Volunteer for science

Limiting calories may prove to be the 'fountain of youth'

The sixth floor of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) on the Boston campus is a hive of activity these days. Scientists and graduate students rush around with calendars, diet records, phone messages—evidence that a new research study is under way.

Restricting caloric intake in animals retards the aging process. Is the same true for people?

Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition and chief of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory, and her colleagues have received a $4.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to determine if cutting calories makes people live longer and healthier lives. They are getting ready to enroll volunteers to help them answer that question.

In rats and other laboratory animals, caloric restriction has had amazing effects. Of course, the animals lose weight. But other remarkable things happen, too—they age at a slower rate and live longer. The animals are more resistant to disease, and even their fur goes gray more slowly. Limiting the number of calories consumed is hugely effective in turning back the biological clock. In fact, it is the only intervention ever proven to retard the aging process in animals. Roberts and her group wonder: Can people get these same valuable benefits?

The first task of this study—and why volunteers are now needed—is to determine the healthiest and most effective ways to cut calories. Will more fiber suppress hunger? Does it help to have a little of what you like every day? Nobody really knows the answers to questions like these, and it makes it hard for health care providers to give good advice on weight loss. One of the benefits of Roberts' study will be a serious evaluation of effective ways to lose weight and keep it off permanently.

Roberts wants to identify 46 healthy men and women who will become volunteers for a year to see what works best. In addition to receiving a stipend of $2,000 for completing the study, volunteers will get free food for six months and free behavioral counseling (individual and group sessions) for one year. All volunteers will be placed on a calorie-reduced diet, and weight loss is expected though not guaranteed.

Are you interested? Or do you know somebody who might be? Volunteers need to be between the ages of 20 and 42 and slightly overweight (rough guidelines are under 230 pounds for men and under 195 pounds for women). You are not eligible to participate in the study if you smoke, have diabetes, take psychiatric medication, are pregnant or plan to move away from the Boston area within a year

More information about participating in the study can be obtained by calling 1-800-738-7555 (request information about study #1895) or visit the web site http://hnrc.tufts.edu/studies/1895.shtml

This article was prepared by the staff of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.