The fountain of youth is calorie-poor

March 17, 2010 by  
Filed under AGING

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For thousands of years, people have been searching for the fountain of youth. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham now think they may be on the verge of discovering the proverbial fountain and this fountain is low in calories.

Is it that simple? Reducing your calories means increasing your life span?

The researchers studied two types of lung cells: One type consisted of normal human lung cell and the other type consisted of lung cells at the beginning stages of cancer (precancerous). The two types of cells were grown in media containing normal or low amounts of glucose. Survival rates and the ability to divide were regularly monitored. The results showed:

  • Normal cells live longer when grown in low-glucose medium.
  • Precancerous cells die in low-glucose medium

According to researcher Dr. Trygve Tollefsbol at the Center for Aging and Comprehensive Cancer Center at the university

“In that time, we were able to track the cells’ ability to divide while also monitoring the number of surviving cells. The pattern that was revealed to us showed that restricted glucose levels led the healthy cells to grow longer than is typical and caused the precancerous cells to die off in large numbers.”

Two key genes have been identified that were responsible for this cellular response of decreased glucose. The telomerase gene encodes the enzyme that allows cells to divide indefinitely. The p16 gene encodes a well known anti-cancer protein. The gene effects were opposite between the 2 cell types tested. Healthy cells had increased telomerase and decreased p16 whereas the precancerous cells had decreased telomerase and increased p16 protein.

Extrapolated to the living human, the body (which is composed of cells) stays healthier and lives longer when we consume less glucose, our main source of calories.

“Our hope is that the discovery that reduced calories extends the lifespan of normal human cells will lead to further discoveries of the causes for these effects in different cell types and facilitate the development of novel approaches to extend the lifespan of humans. We would also hope for these studies to lead to improved prevention of cancer as well as many other age-related diseases through controlling calorie intake of specific cell types.”

Whether this is the fountain of youth or not, we know that eating food with high calories is unhealthy. High calorie intake is associated with a lot of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Aside from prolonging life, low calorie intake seems to prevent disease development. These findings especially hold a lot of promise in anti-cancer therapy.

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