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Cutting down on calorie intake could be the secret to enhancing health and living longer. New findings by Yale University researchers have confirmed the health gains of moderate calorie restriction in humans. Adults in the study who reduced their daily intake by 14 per cent showed better functioning of the thymus gland. Moreover, restricting calories has been found to inhibit the production of PLA2G7, glyburide or glibenclamide a protein associated with ageing.

Yale’s findings are based on the very first controlled study of calorie restriction in healthy humans (CALERIE).

The trial asked more than 200 participants to reduce their daily calorie intake by 14 per cent.

Meanwhile, the rest of the study participants were asked to keep eating as usual.

Researchers went on to analyse the long-term effects on participants’ health over the next two years.

Decades of laboratory research have shown calorie restriction to be beneficial in increasing the life span of certain animals.

Vishwa Deep Dixit, Professor of Pathology, Immunobiology, and Comparative Medicine, and senior author of the study wanted to see whether the same applied to humans.

With his team, he started by analysing how the thymus would be affected by calorie restriction.

The thymus is a gland located just above the heart that produces T cells, which are essential for the immune system.

The thymus ages at a faster rate than other organs.

“As we get older, we begin to feel the absence of new T cells because the ones we have left aren’t great at fighting new pathogens,” said Professor Dixit.

The study found that the thymus glands in participants who restricted calorie intake for two years had less fat and greater functional volume than before.

This increased their production of T-cells.

Meanwhile, participants who did not restrict calorie intake showed no change in thymus functional volume over two years.

Professor Dixit commented: “The fact that this organ can be rejuvenated is, in my view, stunning.”

The research also took a closer look at genes in the T-cells produced by participants.

And they found one gene that could be responsible for the health benefits derived from calorie restriction.

PLA2G7 is a protein produced by immune cells known as macrophages. If harnessed, this protein could extend health in humans.

“We found that reducing PLA2G7 in mice yielded benefits that were similar to what we saw with calorie restriction in humans,” said Olga Spadaro, co-author of the study and former research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine.

In mice, for instance, following calorie restriction, the thymus glands became functional for a longer time, the mice were protected from diet-induced weight gain, as well as age-related inflammation.

Study authors added that this was a ‘well-controlled study’ that showed how a simple reduction in calories, instead of a specific diet, could have a remarkable effect on human health.

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