Calorie restriction in biosphere 2: alterations in physiologic, hematologic, hormonal, and biochemical parameters in humans restricted for a 2-year period

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2002 Jun;57(6):B211-24. doi: 10.1093/gerona/57.6.b211.


Four female and four male crew members, including two of the present authors (R. Walford and T. MacCallum)--seven of the crew being ages 27 to 42 years, and one aged 67 years--were sealed inside Biosphere 2 for two years. During seven eighths of that period they consumed a low-calorie (1750-2100 kcal/d) nutrient-dense diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and legumes, with small amounts of dairy, eggs, and meat (approximately 12% calories from protein, approximately 11% from fat, and approximately 77% from complex carbohydrates). They experienced a marked and sustained weight loss of 17 +/- 5%, mostly in the first 8 months. Blood was drawn before entry into Biosphere 2, at many time-points inside it, and four times during the 30 months following exit from it and return to an ad libitum diet. Longitudinal studies of 50 variables on each crew member compared outside and inside values by means of a Bayesian statistical analysis. The data show that physiologic (e.g., body mass index, with a decrease of 19% for men and 13% for women; blood pressure, with a systolic decrease of 25% and a diastolic decrease of 22%), hematologic (e.g., white blood cell count, decreased 31%), hormonal (e.g., insulin, decreased 42%; T3, decreased 19%), biochemical (e.g., blood sugar, decreased 21%; cholesterol, decreased 30%), and a number of additional changes, including values for rT3, cortisol, glycated hemoglobin, plus others, resembled those of rodents or monkeys maintained on a calorie-restricted regime. Significant variations in several substances not hitherto studied in calorie-restricted animals are also reported (e.g., androstenedione, thyroid binding globulin, renin, and transferrin). We conclude that healthy nonobese humans on a low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet show physiologic, hematologic, hormonal, and biochemical changes resembling those of rodents and monkeys on such diets. With regard to the health of humans on such a diet, we observed that despite the selective restriction in calories and marked weight loss, all crew members remained in excellent health and sustained a high level of physical and mental activity throughout the entire 2 years.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Chemical Analysis
  • Blood Glucose / analysis*
  • Blood Pressure Determination
  • Body Mass Index
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism
  • Ecological Systems, Closed*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Female
  • Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Probability
  • Reference Values
  • Time Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Fats
  • Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Cholesterol