Saturday, January 14, 2006

Low calorie diet makes you young at heart

People whose daily diets are low in calories, albeit sound and well-balanced, appear to have remarkable hearts that retain a youthful vigor for many years after they should have showed signs of aging.

A study of 25 members of the Calorie Restriction Society found that adherents to diets extremely low in calories, but well balanced, had significantly lower levels of inflammatory markers and more flexible ventricles, which translated into better diastolic function, reported Luigi Fontana, M.D., Ph.D., of Washington University here, and colleagues.

The 21 men and four women had been voluntarily sticking to diets containing about 1,400 to 2,000 calories per day for three to 15 years. They were compared with 25 age- and gender-matched controls who ate typical Western diets (about 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day).

"This is the first study to demonstrate that long-term calorie restriction with optimal nutrition has cardiac-specific effects that ameliorate age-associated declines in heart function," said Dr. Fontana.

In healthy humans, Doppler echocardiographic studies have shown that normal aging is associated with a decline in diastolic function, but little or no change in left ventricular systolic function, the investigators noted.

They found that while there were no significant differences in systolic function between calorie counters and controls, people in the calorie-restriction group had diastolic function indices similar to those of younger people. In addition, they had significantly more elastic, less stiff ventricles and lower blood pressure than controls, as well as less inflammation-- less TNF-alpha, C-reactive protein and transforming growth factor-beta1.

Prof Fontana said simply consuming less food is not the answer. Members of the study group also eat what resembles a traditional Mediterranean diet, focusing on vegetables, olive oil, beans, whole grains, fish and fruit. They avoid refined and processed foods, soft drinks, desserts, white bread and other sources of "empty" calories.

For the general public, the researchers recommend a moderate reduction in calories, plus moderate, regular exercise.

See a video on the benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet. Scroll down to the November 28, 2005 entry.

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