In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful
It has been sought out for time immemorial: the key to long life. Legends have spoken about a Fountain of Youth, but such a fountain has been elusive. More recently, however, there has been talk about calorie restriction as the key to living longer. Studies have been conducted, and there was some promise:
The idea that a low-calorie diet would extend life originated in the 1930s with a study of laboratory rats. But it was not until the 1980s that the theory took off. Scientists reported that in species as diverse as yeast, flies, worms and mice, eating less meant living longer. And, in mice at least, a low-calorie diet also meant less cancer. It was not known whether the same thing would hold true in humans, and no one expected such a study would ever be done. It would take decades to get an answer, to say nothing of the expense and difficulty of getting people to be randomly assigned to starve themselves or not.
Researchers concluded the best way to test the hypothesis would be through the monkey studies at the University of Wisconsin and the National Institute on Aging, although the animals would have to be followed for decades.
Now, the major study that was started in 1987 has been completed, and the results are in: calorie restriction did not prolong life. The results of the study were published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature:
For 25 years, the rhesus monkeys were kept semi-starved, lean and hungry. The males’ weights were so low they were the equivalent of a 6-foot-tall man who tipped the scales at just 120 to 133 pounds. The hope was that if the monkeys lived longer, healthier lives by eating a lot less, then maybe people, their evolutionary cousins, would, too. Some scientists, anticipating such benefits, began severely restricting their own diets.
The results of this major, long-awaited study, which began in 1987, are finally in. But it did not bring the vindication calorie restriction enthusiasts had anticipated. It turns out the skinny monkeys did not live any longer than those kept at more normal weights. Some lab test results improved, but only in monkeys put on the diet when they were old. The causes of death — cancer, heart disease — were the same in both the underfed and the normally fed monkeys.
Lab test results showed lower levels of cholesterol and blood sugar in the male monkeys that started eating 30 percent fewer calories in old age, but not in the females. Males and females that were put on the diet when they were old had lower levels of triglycerides, which are linked to heart disease risk. Monkeys put on the diet when they were young or middle-aged did not get the same benefits, though they had less cancer. But the bottom line was that the monkeys that ate less did not live any longer than those that ate normally.
When I first heard of the idea that practically starving oneself may be the key to living a long life, I said to myself: Why? Why would I want to deprive myself of one of the greatest things God has given us (especially after Ramadan) – food and drink – in order to live longer on this earth? Especially on this earth?
Now, I don’t believe in living one’s life with a death wish. I have lived through some very dark days, but I never considered suicide. God forbid. But, that doesn’t mean that I would go to extremes – like starving myself – to live longer. Life and death are in God’s hands, not ours.
Of course, I know – as a doctor – that if someone lives a very unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, eating an unhealty diet, drinking to excess, etc.), it is likely that this person would live a shorter life than the average lifespan of an American. Yet, for that person, his or her lifespan is his or her lifespan.
If it is in God’s plan for that person to live 80 years, despite being totally unhealthy, then that person will live to be 80 years old. Conversely, even if someone lives the most healthy life possible, if it is God’s will that he will die at age 24, like my cousin, then that is the life that he will live.
I often joke by saying this: “I would rather die six months earlier than I would normally have and eat my ________.” And I would fill in that blank with a variety of things: Taco Bell (yes, Taco Bell), chocolate cake, cheesecake, frozen custard, etc. That point is: we should live a life of moderation.
Live as healthy as possible, because it will make it more likely that we will avoid the scourge of disease. Yet, it is ok to enjoy an indulgence (by this I mean desserts or potato chips…) every once in a while, to make life fun and lively. But, I don’t think we should go to extremes (like starving ourselves) in order to live longer. That’s because I believe there is a life and a world after this one.
And in that life, I will be with my Beloved forever. Starving myself to stay here longer is just not worth it.