New research with rhesus monkeys sheds light on why restricting calories may extend your life-span. Limiting consumption of calories seems to boost key infection-fighting cells in the immune system, the researchers say.

"The key finding is that in a primate species, which is very similar to ourselves, there is a very remarkable effect on the maintenance of the immune system with caloric restriction," said lead researcher Dr. Janko Nikolich-Zugich, a senior scientist at Oregon Health & Science University's Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute.

The Study

In the 42-month study, Nikolich-Zugich and his colleagues found that calorie restriction improved the maintenance and production of infection-fighting T-cells in 13 rhesus monkeys, 18 to 23 years of age, whose calories were restricted, compared with 28 monkeys who ate a normal diet.

The researchers found that calorie restriction improved T-cell function and reduced the production of inflammatory compounds. These findings suggest that limiting calories can delay immunological aging, and, in turn, life span maybe increased by providing longer-term resistance to infectious diseases.


Nikolich-Zugich said that people who restrict the number of calories they take in also may live longer because their immune system is stronger. He said it may be possible to find a drug that mimics calorie restriction that could improve the immune system.

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