You can't trust that lean and hungry look:
Severe Diet Doesn’t Prolong Life, at Least in Monkeys
By GINA KOLATA
For 25 years, the rhesus monkeys were kept semi-starved, lean and hungry. The males’ weights were so low they were the equivalent of a 6-foot-tall man who tipped the scales at just 120 to 133 pounds. The hope was that if the monkeys lived longer, healthier lives by eating a lot less, then maybe people, their evolutionary cousins, would too. Some scientists, anticipating such benefits, began severely restricting their own diets.
The results of this major, long-awaited study, which began in 1987, are finally in. But it did not bring the vindication calorie restriction enthusiasts had anticipated. It turns out the skinny monkeys did not live any longer than those kept at more normal weights. Some lab test results improved, but only in monkeys that were put on the diet when they were old. The causes of death — cancer, heart disease — were the same in both the underfed and the normally fed monkeys.
Oh, boy - where do the people who were betting on this dietary plan go to get the last fifteen years back? The Times described one such intrepid eater back in 2003:
Six years ago, Mr. Sherman put himself on the most brutal calorie-reduction plan imaginable. Not that he was especially overweight at 5-foot-5 and 145 pounds. But by switching from pizza and chips to flaxseed, brewer's yeast and sprouts, he whittled his daily caloric intake to less than 1,600, and dropped his weight precipitously, dumbfounding his friends and family.
''Here was a one-time competitive power-lifter who looked to me like a concentration camp refugee,'' said his wife, Kathy, who almost divorced him because of it. In those first two years, Mr. Sherman's libido disappeared, he was cranky, cold and flatulent all the time, and people suspected he had cancer or AIDS. ''Michael's skin hung off his body like you see on old men,'' she said.
Paradoxically, old age was exactly what Mr. Sherman was shooting for. After reading that drastic calorie restriction slows the aging process in laboratory animals, he vowed to starve himself to stretch out his golden years into the 22nd century. If mice, geese and guppies could extend their life span 40 to 50 percent by eating 40 percent less than they wanted, why couldn't he?
''I'm definitely not one of these guys who says, 'Ooo, 18 more years and I can retire,' '' said Mr. Sherman, 46, who runs a biotech company in California near his Silicon Valley home. Now that he's acclimated to the diet and is somewhat bulked up from weight lifting, he looks more like a cyclist than a ''Survivor'' finalist. ''I feel very much like I did at 20,'' he said. ''Nothing but blue sky ahead of me.''
Well, he won't get any more blue sky than the rest of us, if we can believe this monkey business.
I'll say it again - with a diet like that, you may (or may not!) live to 120, but it will seem a lot longer.