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Low-Nutrient Diet May Promote Longevity in Humans

Update Date: Mar 17, 2014 08:21 PM EDT

Eating a diet very low in nutrients could actually lengthen human lifespan, according to scientists.

Many studies show that being on a diet that severely restricts food intake can decease the risk of diseases associated with aging and increase longevity.

 "This effect has been demonstrated in laboratories around the world, in species ranging from yeast to flies to mice. There is also some evidence that it occurs in primates," lead author Dr. Margo Adler, an evolutionary biologist at UNSW Australia, said in a news release.

"But we think that lifespan extension from dietary restriction is more likely to be a laboratory artifact," said Adler. She added that the most commonly believed theory is that this effect evolved to improve survival during times of famine.

Researcher note that longevity from dietary restriction is unlikely to occur in the wild because it lowers the immune system's ability to fight disease and reduces the muscle strength necessary to defend against predators.

"Unlike in the benign conditions of the lab, most animals in the wild are killed young by parasites or predators," said Adler.

"Since dietary restriction appears to extend lifespan in the lab by reducing old-age diseases, it is unlikely to have the same effect on wild animals, which generally don't live long enough to be affected by cancer and other late-life pathologies," she added.

Scientists found that dietary restriction can also lead to higher rates of cellular recycling and repair mechanisms in the body. They believe that this effect evolved to help organisms continue to reproduce when food is scarce. Scientists explain that animals would require less food to survive because stored nutrients in the cells can be recycled and reused.

"This is the most intriguing aspect, from a human health stand point. Although extended lifespan may simply be a side effect of dietary restriction, a better understanding of these cellular recycling mechanisms that drive the effect may hold the promise of longer, healthier lives for humans," she added.

The paper is published in the journal BioEssays.

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