Monday, July 13, 2009

Monkey see, monkey do

Something that caught my attention last week in the diet and fitness world was a news headline and story reporting that a low calorie diet slows aging in monkeys. A recently completed 20-year study of monkeys funded by the National Institute on Aging showed that a reduced-calorie diet pays off in less disease and longer life.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison led by Professor Richard Weindruch, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital reported that a nutritious but reduced-calorie diet blunts aging and significantly delays the onset of such age-related disorders as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy.

Professor Weindruch and his colleagues tested the effects of calorie restriction over two decades in a group of rhesus macaque monkeys. Half of the monkeys were allowed to eat as they pleased, and the other half ate a carefully controlled diet that provided just two-thirds of the calories they would normally choose to eat. Professor Weindruch stated “We observed that caloric restriction reduced the risk of developing an age-related disease by a factor of three and increased survival.”

The research team found that half of the monkeys that were allowed to eat freely over the course of the 20-year study have survived, while 80 percent of the monkeys that ate 30 percent fewer calories over the same period are still alive. Apparently, rhesus macaque monkeys have an average life span of about 27 years in captivity so at the end of 20 years these research monkeys had lived 74% of their average life span, the equivalent of being age 59 years for someone with an 80-year life expectancy.

The animals that ate less had half the amount of heart disease and cancer, and there were no cases of diabetes in the low-calorie group. Animals on a restricted diet also had more brain volume in some regions than the animals that ate freely, suggesting diet may affect brain health in aging as well.

These research findings give a fitness and health perspective to the age-old adage of monkey see, monkey do.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

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