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Understanding How Dietary Restriction Cleans Cells

Reduce, recycle and rebuild is as important to the most basic component of the human body, the cell, as it is to the environment.

And a University of Florida study shows just how much the body benefits when it "goes green," at least if you're a rat: Cutting calories helps rodents live longer by boosting cells' ability to recycle damaged parts so they can maintain efficient energy production.

"Caloric restriction is a way to extend life in animals. If you give them less food, the stress of this healthy habit actually makes them live longer," said Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, Ph.D., chief of the division of biology of aging in UF's Institute on Aging.

Understanding how the process works at the cellular level in rodents could help scientists develop drugs that mimic the process in humans, Leeuwenburgh added.

How does it work? During the aging process, free radicals -- highly reactive byproducts of our cells' respiration -- wreak havoc on our cellular machinery. Mitochondria, the tiny power plants that keep a cell functioning, are especially vulnerable to this type of damage.

The effects can be disastrous -- if malfunctioning mitochondria aren't removed, they begin to spew out suicidal proteins that prompt the entire cell to die. Cell death, on a whole-body scale, is what aging is all about.

Fortunately, younger cells are adept at reducing, recycling and rebuilding.

In this process, damaged mitochondria are quickly swallowed up and degraded. The broken down pieces are then recycled and used to build new mitochondria. However, older cells are less adept at this process, so damaged mitochondria tend to accumulate and contribute to aging.


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