Eating less may reverse age-related cell damage

Miami: Eating a few less calories may help you live longer, according to a new study from the University of Florida’s Institute on Aging.

Scientists found eating less and exercising more reduced and even reversed age-related cell damage in rats.

In an article in the magazine, Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, the study found that even small reductions in calories could have big effects on health.

Christiaan Leeuwenbrugh, PhD, an associate professor of aging and geriatric research at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine said that calorie restriction benefited key organs such as the liver.

UF scientists found that feeding rats just 8 percent fewer calories a day and moderately increasing the animals’ activity extended their average lifespan and significantly overturned the negative effects of cellular aging on liver function and overall health.

The research team was surprised to find one of the biomarkers, RNA, which is important for coding DNA and for protein synthesis, is more quickly damaged by aging than the more frequently studied DNA. RNA damage, therefore, could be an excellent early signal to indicate the onset of aging, researchers say.

In the study, which followed the rats over their lifespan, one group of animals ate as much food as they wanted and did not exercise, another group of animals exercised lightly and were fed slightly less than they would have eaten if allowed to have their fill. Liver samples from these groups were compared with samples taken from young rats.

The old sedentary rats that ate until they were full had increased levels of harmful oxidizing and inflammatory molecules in the liver that were associated with cell damage caused by aging. Meanwhile, aging rats that exercised and consumed a calorie-restricted diet, had the reverse outcome – they showed a decrease in these molecules in the liver.

Leeuwenburgh said the study results support the theory that cell death and aging-related organ damage are caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals and by cellular oxidation and inflammation.