Cover Story: Want to Live Longer?

Tasting the Calorie Restriction approach

It sounds like dieting, but it isn't. Dieting has the short-term goal of weight loss, but Calorie Restriction (CR) represents a lifelong approach to food consumption.

Efforts to combat aging and extend human life date as far back as 3500 BC, and self-proclaimed experts have hawked anti-aging elixirs and fountains of youth since. But controlled studies on mice, worms and other animals has shown that CR increases life span by about 30 percent and reportedly reduces the risks of many age-related ailments such as diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, high blood pressure and age-related immune dysfunction.

Robert Krikorian, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati and board member of the CR Society, is of the unshakable belief that dramatically reducing caloric intake is the only way to retard the aging process. He calls CR "starvation with adequate nutrition."

CR is the inverse of regular diets in that longevity, not appearance, is the motivation.

"We have worse appearance, not better," says Krikorian, who's been following a CR diet since December 1996, with a laugh. "My family worries that I'm too thin, and people have wondered if I have cancer or AIDS."

At 54 years old, 5-foot-10 and 132 pounds, Krikorain looks, well, hungry.

"I'm not at my ideal body weight, and actually below it," he says. "I weigh less than I did when I was 19."

Having done extensive research in lifestyle factors as they relate to cognitive aging, specifically in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Krikorian has little concern for this aspect of CR.

"Calorie Restriction is the only regimen to date that's been scientifically proven to significantly extend the maximum life span," he notes. "It's a qualitative lifestyle change. I feel great."

Krikorian eats approximately 1,400 calories a day divided between two meals and takes 33 percent of the calories from a protein source. The first meal of the day, usually mid-morning, consists of some protein — he's a conscious meat eater, seeking out meat that's high in quality and not processed or contaminated, usually bison, poultry or lean fish — an apple or orange, 12 to 15 almonds or hazelnuts and one of his special muffins or brownies made of rice bran, sweet potatoes, blueberries, eggs, psyllium husk, protein powder, non-fat dried milk and olive oil.

Meal No. 2 is a larger one in the evening: a protein source, steamed vegetables, a large salad, one of the muffins and something he refers to as "goop" (yougurt, blueberries, strawberries, protein powder, flax seed oil and olive oil).

Krikorian admits that the CR lifestyle has been difficult at times.

"My favorite breakfast is still a jelly doughnut, a cup of coffee and two Pall Malls," he quips. "But I know too much now, so I can never go back."

Some of the basic mechanisms of CR as it applies to theories on aging:

· High blood sugar and insulin levels cause aging; CR helps lower these levels while improving glucose-insulin metabolism.

· Aging manifests itself as DNA damage within our aged cells; CR increases the body's ability to repair damaged DNA, renewing cells.

· Free radicals damage our cells, causing aging; CR can help reduce free radicals through focused nutrient density of fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants.

· Metabolism, the body's use of energy, can cause aging; CR slows metabolism and makes it more efficient.

· Some protective and repair proteins found naturally in the body might prevent aging caused by stress; CR raises the levels of these proteins.

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