Calorie restriction extends cell life, kills cancer cells in novel study

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

New research shows that restricting intake of glucose helps healthy human lung cells live longer, and also leads to death of precancerous cells in the lungs. The findings show that calorie restriction has benefits for preventing diseases such as cancer that are linked to aging.

The findings come from University of Alabama researchers. Lead investigator of the study, Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., a professor in the Department of Biology says the studies "further verify the potential health benefits of controlling calorie intake."

The researchers grew precancerous human lung cells in the laboratory, providing either normal levels of glucose or significantly decreased levels of glucose. The cells were then allowed to grow for a number of weeks. The researchers found that by restricting glucose the healthy cells grew longer than normal and the precancerous cells died in large numbers.


Two key genes were identified that were affected by glucose restriction - telomerase and P16. Telomerase is responsible for encoding an enzyme that lets cells divide indefinitely, and P16 encodes an important anti-cancer enzyme.

"Opposite effects were found for these genes in healthy cells versus precancerous cells. The healthy cells saw their telomerase rise and p16 decrease, which would explain the boost in healthy cell growth," Tollefsbol said. "The gene reactions flipped in the precancerous cells with telomerase decreasing and the anti-cancer protein p16 increasing, which would explain why these cancer-forming cells died off in large numbers." The researcher concluded that calorie restriction can extend life at a cellular level, findings that also were found in animal studies.

Tollefsbol says calorie restriction..." is the most proven intervention for aging. It's the one thing that we definitely know makes your life longer and healthier."

The research showing that calorie restriction extends life is believed to be the first of its kind. Previous testing about the benefits of calorie restriction has been performed on animals. The scientists hope to explore other cell types that could lead to an understanding of how to prevent cancer and extend the lifespan of humans.

FASEB Journal
doi: 10.1096/fj.09-149328