Featured Research

Low protein diet may be key to long life

Getting the correct balance of proteins in our diet may be more important for healthy ageing than reducing calories.

Dietary restriction (DR) – reducing food intake whilst maintaining sufficient quantities of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients – appears to have health benefits. In many organisms, such as worms, mice, rats and the Rhesus monkey, these benefits include living longer.

In this study, the fruit fly (Drosophila) has been used to help understand what it is about the diet that is important for its lifespan altering effects.


Small Drosophila melanogaster fly.
Image copyright of André Karwath.

Lifespan vials

To understand more about the health benefits of dietary restriction, we have reduced specific nutrients in the diets of fruit flies. The fruit flies were fed a diet of yeast, sugar and water, but with differing amounts of key nutrients, such as vitamins, lipids and amino acids. It was found that varying the amount of amino acids in the mixture affected lifespan and fertility; varying the amount of the other nutrients had little or no effect.

In fact, when the effect was studied further, it was found that levels of a particular amino acid known as methionine were crucial to maximising lifespan without decreasing fertility. Adding methionine to a low nutrient diet boosted fertility without reducing lifespan; likewise, reducing methionine content in a high calorie diet prolonged lifespan. Previous studies have also shown that reducing the intake of methionine in rodents can help extend lifespan.

"By carefully manipulating the balance of amino acids in the diet, we have been able to maximise both lifespan and fertility," explains Dr Matthew Piper, one of the study authors from the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing. "This indicates that it is possible to extend lifespan without wholesale dietary restriction and without the unfortunate consequence of lowering reproductive capacity."

Because the effects of dietary restriction on lifespan appears to be evolutionarily conserved – occurring in organisms from yeast to monkeys – it is possible that the mechanisms may also be conserved. This opens up the possibility of using Drosophila as a model to study how dietary restriction works and explore new lines research in higher organisms.
Lifespan vials2

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Page last modified on 18 jun 10 16:10