Still no “secret of longevity”

Since one of the premises in our novel “Rabbit in the Moon” is that a Chinese scientist in 1989 has actually found the secret of longevity, we are always interested in the results of current scientific research on the subject.

Starting in the 1980’s, researchers like the late Dr. Roy Walford  at UCLA, have hypothesized that eating a severely calorie restricted calories can prolong life. This was based on original work with rats done in the 1930’s. The idea became so popular, that many proponents of this theory began trying to extend their own lives by reducing their calorie intake to less than 1000 calories per day.

However, just last week, the results of a 25 year long National Institute on Aging sponsored project in which rhesus monkeys were fed diets restricting their calories by 30 percent as compared to a control group seems to have refuted this (at least in monkeys). The study, which was published online in the journal Nature showed that the skinny monkeys did not live any longer than those kept at more normal weights. Interestingly, monkeys put on the diet when they were older showed some improvement in lab tests such as cholesterol and blood sugar (males only) and triglycerides (both genders) However, the causes of death — cancer, heart disease — were the same in both the underfed and the normally fed monkeys.

Rafael de Cabo, lead author of the diet study, said he was surprised and disappointed because he had expected an outcome similar to that of a 2009 study from the University of Wisconsin which concluded that caloric restriction did extend monkeys’ life spans.

Unfortunately, in that Wisconsin project, the authors disregarded about half of the deaths among the monkeys studied, claiming they were not related to aging. If they had included all of the deaths, they would have had to conclude that there was no extension of life span.

The good news is that science prevails here – someone has a hypothesis; they set up an experiment to prove it; they publish the results regardless of the outcome (i.e. present the facts); and then other scientists try to replicate the study in order to be sure that the results are accurate.

Still, this does not mean that cutting calories to a reasonable level in order to improve health is not a good idea.

The researchers of this study plan to continue it until the youngest monkeys are 22 years old. While they recognize that the data seems to rule out any notion that a low-calorie diet will increase average life spans, they hope to find that the diet increases the animals’ maximum life span by keeping them healthier.

So stay tuned.

And in the meantime, read “Rabbit in the Moon” to learn Dr. NiFu Cheng’s secret of longevity!