Scientists find the secret
to a long, indulgent life
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Jeremy Laurance/THE INDEPENDENT : Now Italian
researchers have identified a molecule produced when people diet that could lead
to the development of a drug that mimics the effect of restraint, offering a
longer life without the need for self-denial.
It is a challenging time of year to be told that eating less is good for you but
evidence has for a long time suggested that cutting down on calories extends
Now Italian researchers have identified a molecule produced when people diet
that could lead to the development of a drug that mimics the effect of
restraint, offering a longer life without the need for self-denial.
Experiments have shown that curbing the amount of food rats eat can extend their
lives by 25 to 40 per cent.
However, anti-ageing benefits are lost when the rats return to a normal diet.
Among humans, the population of the tropical Okinawan islands in Japan’s extreme
south-west are home to more than twice the national average of centenarians. As
well as having a healthy diet, their longevity is attributed to their cultural
habit of calorie control called hara hachi bu – or “eat until you are 80 per
Italian scientists from the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome have now
come a step closer to understanding how dieting works. It causes the body to
activate a molecule called Creb1 which in turn activates another set of
molecules linked to longevity called the sirtuins.
While overeating ages the brain and can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, calorie
restriction increases the activity of Creb1 which is known to regulate memory
and learning. Research in mice has shown that if they lack the molecule, the
benefits in terms of improved memory from cutting down calorie intake are not
Giovambattista Pani, who led the study published in Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, said: “Our findings identify for the first time an
important mediator for the effects of diet on the brain.
Our hope is to find a way to activate Creb1, for example through new drugs, to
keep the brain young without the need for a strict diet.“ Biologists believe
that restricting calories causes animals to go into a state normally reserved
for near starvation.
Instead of spending their energy reserves on reproduction, they shut down
everything but their basic body maintenance, in preparation for a future time
when breeding would stand a better chance of success.
Self-preservation: how to stay healthy
Jeanne Calment, the oldest person in history, who died in 1997 aged 122,
attributed her longevity to a diet rich in olive oil, port and “regular
Cleopatra, queen of ancient Egypt, took baths of donkeys’ milk to preserve the
beauty and youth of her skin.
In 18th-century France, noblemen were obsessed with the quest for longevity.
Some believed that if you found a magic formula it should be stored inside a
clock, literally to hold back time.
Seaweed-eating nations often have higher-than-average life expectancies. In
Iceland dried seaweed known as sol is credited with helping nationals to live,
on average, to 83, thanks to its fat-absorbing qualities.
Your parents make a difference if you want to live to a grand age – genetic
inheritance plays the most important part.