Starving for life: what animal studies can and cannot tell us about the use of caloric restriction to prolong human lifespan

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Caloric restriction (CR) is the only experimental nongenetic paradigm known to increase lifespan. It has broad applicability and extends the life of most species through a retardation of aging. There is considerable interest in the use of CR in humans, and animal studies can potentially tell us about the impacts. In this article we highlight some of the things that animal studies can tell us about CR in humans. Rodent studies indicate that the benefits of CR on lifespan extension are related to the extent of restriction. The benefits of CR, however, decline as the age of onset of treatment is delayed. Modeling these impacts suggests that if a 48-y-old man engaged in 30% CR until his normal life expectancy of 78, he might increase his life expectancy by 2.8 y. Exercise and cold exposure induce similar energy deficits, but animals respond to these energy deficits in different ways that have a minor impact on lifespan. Measurements of animal responses when they cease restriction indicate that prolonged CB does not diminish hunger, even though the animals may have been in long-term energy balance. Neuroendocrine profiles support the idea that animals under CR are continuously hungry. The feasibility of restricting intake in humans for many decades without long-term support is questionable. However, what is unclear from animal studies is whether taking drugs that suppress appetite will generate the same impact on longevity or whether the neuroendocrine correlates of hunger play an integral role in mediating CRs effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1078-1086
Number of pages9
JournalThe Journal of Nutrition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


  • chronic dietary restriction
  • male rhesus-monkeys
  • all-cause mortality
  • energy restriction
  • food restriction
  • middle-age
  • protein-turnover
  • body-temperature
  • Fischer-344 RATS
  • oxidative damage


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