Research Spotlight: Stay hungry, live longer

Gorging on pastaOn the third floor of SMU’s Dedman Life Sciences Center, thousands of fruit flies are on a diet so someday you won’t have to be.

Johannes Bauer, a faculty member and researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences in Dedman College, feeds the flies every other day with a mixture of sugar and yeast and studies the effects of calorie restriction on the flies’ health and longevity. His experiments have shown that consuming 30 to 50 percent fewer calories daily allows the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly to live 10 to 40 percent longer than its natural lifespan – the equivalent in humans of living 120 years or more.

Flies fed less are more alert and more active in almost every way, except they’re not as fertile, Bauer says.

Calorie restriction – scientifically speaking, under-nutrition without malnutrition – could extend the human “health span” and possibly the life span. Gerontologists, oncologists, biochemists and biologists who have conducted calorie-restriction studies on lab animals believe it may be an effective way to stave off cancers, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many other ailments.

Reducing caloric intake, even by as little as 10 percent a day, sends the body’s cells into a low level of stress that makes them stronger when high stresses occur. “Restricting calories just a little bit puts your body in a state of stress, which makes you a little bit healthier,” says Bauer.

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