Eat less, live longer? It works in lemurs

Empty plate
Could calorie restriction work for people? Photo credit: File

The key to long life could be laying off not just the pies and booze, but pretty much all food.

A decade-long study on lemurs, which like humans are primates, has found restricting calories to about 70 percent of what they'd normally eat increased lifespans by almost 50 percent.

The anti-aging effects of calorie restriction had been measured in worms, flies and mice, but this is the first time it's been proven to work in animals more closely related to us.

In the study, lemurs fed a normal diet lived on average of 6.4 years, compared to 9.6 years in the calorie-restricted group.

Lemurs from the control group that managed to survive at least nine years appeared older than those of the same age on the reduced diet, showing signs of whitened fur and cataracts.   

The only downside for the calorie-restricted animals were reduced weight and a slight loss of grey matter in the brain, though there was no corresponding loss of cognitive function.

Lemurs that ate normally on the left, with calorie-restricted diets on the right.
Lemurs that ate normally on the left, with calorie-restricted diets on the right. Photo credit: CNRS/MNHN

"The present results provide evidence that chronic, moderate caloric restriction, when started early in adult life, can extend the lifespan of mouse lemurs by 50 percent and reduce the risk of age-associated diseases including cancer and chronic nephritis and age-associated mortality," the study, published in journal Communications Biology, reads.

Before you go starving yourself however, there are a couple of things to note.

Firstly, all the lemurs in the study were male - the effects might be different for females. Secondly, people are not lemurs - though we're both primates, lemurs branched off our evolutionary tree 60 million years ago.

That said, lemurs are often used in research as accelerated analogues for human ageing, as they suffer many of the same age-related problems we do.

Studies on the effects of calorie restriction on humans have been inconclusive, because our long lifespans and varied lifestyles make it difficult to measure.