We’ve known for some time that most organisms—from yeast, to rodents to humans—benefit from cutting calories. In simple organisms, restricting calories can double or triple lifespan. In more complex organisms calorie restriction has been shown extend life and slow down the development of age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. But, researchers have not been able to explain exactly how caloric restriction produces these effects, until now.
A team of researchers at the University of Gothenburg found that caloric restriction slows down aging by preventing an enzyme, peroxiredoxin 1 (Prx1), from being deactivated. The Prx 1 enzyme is important to health and longevity as it breaks down harmful hydrogen peroxide in your cells and counteracts damage to genetic material.
Prx1 is damaged as part of normal aging and loses its activity. Caloric restriction counteracts this by increasing the production of another enzyme, Srx1, which repairs Prx1. The researchers suggest that increased repair of Prx1 during aging can prevent, or at least delay, the development of cancer and other diseases associated with increased age.
Peroxiredoxins have also been shown to be capable of preventing proteins from being damaged and aggregating, a process that has been linked to several age-related disorders affecting the nervous system, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The researchers are also considering whether stimulation of Prx1 can reduce and delay such disease processes.
If you’re too much of a foodie to bear the thought of calorie restriction, you’ll be happy to know that the study also found that aging can be delayed without caloric restriction by only increasing the quantity of Srx1 in the cell.
If researchers develop a pill that increases Srx1 production in our bodies, you might be able to “have your cake and eat it too” as you celebrate your 100th birthday.