There may be no need to look for the fountain of youth after scientists found a way to reverse aging and increase a healthy lifespan by just cutting calories.

An international team of researchers led by the Butler Columbia Aging Center at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health presented the findings of the first-of-its-kind randomized trial in their study published recently in the journal Nature Aging.

Their Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) trial was based on the geroscience hypothesis that therapy to slow or reverse molecular changes with aging could delay or prevent chronic diseases and extend a healthy lifespan.

For the trial, 220 healthy adults (both men and women) without obesity were randomized to 25% caloric restriction for two years. It’s the first-ever scientific investigation of the effects of calorie restriction on healthy, non-obese humans.

After analyzing data, the researchers found that CALERIE intervention slowed the aging process but did not yield significant changes in biological age estimates. However, they noted that the modest slowing of aging could have profound effects on population health.

The intervention effect in the trial represented a 2-3% slowing in the pace of aging. In other similar studies, the figure translates to a 10-15% reduction in mortality risk, according to Medical Xpress.

“In worms, flies, and mice, calorie restriction can slow biological processes of aging and extend healthy lifespan. Our study aimed to test if calorie restriction also slows biological aging in humans,” senior author Daniel Belsky, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School and scientist with Columbia’s Butler Aging Center, said in a press release.

Since the participants were only monitored for 24 months, it’s impossible to tell how their diets affected their life-long health. The findings merely presented estimates on how calorie restriction would impact their health and lifespan based on data collected during the study period.

“Humans live a long time, so it isn’t practical to follow them until we see differences in aging-related disease or survival. Instead, we rely on biomarkers developed to measure the pace and progress of biological aging over the duration of the study," Belsky explained.

Though promising, prolonged calorie restriction is undeniably unsustainable in real-life settings. Previous research also pointed out the potential drawbacks of this diet, including mental health issues and bone density and muscle mass decline, as per TIME.

"Our study found evidence that calorie restriction slowed the pace of aging in humans. But calorie restriction is probably not for everyone," co-lead author Calen Ryan, Ph.D., a research scientist at Columbia's Butler Aging Center, said.

"Our findings are important because they provide evidence from a randomized trial that slowing human aging may be possible. They also give us a sense of the kinds of effects we might look for in trials of interventions that could appeal to more people, like intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating."

Cutting Calories
Cutting hundreds of calories a day could end up making you a happier person. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain