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Ep. 1- Reducing caloric intake may reduce risk of disease

Could reducing caloric intake by 12% reduce your risk of age-associated disease like heart disease and cancer? A recently published study suggests it just might. Dr. Chet Zelasko explains on this edition of Straight Talk on Health

Welcome to Straight Talk on Health, I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko.

What if I could tell you that you could reduce your risk of age associated diseases like heart disease and cancer, if you could just reduce your caloric intake by 12%? Would that be something that might appeal to you? Let me tell you about a recently published study. Now this study, and it's got one heck of a title: “The matricellular protein SPARC induces inflammatory interferon-response in macrophages during aging” published in the journal immunity 8/12/2022. Now, right there, there's a whole lot to unload. So what does matricellular mean? It means outside of the cell, not within the cell, but in the matrix that’s the space between your cells. Now this particular protein…and what does SPARC mean? Again, here's lot of words, secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine. Cysteine is an amino acid. It happens to be a great one from the perspective that it helps clean up mitochondria if you put it together with another amino acid, glycine.

But that's not what we're talking about in this particular show. What this protein does. If you're overweight, it can have devastating effects. Let me set it up this way: If your normal weight and you have a normal amount of body fat, in that matric, that's inside your fat cells, in and around your fat cells, this protein is made, but it’s anti-inflammatory and that's beneficial for you. You can go around and quench free radicals. Do all sorts of nice things and research shows that this protein spark will help produce some of the things that are associated with developing heart disease, cancer and things of that nature. Here's the tricky thing. If you're overweight for a long period of time, what was good can become bad. Now, is it the protein itself that does it or does it change something? Well, it turns out that changes something. Remember use the microphage? Those are actually white blood cells and this spark protein gives them the characteristic of being anti-inflamatory. But if there's too much of this protein, what happens is that it becomes pro-inflammatory. In other words, it turns on your body and it becomes destructive. That's something we don't want. And so a group of researchers took data from the calorie study.

I've talked about it on the show before, the comprehensive assessment of long-term effects of reducing energy intake. Now what they tried to do in this calorie study is to get 150 people to restrict their caloric intake by 25% for 2 years and compared them to an ad lib group who change nothing. Ad lib means ad libitum which means you can eat as much as you want. So that's what the way they started this study. In my opinion, the subjects could not do it. The best that they could do was reduced their intake by 11.9%. Now, that's still significant. Don't get me wrong about that. That's very, very important. In a prior study, what they found was that all the measures that are related to body weight and body fat all turned beneficial for those who are able to restrict their caloric intake by just 12%. I’ll talk about that a little more in detail later.

But here's the thing: that's really not very much of anything and give you some examples of it. They were leaner. They had less body fat. They weighed less. All of those things, when you compare them to the ad lib group were beneficial. Now it turns out that this was a relatively young group. 38 years of age. Not that old. There are ramifications for those of us that are older, however. When we think about this SPARC protein and its effects, one of the things that they did is they collected fat biopsies when this study began. And so that's been held in cold storage and they decided to analyze it. They decided to analyze it to see if by reducing those calories, we could get the same type of effect in this one SPARC protein. In other words, convert it from being pro inflammatory and giving you negative effects to something that's going to be anti inflammatory again. And you know what? It worked. It toned down the SPARC protein so that it instead of turning those white blood cells in the things that were pro inflammation, they made them anti-inflammation. So how is this data good? How are you going to use that in your life. Well, number one, you got to check with your doctor because if you're going to restrict calories and it doesn't matter what kind of way you do it, but if you're going to restrict your calories. The thing that you have to understand is it may change the amount of medication you take. Maybe you'll need to take less of it and certainly as you lose weight, if you do, that may be something that's going to be beneficial. Maybe you'll be able to get off of medication, too. But the other thing is: one of the benefits that some of the people in the original study found was that if they exercised, they didn't specify which types, so it wasn’t necessarily weight training, they gain muscle mass. And for those of you that maybe 60 and older, that's huge. So check with your doctor. Number two: calculate your caloric needs. And just remember these 3 words: body, weight, planner. Put those into a search engine. It should take you to the National Institutes of Health website for diabetes and kidney disease. And in there you will be able to calculate how many calories do I really need. I like this planner because what it does is it allows you to modify your exercise levels, you can even specify an error on days where you may overeat and that you can take that into account and it will give you what you need to maintain your weight, then all you need to do is subtract about 12% from that. So, mine came out to maintaining where wait to be about 2900, I’m going to go with about 2500 calories, you know, close enough is in this particular case. And that's what I'm going to focus on in trying to reduce calories.

Finally, try to make better choices, it isn't just about eating less. The average age in this was 38. And when you're over 60, you need more protein. And you know what? They happen to be important sources of sistine. That includes chicken, turkey, yogurt, cheese, eggs, sunflower seeds, legumes, beans of all types. Focus on eating more of those kinds of foods and perhaps reduce the refined carbohydrates.

The calorie study is far from over. We're going to get more information from it. But this is really exciting because what it shows is that if you do in fact, reduce your caloric intake by about 12%, then you can get some benefit from it. Think about what that would mean for you if you could reduce your risk of getting heart disease, if you can reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. You may even reduce your risk of getting hypertension. And if you have those things already, you may be able to do something about it in a very simple manner. And all that means is you just eat a little bit less move a little bit more, eat a little bit better. That's all the time we have for this show, so until next time this doctor Chet Zelasko saying health is a choice, people choose wisely today and every day.


Straight Talk on Health with Dr. Chet Zelasko is recorded in the studios of WGVU Public Radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The views and opinions expressed on Straight Talk on Health are not necessarily those of WGVU its underwriters or Grand Valley State University. Episodes are found at wgvunews.org and wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe.


Dr. Chet Zelasko is a scientist, speaker, and author. Dr. Chet has a Ph.D. and MA in Exercise Physiology and Health Education from Michigan State University and a BS in Physical Education from Canisius College. He’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist, belongs to the American Society of Nutrition, and has conducted research and been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find him online at drchet.com.