NIH Clinical Center aerial photograph
NIH Clinical Center aerial photograph

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) supporting study provides some of the first insights into the effects of sustained calorie restriction in adults. Results from a two-year clinical trial show calorie restriction in average weight and moderately overweight people failed to enhance the metabolic effects found in laboratory animal studies.”However, researchers found calorie restriction modified risk factors for age-related diseases and influenced indicators associated with longer lifespan, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance.” (NIH study finds calorie restriction lower some risk factors for age-related diseases, 2015) This study was written in the September 2015 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Calorie restriction is a reduction in calorie intake without loss of essential nutrients. It is shown to increase lifespan and retard the progression of numerous age-related diseases in multiple animal studies. Called Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE), the randomized trial was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute  of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, both part of NIH. It was conducted at Washington University in St. Louis, Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, and Tufts University in Boston. The study coordinating center was at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D.
NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D.

“The study found that this calorie restriction intervention did not produce significant effects on the pre-specified primary metabolic endpoints, but it did modify several risk factors for age-related diseases. It is encouraging to find positive effects when we test interventions that might affect diseases and declines associated with advancing age,” notes NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “However, we need to learn much more about the health consequences of this type of intervention in healthy people before considering dietary recommendations. In the meantime, we do know that exercise and maintaining a healthy weight and diet can contribute to healthy aging.”

In laboratory animals, calorie restriction’s salubrious effects on life expectancy have generally been found when it is begun in youth or early middle age. An equivalent trial in humans would take decades. “However, shorter trials can determine feasibility, safety and effects on quality of life, disease risk factors, predictors of lifespan and effects on mechanisms influenced by calorie restriction in laboratory animal studies. CALERIE was a two-year randomized controlled trial in 218 young and middle-aged healthy normal-weight and moderately overweight men and women to measure these outcomes in a CR (Calorie Restriction) group, compared with a control group who maintained their regular diets.” (NIH study finds calorie restriction lower some risk factors for age-related diseases, 2015)

slankekurThe CR participants were given weight goals of 15.5% weight-loss in the first year, followed by weight stabilization over the second year. This goal was the weight-loss expected to be accomplished by reducing calorie consumption 25% below one’s regular intake at the start of the study. The calorie restriction group lost an average of 10% of their body weight in the first year, maintaining this weight the second year. Weight-loss fell short of the goal, but it is the greatest sustained weight-loss reported in any dietary trial in non-obese people. The CR participants achieved substantially less calorie restriction (12%) than the trials 25% target while maintaining calorie restriction all over the entire two-year period. The control group’s weight in calorie consumption was stable over the same period.

“This study was designed to test the effects of calorie restriction on resting metabolic rate (adjusted for weight-loss) and body temperature, which are diminished in many laboratory animal studies and have been proposed to contribute to its effects on longevity. The study found a temporary effect on resting metabolic rate, which was not significant at the end of the study, and no effect on body temperature.” (NIH study finds calorie restriction lower some risk factors for age-related diseases, 2015)

Even though the expected metabolic effects were not found, calorie restriction greatly lowered “several indicators of cardiovascular disease compared to the control group, decreasing average blood pressure by 4% and total cholesterol by 6%. Levels of high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol were increased. Calorie restriction caused a 47% reduction in levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory factor linked to cardiovascular disease. It also greatly decreased insulin resistance, which is an indicator of diabetes risk. T3, the marker of thyroid hormone activity, decreased in the calorie restriction group by more than 20 percent, while remaining within the normal range. This is of interest since some studies suggest that lower thyroid activity may be associated with longer lifespan.” (NIH study finds calorie restriction lower some risk factors for age-related diseases, 2015)

This study also evaluated calorie restrictions effects on mood (specifically hunger-related symptoms) and found no deleterious effects. However, a few in the study developed transient anemia and greater than normal decreases in bone density given their degree of weight-loss.

Evan Hadley, M.D., director of NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology
Evan Hadley, M.D., director of NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology

“The CALERIE results are quite intriguing. They show that this degree of sustained calorie restriction can influence disease risk factors and possible predictors of longevity in healthy, non-obese people. It will be important to learn how calorie restriction at this level affects these factors despite the lack of the predicted metabolic effects,” said Evan Hadley, M.D., director of NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology and an author of the paper. “Since this group already had low-risk factor levels at the start of the study, it’s important to find out whether these further reductions would yield additional long-term benefits. It also would be useful to discover if calorie restriction over longer periods has additional effects on predictors of health in old age and compare its effects with exercise-induced weight loss.”

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NIH study finds calorie restriction lower some risk factors for age-related diseases. (2015, September 1). Retrieved September 1, 2015, from National Institutes of Health:

Ravussin, E., et al., A 2-Year Randomized Controlled Trial of Human Caloric Restriction: Feasibility and Effects on Predictors of Health Span and Longevity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci (2015) 70 (9): 1097-1104. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glv057.



Captain Hank Quinlan, Owner and Publisher, Chief Curmudgeon
Captain Hank Quinlan, Owner, and Publisher, Chief Curmudgeon with Sam Borsalino, Assistant Publisher

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Flatfoot Willie, Correspondent at Large with fellow Staff Writers

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