• Caloric restriction may slow biological aging by preserving telomere length
  • The study found varied telomere shortening rates among participants despite similar final lengths
  • Nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods are crucial for effective caloric restriction

Researchers at Penn State have revealed new insights into the complex relationship between diet and aging. A study conducted by the Penn State College of Health and Human Development has explored how caloric restriction affects telomere length, a key indicator of biological aging (1 Trusted Source
Calorie restriction study reveals complexities in how diet impacts aging

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The study, published in Aging Cell, analyzed data from a two-year investigation into the effects of caloric restriction in humans. The researchers discovered that individuals who reduced their calorie intake experienced different rates of telomere shortening compared to those in the control group, despite both groups ending the study with telomeres of similar length. Previous research has shown that reducing calorie intake by 20% to 60% can extend lifespan in various animal species.

Don’t Just Count Calories, Countdown the Cellular Aging

Telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, shorten each time a cell replicates. As cells divide over a person’s lifetime, telomeres become progressively shorter. Once they are completely eroded, genetic information can be damaged, hindering the cell’s ability to reproduce or function properly. Therefore, cells with longer telomeres are considered biologically younger than those with shorter telomeres, suggesting that biological age can differ from chronological age based on telomere length.

According to Idan Shalev, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, several factors—including stress, illness, genetics, and diet—affect telomere length and cell replication. Shalev led the research team that analyzed genetic samples from the CALERIE study, the first randomized clinical trial of calorie restriction in humans. The team aimed to understand how caloric restriction influences telomere length, potentially revealing one mechanism by which this dietary approach may slow aging.

“When energy is consumed within a cell, waste products from that process… break down the cell. When a person’s cells consume less energy due to caloric restriction, the cell does not break down as quickly,” explained Waylon Hastings, a postdoctoral researcher at Tulane University School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

Hastings, who earned his doctorate in biobehavioral health at Penn State in 2020, noted that the study provides insights into how caloric restriction might extend human lifespans by impacting cellular metabolism. Reduced energy consumption leads to fewer waste products, which can decrease oxidative stress and DNA damage, thereby slowing the breakdown of cells.

The research involved testing the telomere length of 175 participants from the CALERIE study at the beginning, after one year, and at the end of the study period. Approximately two-thirds of the participants followed a calorie-restricted diet, while the remaining third served as a control group.


Can We Simply Eat Less to Live Longer?

The simple answer might be yes but the study doesn’t provide a one-size-fits-all answer. While it offers intriguing clues about how calorie restriction might extend lifespans, several factors (stress, illness, genetics) also play a role in telomere health.

Before You Restrict Your Calories:

For individuals interested in using caloric restriction as a method to potentially increase lifespan, several strategies can be considered.

  • Talk to your doctor! Calorie restriction can be a safe and effective approach for some, but it’s crucial to get professional guidance.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. Drastic cuts are counterproductive. Gradually reduce your calorie intake to allow your body to adjust comfortably.
  • Focus on quality, not just quantity. Nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds provide essential vitamins and minerals while keeping your calorie count in check.
  • Antioxidants are your allies! These powerhouses fight free radicals, the cellular culprits behind oxidative stress and DNA damage.
  • The Road to Longevity is Paved with Multiple Lanes.

Calorie restriction might be one avenue, but a healthy lifestyle is the highway to extended well-being. Regular exercise, managing stress, and monitoring your health markers (including telomeres with your doctor’s guidance) are all important for a long and healthy life. This study paves the way for future research into personalized approaches to caloric restriction, helping us unlock the full potential of diet to promote healthy aging.



  1. Calorie restriction study reveals complexities in how diet impacts aging – (https://www.psu.edu/news/health-and-human-development/story/calorie-restriction-study-reveals-complexities-how-diet-impacts/)


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