and unless) I find a good reason not to, I’m experimenting with the “eat until six, then only after six) approach while I continue research. Any of you who find more data, please send it in. Meanwhile, I’ll report back what I’m experiencing.