Will Restricting Calories Decrease Age-Related Cardiovascular Disease?

Hundreds of animal studies show that restricting caloric intake (while avoiding malnutrition) can expend the lifespan – often by periods, which translated into humans, would amount to an impressive number of years.

How does this work and can any of these findings be relevant to promote healthy aging in humans?

This is the topic of an article by Miranda Sung and Jason Dyck from the University of Alberta published in Heart Failure Reviews.

In animal models, the effects of caloric restriction on longevity is in part explained by a range of mechanisms that include:

1. Preventing age-associated changes in gene expression,

2. Enhancing innate cardioprotective signaling pathways that increase stress tolerance,

3. Reducing the risk factors for developing CVD,

4. Preventing and/or delaying the onset of age-related chronic diseases, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiomyopathy

Interestingly, some of these effects can be mimicked by resveratrol, an active ingredient in red wine – one reason why the authors describe resveratrol as a ‘calorie-restriction mimetic’.

With regard to the potential benefits of caloric restriction in humans, the authors point out that:

“Due to the long lifespan of humans, the lack of universally accepted biomarkers of aging, and the difficulty of conducting long-term, randomized calorie restriction studies, there are limited data regarding longevity and dietary restriction in humans. However, epidemiological data appear to support findings in non-human primates discussed above that calorie restriction may have beneficial effects on longevity and health. For example, the inhabitants of Okinawa island in Japan consumed an estimated 15 and 40% fewer calories as compared to mainland Japanese and U.S. residents, respectively, yet Okinawans have the highest life expectancy in Japan and possibly the world and the largest percentage of centenarians in the world.”

Obviously, there could be other reasons for this ‘association’ in the Japanese and such data would be considered far from conclusive.

Thus, despite the evidence from animal studies and some indications that calorie restriction in humans may lead to similar biological effects (at least at the molecular level), it is certainly unclear whether calorie restriction (or reserveratrol) will reduce age-related cardiovascular disease in humans.

I may need a glass of red wine to relax and think about this.

Toronto, Ontario

Sung MM, & Dyck JR (2011). Age-related cardiovascular disease and the beneficial effects of calorie restriction. Heart failure reviews PMID: 22095297