Washington: Consuming fewer calories may help slow down ageing and promote a long, healthy life, according to a new study that delves beyond the skin to unlock the secrets to ever-lasting youth. There’s a multi-billion-dollar industry devoted to products that fight signs of ageing, but moisturisers only go skin deep.
Ageing occurs deeper – at a cellular level – and scientists have found that eating less can slow this cellular process. The research offers a glimpse into how cutting calories impacts ageing inside a cell. Researchers found that when ribosomes – the cell’s protein makers – slow down, the ageing process slows too. The decreased speed lowers production but gives ribosomes extra time to repair themselves.
“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,” said John Price, professor at Brigham Young University in the US.
Researchers found that reduced calorie consumption causes ribosome production to slow down. They observed two groups of mice. One group had unlimited access to food while the other was restricted to consume 35 per cent fewer calories, though still receiving all the necessary nutrients for survival.
“When you restrict calorie consumption, there’s almost a linear increase in lifespan,” Price said. “We inferred that the restriction caused real biochemical changes that slowed down the rate of ageing,” he said.
The team is the first to show that general protein synthesis slows down and to recognise the ribosome’s role in facilitating those youth-extending biochemical changes. “The calorie-restricted mice are more energetic and suffered fewer diseases,” Price said.
“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,” he said. Ribosomes use 10-20 per cent of the cell’s total energy to build all the proteins necessary for the cell to operate.
Due to this, it is impractical to destroy an entire ribosome when it starts to malfunction. However, repairing individual parts of the ribosome on a regular basis enables ribosomes to continue producing high-quality proteins for longer than they would otherwise. This top-quality production in turn keeps cells and the entire body functioning well.
“Food isn’t just material to be burned – it’s a signal that tells our body and cells how to respond,” Price said. “We’re getting down to the mechanisms of ageing, which may help us make more educated decisions about what we eat,” he said. The study was published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.