AGING
March 21, 2017

A Fast Track to Slow Aging

Eating less gives your cells, especially your ribosomes, a rest and slows the aging process.

The fight against aging is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Men and women are both vulnerable to ads for all sorts of creams, serums and moisturizers that promise to take away the years, add hair and lessen the signs of aging. Even if such potions actually work — and many don't — that youthful glow is only skin deep. Aging occurs inside the body at the cellular level, and you can’t rub a cream on that.

What you can do is eat less; that might slow the aging process, according to new research on mice.

Ribosomes are a big investment from the cell’s perspective.

Ribosomes are little structures inside each cell in the body that make proteins. Researchers have found when ribosomes' slow down their production of proteins, aging slows down as well. The break gives the ribosomes time to repair themselves.

It takes about 10 to 20 percent of a cell’s energy for ribosomes to create the proteins needed for a cell to function. That makes them a big investment from the cell’s perspective. When a ribosome starts to malfunction, it is more efficient for the body to repair the malfunctioning parts than to destroy the whole ribosome. This continuous repair allows ribosomes to keep producing high-quality proteins which keeps cells and the whole body functioning at an optimal level.

“The ribosome is a very complex machine, sort of like your car, and it periodically needs maintenance to replace the parts that wear out the fastest. When tires wear out, you don't throw the whole car away and buy new ones. It's cheaper to replace the tires,” John Price, senior author of the study and a biochemistry professor at Brigham Young University, explained in a statement.

So to slow aging, we need to slow down our ribosomes, and the best way to do that is by eating less.

Price and his colleagues studied two groups of mice, one that had unlimited access to food and another that ate 35 percent fewer calories while still receiving adequate nutrition to survive. The mice who ate fewer calories had a longer lifespan, causing researchers to conclude that calorie restriction caused changes at the cellular level that slowed the aging process.

While this group of researchers isn’t the first to show a link between decreased calories or fasting lifespan, they were the first to show that calorie restriction slows down protein synthesis and to give the ribosome credit for aiding the biochemical changes that slow aging.

“The calorie-restricted mice are more energetic and suffered fewer diseases,” Price said. “And it's not just that they're living longer, but because they're better at maintaining their bodies, they're younger for longer as well.”

Now this doesn’t mean that people should start keeping track of every calorie they consume in an effort to stay forever young. For one thing, restricting calories to slow aging hasn’t been studied in humans. But giving your body downtime, such as making sure it gets eight hours of fasting, food-free time, every night, is probably a good idea.

The message is we need to be sensitive to the relationship between how the foods we put in our bodies signal our bodies and our cells to respond. This study is but a stepping stone to understanding the cellular mechanisms of aging, and as that becomes better understood, it could help us make better decisions about what we eat, adds Price.

The study is published in Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.

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