BYU professor finds eating less can extend lifespan

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BYU chemistry professor John Price researches how eating less can slow down the aging process. (Nate Edwards)

Studies show there is a new tool to living longer: lowering calorie intake.

BYU researchers were examining how the body’s ribosomes function and found there is a way to slow down the aging process.

Chemistry professor John Price recently conducted a study involving mice and the ways calorie intake can affect the lifespan of their cells.

By cutting calories, the cells’ protein makers (ribosomes) slow down, which slows aging, according to Price’s study. The slower speed of calorie intake allows extra time for the ribosomes to repair.

The goal of this research project was to find biochemical mechanisms that can decrease the rate of aging.

“If we can identify these processes, we may be able to intercede and prevent the development of age-related diseases like frailty, neurodegeneration and cancer,” Price said.

Price worked alongside Andrew Mathis, who completed his master’s degree at BYU in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Mathis had interest in studying ribosomes from a previous experiment he conducted. He found different ribosome parts were being recycled at different rates, which lead him to study how cutting calories can affect cell lifespan.

“This study helps us better understand an additional mechanism associated with calorie restriction and provides a new experimental tool for measuring ribosome maintenance that can be used in many different experiments,” Mathis said.

Research on the rate of biological aging has been conducted since the 1930s, but Mathis said this was the first time a study was done to measure specific ribosomal parts. Price and his team were not the first to make the connections between cutting calories and lifespan, but they were the first to recognize that slowing down protein synthesis can extend cell life.

“We found overwhelmingly that the calorie restricted mice had reduced synthesis rates down to as low as 25 percent of the age matched control group,” Price said. “This observation has now been independently confirmed by multiple groups.”

Price compared ribosomes to car tires. He said when car tires wear out, a person doesn’t throw away the whole car and buys a new one, he or she just buys new tires. This is how ribosomes work because they periodically need to repair themselves.

The research group observed two groups of mice: one with unlimited access to food and one restricted to 35 fewer calories, but still with all the nutrients necessary to survive.

Mathis said controlling calorie intake can help better maintain ribosomes. This control can lead to higher quality protein, which aids in a longer lifespan and reduces age-related diseases.

According to Mathis, each additional piece of new research can help create the big picture. He compared it to putting together a large mosaic. Each new piece can help clarify “one of nature’s great mysteries.”

Associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science Chad Hancock, said there could be potential health benefits of calorie restriction.

“The physiological mechanisms for the benefits of calorie restriction are not clear, and this study provides new and very specific information regarding how caloric restriction may change an organism’s biochemistry/physiology,” Hancock said.

Price believes this study can aid in the understanding of how eating healthier can help us live longer.

Price also said people should not start depriving themselves of calorie intake to live longer even though cutting calories can increase lifespan.

To find more information on this research, follow this link.

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