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Calorie restriction makes it possible to slow down aging

Calorie restriction, which has been proven to slow aging in animals, has now produced evidence of slowing the pace of biological aging in humans. 

An international team of researchers led by the Butler Columbia Aging Center at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health conducted a randomized controlled trial of healthy adults that is the first of its kind. 

“In worms, flies, and mice, calorie restriction can slow biological processes of aging and extend healthy lifespan,” explained study senior author Daniel Belsky, “Our study aimed to test if calorie restriction also slows biological aging in humans.”

The CALERIE™ trial measured participants’ blood DNA using the algorithm DunedinPACE (Pace of Aging, Computed from the Epigenome). The calorie intervention resulted in a two top three percent slowing in the pace of aging. In other studies, this translates to a 10 to 15 percent reduction in mortality risk, an effect similar to a smoking cessation intervention. 

The trial randomized 220 healthy men and women to a 25 percent calorie-restriction or normal diet for two years.  To measure biological aging, blood samples were collected from the participants at pre-intervention baseline and after 12- and 24-month follow-ups. 

The team analyzed methylation marks on DNA extracted from white blood cells. DNA methylation marks are chemical tags on the DNA sequence that regulate the expression of genes and are known to change with aging.

In the primary analysis, three measurements of the DNA methylation data were used. These measurements are sometimes known as “epigenetic clocks.” 

The first two clocks, the PhenoAge and GrimAge clocks, estimate biological age, or the age at which a person’s biology would appear “normal.” These provide a static measure of how much aging a person has experienced. The third measure studied was DunedinPACE, which estimates the pace of aging, or the rate of biological deterioration over time, much like a “speedometer”.

“In contrast to the results for DunedinPace, there were no effects of intervention on other epigenetic clocks,” said study co-lead author Calen Ryan. “The difference in results suggests that dynamic ‘pace of aging’ measures like DunedinPACE may be more sensitive to the effects of intervention than measures of static biological age.”

While calorie restriction may not be possible for everyone, the study provides evidence that slowing human aging may be possible. A follow-up trial is now ongoing to determine if the intervention had long-term effects on healthy aging. 

The research is published in the journal Nature Aging.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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