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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 29 2007

A Case for Starvation?

By Mark Sisson

That’s an admittedly provocative headline, but there’s a controversial and compelling idea behind this that I believe is really worth exploring.

I’m going to highlight a few interesting points and encourage you to join in a discussion about metabolism, lifespan, and – yes – not consuming sufficient calories.

1. Calorie Restriction = Fewer Free Radicals?

A fascinating study I caught in PLoS (Public Library of Science) a few weeks back finds that insufficient caloric intake – but not malnutrition – appears to regulate mitochondrial production of free radicals. The mitochondria can be thought of as the engines of our body’s cells. It seems counterintuitive that eating a bit less than what is required to feel satiety – “full” – could be healthy. Really healthy. The antioxidant theory is huge in science and health, and I support it. I think the evidence is very compelling that most diseases and health problems – and ultimately aging itself – are, in a fundamental way, related to oxidative damage from free radicals. We know food and supplements can provide us with beneficial levels of antioxidants to mitigate this oxidative damage. But could our eating habits have an impact upon the function of our cells as well? Think of it this way: we have access to thousands and thousands of calories daily. It’s basically an unlimited buffet. Most of us eat roughly the same amount of calories every day (and that tends to be too high a number – in some cases far too high). But in the “caveman” days – I use this term loosely since there really weren’t “cavemen” so to speak – caloric intake varied wildly from day to day and season to season. Might our bodies have adapted to successfully deal with caloric deficits – even thrive on this?

2. And here’s another one:

Animals live 30 to 50 percent longer when they don’t get quite “enough” calories. There are other observational studies of humans (we can’t exactly put humans in a cage in a lab) which seem to indicate this occurs in humans, too. It’s a tough issue to explore, because our society is fraught with eating disorders – of both starvation and dangerous excess. In fact, many people diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver never touch liquor – it’s a growing problem (pardon the pun) resulting from an overtaxed liver that simply can’t handle excessive calories. Our bodies, from a scientific viewpoint, simply weren’t designed for regular, plentiful, cheap calories. I think a clear indicator that this is the case can be seen if you just look around at the major rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other health problems.

What are your thoughts?

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[tags]starvation, calorie restriction, calories, metabolism, lifespan, malnutrition, mitochondrial production, oxidative damage[/tags]

TAGS:  Aging, calories

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8 thoughts on “A Case for Starvation?”

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  1. Mark, I’m trying to figure out a way to create a rough calculation for antioxidant requirements. Given that there is significant variation between individuals, There must still be a quantity range of free radicals produced for ever calorie or gram of fat or protein or carbohydrate consumed. I recognize other factors, like environmental pollutants also up the requirement, but, I’m trying to find an approach to answering this question.

  2. Don’t you think the answer is in the first sentence of point 1.?

    I mean, not malnutrition. I think the reason is not about caloric intake but about carbohydrate intake, if you cut the carbohydrates and eat enough proteins an fats, there is chances that you achieve a healthy macronutrient’s intake and create a caloric restriction without this purpose. As you can eat a lot of vegetables and so antioxidants compound wich have virtually no calories.

  3. When you corn-feed geese to make their livers sick and huge, it’s called foie gras. When you do that to humans, it’s called…. obesity and metabolic syndrome, and some people, even doctors deny it even exists.

  4. From my own observation, undereating and moderation equates to longevity. Provided we are talking protein fat carbs and skipping the “storebought” stuff. And coffee (1 cup) at breakfast, tea and water as the drink options at the other 2 meals, and water throughout the day. Stress will kill you.