Can Low Carb Slow The Aging Process? by Dana Carpender

Can I be allowed a big, fat “I told you so?” On my blog, I told you eating low carb was slowing my aging process.

Now we have University of California gerontologist Cynthia Kenyon, with an animal study showing exactly that. She’s actually discovered what she calls the Grim Reaper gene, and another she calls the Sweet Sixteen gene. The switch that turns on the former and turns off the latter? Insulin. Which means that by cutting carbs and lowering insulin, you can reverse the process, switching off the Grim Reaper and turning on your Sweet Sixteen. Or at least she can in roundworms.

Dr. Kenyon started with roundworms, presumably because A) they’re inexpensive and plentiful, and B) they have short lifespans. I mean, you try this stuff on a Galapagos tortoise and you’ll be passing the experiment on to your great-grandchildren. But roundworms generally hit old age in 18 days, and croak by 20. Dr. Kenyon has managed to extend some of their lifespans to 144 days – that’s like you or me making it to 450 years. Woo-hoo!

Many people tell me they don’t want to live to be old. I have long aspired to make it to at least 120. When I tell people this, they look at me as if I just said I was planning to paint my house fuchsia, or wanted to take a vacation to Chernobyl. “Why would you want to live to be that old?!” they say, the assumption being, of course, that by the age of 70 I will inevitably be falling apart, and I’m asking for another 50 miserable, achy, immobile, incontinent years. Nuh-uh! Kenyon says, re her roundworms, “…they weren’t sluggish and worn out – they behaved like youngsters. It was a real shock. In human terms it was the equivalent of talking to someone you thought was about 30 and finding they were actually 60.” We’re not talking just a prolongation of life, we’re talking a prolongation of youth.

Since Kenyon’s original work with roundworms, labs around the world have looked for, and found, the same genes and the same effect in other, higher animals, and they posit it is the same for primates, including you and me.

For quite awhile, the only scientifically proven method of slowing aging and extending lifespan has been caloric restriction. Kenyon says that the reason caloric restriction works is because it includes restricting carbs, especially seriously refined, high-impact carbs, and therefore damps insulin release. I have to tell you, having eaten low carb for 15 years now, it sounds a whole lot better to me than deliberately going hungry for the rest of my life.

Kenyon apparently agrees. She eats low carb herself. From her Wikipedia profile:


No desserts. No sweets. No potatoes. No rice. No bread. No pasta. When I say ‘no,’ I mean ‘no, or not much,’ she notes. Instead, eat green vegetables. Eat the fruits that aren’t the sweet fruits, like melon. Bananas? Bananas are a little sweet. Meat? Meat, yes, of course. Avocados. All vegetables. Nuts. Fish. Chicken. That’s what I eat. Cheese. Eggs. And one glass of red wine a day.

But the diet is unproven, she cautions, and she’s not recommending it for all. Nevertheless, she’s pleased with its performance for her. ‘I have a fabulous blood profile. My triglyceride level is only 30, and anything below 200 is good.’

You have to eat something, and you just have to make your best judgment. And that’s my best judgment. Plus, I feel better. Plus, I’m thin-I weigh what I weighed when I was in college. I feel great – you feel like you’re a kid again. It’s amazing.

Wikipedia adds that Kenyon tried caloric restriction, but didn’t get past two days — she was too hungry.

© 2010 by Dana Carpender. Used by permission of the author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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