I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was planning to publish some articles on my parents’ ageing journeys as well as my own. This is a guest blog written by my dad.
Calorific restriction for successful ageing
I’m very fortunate to have remained in good health for just over 77 years. I take no medication or food supplements and have never been on a diet. I just eat what I felt like eating – types of food, how much and when – and I’m grateful to have the freedom to make those choices. Many people don’t.
So how come I find myself on a diet now, albeit a rather limp one, affecting not what I eat but when, and weekly rather than daily?
The reason is Covid related. I guess the virus has made us all more acutely aware that we have an immune system and that it plays a part in defence against viruses and whether we win or lose the battle. So, back in late March, while standing in a queue for the check-out in a nearby supermarket, which happened to be by the magazine rack, a New Scientist (28 March 2020) caught my eye with the title ‘Reset your Immune Age’ on the front cover. I don’t generally buy magazines, and this one was more than what I usually pay for a bottle of wine, i.e. over a fiver, but I was intrigued and could do with something to reader while I waited to check-out.
The article advertised on the cover turned out to be called ‘You’re only as young as your immune system’ by Graham Lawton, and it proved to be an excellent review of what immune systems are and how they work, coupled with practical advice on keeping immune systems young. As I’m in good health, I assume that my immune system is working well so didn’t feel a great urge to fix it, but this could change and I did start to wonder whether there was anything I could do to keep it all tickety-boo.
One paragraph jumped out at me. ‘One of the most successful anti-ageing strategies ever discovered is caloric restriction. It requires a permanent cut in energy intake of up to 60 per cent. In every experimental animal that has been put through this, from fruit flies to primates, it extends lifespan and healthspan.’ Science is not always that clear-cut and convincing, so perhaps this was worth taking seriously. Healthspan, by the way, is the number of disease-free years at the end of life, and that is clearly linked to the quality of life. Like many older people, I’m not too fussed about how many years I have left, but I would like to remain as healthy, fit and independent for as long as possible, though probably not at the expense of a 60% reduction in calorie intake!
Tricking the mTOR
Fortunately, it seems, there are ways round this. It’s all to do with deactivating a nutrient-sensing pathway inside cells called mTOR. When calories are scarce this switches off, you’re in famine mode and your immune system is happy. Even if calories are not scarce, mTOR can be tricked, and inhibited with certain drugs, but drugs are certainly not for me, and the good news is that there are other ways to trick mTOR, such as intermittent fasting. The idea here is that the benefits of low calorie intake can still be achieved by switching off mTOR during short periods of fasting.
And this is where my so-called diet, the 16:8, comes in. All you have to do is to restrict your eating to an 8-hour period and fast for the other 16. Better still is that ‘even done once a week, this is an effective way of slowing ageing and strengthening the immune system’! So, once a week I don’t eat anything in the evening after 7 and before 11 the next morning. In other words, my so-called diet means giving up breakfast once a week! Too good to be true? Probably, but painless, and I feel it’s doing me good. And if it isn’t, I’ll never know. My immune system may not even need a helping hand – yet – and perhaps I’m already doing enough through exercise and remaining pretty skinny.
One thing I haven’t established is whether at 11 it’s OK to eat breakfast and elevenses, or should it just be the latter. I’m sure the information is out there and I could look it up. But perhaps I don’t really want to know! I quite enjoy the weekly treat of stuffing myself at 11 am!
Based on Dad’s experience, I’m also planning to try this 16:8 weekly from September. I’ll let you know how I get on.
We’re both also part way through Graham Lawton’s interesting book entitled This Book Could Save Your Life – This is very relevant for Age Life Balance, so I’ll be reviewing that on here soon ?
Thank you for reading! For more on Age Life Balance, browse the blog at www.agelifebalance.com to find out more.