Caloric restriction without malnutrition extends life span in a range of organisms including insects and mammals and lowers free radical production by the mitochondria. However, the mechanism responsible for this adaptation are poorly understood.
Methods and Findings
The current study was undertaken to examine muscle mitochondrial bioenergetics in response to caloric restriction alone or in combination with exercise in 36 young (36.8 ± 1.0 y), overweight (body mass index, 27.8 ± 0.7 kg/m2) individuals randomized into one of three groups for a 6-mo intervention: Control, 100% of energy requirements; CR, 25% caloric restriction; and CREX, caloric restriction with exercise (CREX), 12.5% CR + 12.5% increased energy expenditure (EE). In the controls, 24-h EE was unchanged, but in CR and CREX it was significantly reduced from baseline even after adjustment for the loss of metabolic mass (CR, −135 ± 42 kcal/d, p = 0.002 and CREX, −117 ± 52 kcal/d, p = 0.008). Participants in the CR and CREX groups had increased expression of genes encoding proteins involved in mitochondrial function such as PPARGC1A, TFAM, eNOS, SIRT1, and PARL (all, p < 0.05). In parallel, mitochondrial DNA content increased by 35% ± 5% in the CR group (p = 0.005) and 21% ± 4% in the CREX group (p < 0.004), with no change in the control group (2% ± 2%). However, the activity of key mitochondrial enzymes of the TCA (tricarboxylic acid) cycle (citrate synthase), beta-oxidation (beta-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase), and electron transport chain (cytochrome C oxidase II) was unchanged. DNA damage was reduced from baseline in the CR (−0.56 ± 0.11 arbitrary units, p = 0.003) and CREX (−0.45 ± 0.12 arbitrary units, p = 0.011), but not in the controls. In primary cultures of human myotubes, a nitric oxide donor (mimicking eNOS signaling) induced mitochondrial biogenesis but failed to induce SIRT1 protein expression, suggesting that additional factors may regulate SIRT1 content during CR.
The observed increase in muscle mitochondrial DNA in association with a decrease in whole body oxygen consumption and DNA damage suggests that caloric restriction improves mitochondrial function in young non-obese adults.
Anthony Civitarese and colleagues observed an increase in mitochondrial DNA in muscle and a decrease in whole body oxygen consumption in healthy adults who underwent caloric restriction.
Life expectancy (the average life span) greatly increased during the 20th century in most countries, largely due to improved hygiene, nutrition, and health care. One possible approach to further increase human life span is “caloric restriction.” A calorie-restricted diet provides all the nutrients necessary for a healthy life but minimizes the energy (calories) supplied in the diet. This type of diet increases the life span of mice and delays the onset of age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke. There are also hints that people who eat a calorie-restricted diet might live longer than those who overeat. People living in Okinawa, Japan, have a lower energy intake than the rest of the Japanese population and an extremely long life span. In addition, calorie-restricted diets beneficially affect several biomarkers of aging, including decreased insulin sensitivity (a precursor to diabetes). But how might caloric restriction slow aging? A major factor in the age-related decline of bodily functions is the accumulation of “oxidative damage” in the body's proteins, fats, and DNA. Oxidants—in particular, chemicals called “free radicals”—are produced when food is converted to energy by cellular structures called mitochondria. One theory for how caloric restriction slows aging is that it lowers free-radical production by inducing the formation of efficient mitochondria.
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite hints that caloric restriction might have similar effects in people as in rodents, there have been few well-controlled studies on the effect of good quality calorie-reduced diets in healthy people. It is also unknown whether an energy deficit produced by increasing physical activity while eating the same amount of food has the same effects as caloric restriction. Finally, it is unclear how caloric restriction alters mitochondrial function. The Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) organization is investigating the effect of caloric restriction interventions on physiology, body composition, and risk factors for age-related diseases. In this study, the researchers have tested the hypothesis that short-term caloric deficit (with or without exercise) increases the efficiency of mitochondria in human muscle.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 36 healthy overweight but non-obese young people into their study. One-third of them received 100% of their energy requirements in their diet; the caloric restriction (CR) group had their calorie intake reduced by 25%; and the caloric restriction plus exercise (CREX) group had their calorie intake reduced by 12.5% and their energy expenditure increased by 12.5%. The researchers found that a 25% caloric deficit for six months, achieved by diet alone or by diet plus exercise, decreased 24-hour whole body energy expenditure (i.e., overall calories burned for body function), which suggests improved mitochondrial function. Their analysis of genes involved in mitochondria formation indicated that CR and CREX both increased the number of mitochondria in skeletal muscle. Both interventions also reduced the amount of DNA damage—a marker of oxidative stress—in the participants' muscles.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that a short-term caloric deficit, whether achieved by diet or by diet plus exercise, induces the formation of “efficient mitochondria” in people just as in rodents. The induction of these efficient mitochondria in turn reduces oxidative damage in skeletal muscles. Consequently, this adaptive response to caloric restriction might have the potential to slow aging and increase longevity in humans as in other animals. However, this six-month study obviously provides no direct evidence for this, and, by analogy with studies in rodents, an increase in longevity might require lifelong caloric restriction. The results here suggest that even short-term caloric restriction can produce beneficial physiological changes, but more research is necessary before it becomes clear whether caloric restriction should be recommended to healthy individuals.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040076.
The CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) Web site contains information on the study and how to participate
American Federation for Aging Research includes information on aging with pages on the biology of aging and on caloric restriction
The Okinawa Centenarian Study is a population-based study on long-lived elderly people in Okinawa, Japan
US Government information on nutrition
MedlinePlus encyclopedia pages on diet and calories
The Calorie Restriction Society, a nonprofit organization that provides information on life span and caloric restriction
Wikipedia pages on calorie restriction and on mitochondria (note: Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)