Anti-Aging Diets: Do They Work?

Written by Dr. Jonathan Peterson, Updated on May 29th, 2024, Published on July 10th, 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Anti-Aging Diets: Do They Work?

Research from the early 1990s on the effect of lower food consumption found that Calorie Restriction (CR) in rats extended their lives.
Other studies by Walford, Masoro, and Weindruch found that caloric restriction (CR) is crucial for extended longevity in mice and rats. These studies also concluded that in addition to an increase in life span, CR lowered disease occurrences and slows many symptoms of old age.
The CR definition is "reduced caloric intake in the absence of malnutrition." However, how the process works, the amount of CR needed the generate maximum benefits, and when to eat vary.
These studies uncovered a growth-promoting and nutrient-sensing network that can regulate biological aging in many organisms.
This led to research focused on identifying small molecules that could mimic the effects of CR on health and lifespan without cutting calories.
A few "CR mimetics" included the anti-diabetes drug metformin, the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin, the intestinal a-glucosidase inhibitor acarbose, sirtuin-activating compounds, and the glycolytic inhibitor 2-deoxyglucose. The bad news is that most of them couldn’t match CR's health and lifespan benefits.

The increasing popularity of anti-aging diets

Anti-aging diets can be categorized into two groups:
• Calorie restriction: fasting-mimicking diets, intermittent fasting, time-restricted feeding, and ketogenic diets
• Isocaloric nutrient restriction: protein restriction and amino acid restriction.
Let’s take a brief look at these approaches.

Ketogenic diets

Ketogenic diets (KDs). These diets aim to promote a constant state of ketogenesis. This leads to ketosis, a state of escalated ketone bodies in the blood. Other tissues can metabolize these extra ketone bodies.
The usual KD in humans is meager in carbohydrates. Other approaches, like the high-protein Atkins diet, are also popular. The long-term health effects of KDs and the benefits of low- versus high-protein KD diets in humans are still undetermined.
Two 2017 studies concluded that a low-carbohydrate, low-protein KD can extend the life span in mice. A lower incidence of cancer, and a boost in memory and motor function, were also observed.
Fasting-mimicking diets (FMDs) and intermittent fasting (IF) diets generate ketogenesis by restricting simple carbohydrates and proteins and maintaining high-fat levels.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that switches between fasting and eating regularly. Research shows that intermittent fasting is a way to manage your weight and prevent — or even reverse — some forms of disease. But how do you do it? And is it safe?

What is intermittent fasting?

Most diets focus on what to eat, but intermittent fasting stresses when you eat. While intermittent fasting, you only eat during a specific time. Studies have found that fasting for specific hours daily or restricting calories a few days a week may benefit health and longevity.

Time-restricted feeding (TRF).

TRF is a variant of IF where people eat daily but only during a specific time window. Research on TRF in rats uncovered improvement in many metabolic areas.
Also, TRF has been shown to promote healthy circadian rhythms in mice. One caveat: the results of TRF studies are quite promising in animals but have produced mixed results in humans.
Some research indicates moderate benefits, while others found adverse effects on glucose homeostasis. As with many longevity approaches, more research is needed to find definitive answers.

Fasting-mimicking Diets

A fast-mimicking diet (FMD) is more precise about what you can and can’t eat than when you eat. The idea here is that complete fasting has valid scientific evidence supporting it.
However, it is extremely challenging to go without eating and even more challenging to keep fasting to enjoy any benefits from the practice. Fasting mimicking may be the answer to this dilemma since it is easier to benefit from a complete, hard-core fast.
Fasting mimicking is "a low-calorie diet designed to mimic fasting without fasting," said Dana Ellis Hunnes, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of "Recipe for Survival."
The approach effectively “fools” your body into believing you’re fasting even though you’re eating small amounts over a five-day period, the time span linked with the benefits of fasting.
FMD has been found to promote stem cell activation and robust regeneration in several tissues. Cycles of FMD have also been found to ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
Previous research has highlighted that IF can also trigger ketogenesis and strengthen stress resistance, metabolic homeostasis, and inflammation markers.
However, all these studies are limited in duration and scope. As mentioned earlier, further studies are needed to determine whether FMDs or IF can deliver long-term benefits on longevity and health in rodents and humans.

Protein restriction (PR) and amino acid restriction

Protein restriction (PR) and amino acid restriction. Prior research has found that PR slows symptoms of aging and sexual development in rats. Many studies have since shown that PR increases lifespan in rodents. Other studies have found that protein may cultivate longevity in insects and mice.
Additionally, several studies have found that restriction of certain essential amino acids that come from diet and cannot be synthesized can lead to life span extension by inhibiting mTOR signaling.
As with the other diets covered earlier, more research is needed on the longevity effects of protein restriction and amino acid restriction.

Are anti-aging diets effective?

Many folks are experimenting with anti-aging diets. A CR researcher Roy Walford touted the topic in the 1980s. However, it had trouble gaining traction due to the severe discipline required to maintain the austere CR lifestyle.
Recently, the less inflexible CR variations, such as KDs, TRF, PR, and IF, are catching on. But it is still unknown if CR diets slow aging in humans.
Two studies supporting CR's anti-aging effects in humans are studies of Okinawans and the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) studies.
However, laboratory nutrition studies do not always work in humans. Genetic variation might also impede the laboratory findings of humans.
Also, age differences and nutritional requirements between lab rats and humans make applying anti-aging diets difficult. CR-like diets could improve longevity in some individuals while shortening lifespan in others.
The nutritional strategy for longevity varies for different individuals, and only a few studies have explored the long-term and short-term side effects of anti-aging diets in adults.


Research on several anti-aging diets has increased our understanding of the aging process. Several molecular targets have been identified to boost longevity and ease the hardship of several debilitating diseases.
Regrettably, the outcomes and long-term risks of such diets are still unknown. More research is needed to determine anti-aging diets' molecular and cellular expression and the effects of environmental and genetic variation on diet-related health outcomes.

Lee, M.B. et al. (2021). Antiaging diets: Separating fact from fiction. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.abe7365.

R. L. Walford (1983). Maximum Life Span. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-380-65524-1.

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