Calorie reduction extends the lifespan of healthy lung-cells and reduces cancer’s growth rate, according to researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

A team of researchers, led by principal investigator Trygve Tollefsbol, PhD, DO, a professor in the Department of Biology, grew both healthy human lung cells and precancerous human lung cells in laboratory flasks. The cells were allowed to grow for a period of weeks after the flasks were provided with either normal levels of glucose or significantly reduced amounts of the sugar compound.

When researchers tracked the cells’ ability to divide and monitored the number of surviving cells, they found that restricted glucose levels led the healthy cells to grow longer than expected and caused the precancerous cells to die off in large numbers.

Most significant in the findings was the identification of two genes, telomerase and p16, which were shown to be affected in the cellular response to decreased glucose consumption. “The gene reactions flipped in the precancerous cells with telomerase decreasing and the anti-cancer protein p16 increasing, which would explain why these cancer-forming cells died off in large numbers,” Dr Tollefsbol stated.

“These results further verify the potential health benefits of controlling calorie intake,” Dr Tollesfsbol continued. “Our research indicates that calorie reduction extends the lifespan of health human cells and aids the body’s natural ability to kill off cancer-forming cells.”

According to the authors, the research has wide-ranging potential, including ways in which calorie-intake restriction can benefit longevity and help prevent diseases like cancer that have been linked to aging. “The hope is that this breakthrough will lead to further discoveries in different cell types and facilitate the development of novel approaches to extend the lifespan of humans,” Dr Tollefsbol concluded.

The study was published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology ([Epub ahead of print]).