Scientists have known for a while that a low-calorie diet can increase longevity in certain animals. Some research even suggests it might provide cancer immunity and increased energy.

But many folks find the idea of calorie restriction difficult to swallow.

Thankfully, new research from England says that adopting a low-calorie diet, even later in life or for a short period of time, can activate many of the same touted benefits as an entire lifetime of meager eating.

The research was presented this month at the conference of the British Society for Research on Aging in Newcastle.

The theory that cell senescence, or the point at which a cell can no longer replicate, is a major cause of aging. The research team wanted to know how restricted-calorie diets affected senescence.

Positively, it turns out.

Mice fed a restricted diet had a reduced accumulation of senescent cells in their livers and intestines. These organs are known to accumulate large numbers of these cells as animals age, according to a press release from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The team also found that the protective “caps” on the animals’ chromosomes, called telomeres, showed less deterioration. Healthy telomeres mean less susceptibility to disease over time.

But perhaps most significant was the fact that the adult mice were only fed a restricted-calorie diet for a short period of time.

It might be possible to get those same restricted-calorie benefits from part-time dieting, the researchers said.

“We don’t yet know if food restriction delays aging in humans, and maybe we wouldn’t want it. But at least we now know that interventions can work if started later,” Thomas von Zglinicki, a lead researcher, said in the press release.

Calorie restriction, by the way, doesn’t advocate starving. According to the Calorie Restriction Society, the diet simply means eating fewer calories while maintaining adequate nutrients and vitamins.

Image courtesy of Flickr.