Caloric restriction: powerful protection for the aging heart and vasculature

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2011 Oct;301(4):H1205-19. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00685.2011. Epub 2011 Aug 12.


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Research has shown that the majority of the cardiometabolic alterations associated with an increased risk of CVD (e.g., insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes, abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and inflammation) can be prevented, and even reversed, with the implementation of healthier diets and regular exercise. Data from animal and human studies indicate that more drastic interventions, i.e., calorie restriction with adequate nutrition (CR), may have additional beneficial effects on several metabolic and molecular factors that are modulating cardiovascular aging itself (e.g., cardiac and arterial stiffness and heart rate variability). The purpose of this article is to review the current knowledge on the effects of CR on the aging of the cardiovascular system and CVD risk in rodents, monkeys, and humans. Taken together, research shows that CR has numerous beneficial effects on the aging cardiovascular system, some of which are likely related to reductions in inflammation and oxidative stress. In the vasculature, CR appears to protect against endothelial dysfunction and arterial stiffness and attenuates atherogenesis by improving several cardiometabolic risk factors. In the heart, CR attenuates age-related changes in the myocardium (i.e., CR protects against fibrosis, reduces cardiomyocyte apoptosis, prevents myosin isoform shifts, etc.) and preserves or improves left ventricular diastolic function. These effects, in combination with other benefits of CR, such as protection against obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, suggest that CR may have a major beneficial effect on health span, life span, and quality of life in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Coronary Circulation / physiology*
  • Health
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Humans