Calorie Restriction (CR) without malnutrition slows aging and increases average and maximal lifespan in simple model organisms and rodents. In rhesus monkeys long-term CR reduces the incidence of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and protects against age-associated sarcopenia and neurodegeneration. However, so far CR significantly increased average lifespan only in the Wisconsin, but not in the NIA monkey study. Differences in diet composition and study design between the 2 on-going trials may explain the discrepancies in survival and disease. Nevertheless, many of the metabolic and hormonal adaptations that are typical of the long-lived CR rodents did not occur in either the NIA or WNPRC CR monkeys. Whether or not CR will extend lifespan in humans is not yet known, but accumulating data indicate that moderate CR with adequate nutrition has a powerful protective effect against obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and reduces metabolic risk factors associated with cancer. Moreover, CR in human beings improves markers of cardiovascular aging, and rejuvenates the skeletal muscle transcriptional profile. More studies are needed to understand the interactions between CR, diet composition, exercise, and other environmental and psychological factors on metabolic and molecular pathways that regulate health and longevity.
It’s been said (sorry, link not handy) that CR won’t work in humans because the way CR works is by a partitioning of biological maintenance and repair between reproductive and somatic systems. Humans devote far less of their maintenance and repair to their reproduction than do smaller mammals such as mice. Therefore it’s postulated that the CR effect would be small to negligible in humans. However, given that CR “improves markers of cardiovascular aging, and rejuvenates the skeletal muscle transcriptional profile”, it looks like CR does provide substantial benefit to humans. Furthermore, intermittent or alternate-day fasting appears to provide just as much benefit as CR, and they’re much easier to implement.
Calorie restriction is known to increase lifespan in many but not all species and may perhaps not do so in humans. Exceptions to life extension have been identified in the laboratory and others are known in nature. Given the variety of physiological responses to variation in food supply that are possible, evolutionary life history theory indicates that an increased investment in maintenance in response to resource shortage will not always be the strategy that maximises Darwinian fitness. Additionally, for the well-studied species in which life extension is observed, there is considerable variation in the response. This suggests that it is not an ancient ancestral response, which has been conserved across the species range. Although calorie restriction does not increase lifespan in all species, it remains a fascinating and valuable tool to study ageing at the whole organism level.