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Cutting Calories May Keep Heart Young

Excerpt By Suzanne Rostler, Reuter's Health

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Cutting calories may do more than help people shed excess weight, research suggests. According to a new report, a low-calorie diet may also slow age-related changes in the heart's genes that can lead to chronic disease.

In the study, "middle-aged" 14-month-old mice were fed either a normal diet or one restricted in calories. When the mice reached 30 months of age, or the equivalent of 90 years of a human life span, the researchers analyzed their heart tissue.

The hearts of mice on the low-calorie diets showed nearly 20% fewer age-related genetic changes and also appeared to have less DNA damage than those of mice on regular diets. Restricting calories also inhibited potentially disease-causing changes in the immune system, and suppressed apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

While apoptosis is beneficial in tissues that undergo rapid DNA replication, such as skin, it can be damaging in other tissues, Dr. Tomas A. Prolla, the study's lead author, explained in an interview with Reuters Health.

"In the heart, which largely doesn't have dividing cells, the process of apoptosis acts to kill cells that can't be replaced. So in the long term, it is not beneficial," said Prolla, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The findings, which appear in this week's online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, add to a growing body of research demonstrating the benefit of cutting back on calories. Previous studies have shown that calorie restriction can slow the aging of the muscles, brain and heart.

Prolla said a 30% reduction in normal caloric intake could probably do the trick. A person who normally consumes about 2,000 calories, for instance, could eat 600 fewer calories a day.

"As a whole, the data show that it is highly likely that calorie restriction can retard the aging process," Prolla said. "Even in middle age, calorie restriction can reduce rates of aging in the heart."

He cautioned that individuals who want to try cutting back on their food intake make sure they are getting enough vitamins and minerals to prevent deficiencies, and recommended including plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2002;10.1073.


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