Calorie restriction and aging: review of the literature and implications for studies in humans

Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3):361-9. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.361.


Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear. CR reduces metabolic rate and oxidative stress, improves insulin sensitivity, and alters neuroendocrine and sympathetic nervous system function in animals. Whether prolonged CR increases life span (or improves biomarkers of aging) in humans is unknown. In experiments of nature, humans have been subjected to periods of nonvolitional partial starvation. However, the diets in almost all of these cases have been of poor quality. The absence of adequate information on the effects of good-quality, calorie-restricted diets in nonobese humans reflects the difficulties involved in conducting long-term studies in an environment so conducive to overfeeding. Such studies in free-living persons also raise ethical and methodologic issues. Future studies in nonobese humans should focus on the effects of prolonged CR on metabolic rate, on neuroendocrine adaptations, on diverse biomarkers of aging, and on predictors of chronic age-related diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging* / genetics
  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Body Composition
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Longevity*
  • Mice
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Rats
  • Risk


  • Insulin