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Constant fight against appetite reduces life expectancy

Women who are dieting and struggle to suppress their appetite shorten their telomeres. These are the protective strands in the chromosomes that determine the maximum age you can reach. If you are always dieting, and experience a constant feeling of hunger, you are probably reducing your life expectancy, write psychiatrists at the University of California in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Constant fight against appetite reduces life expectancy
Keeping to a diet can be highly stressful. The chance of failure is high, and with it comes disappointment. What's more, dieting is often also a continuous fight to suppress appetite. Itís hardly surprising that most studies of men and women who want to lose weight show high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Stress reduces the length of telomeres, the same researchers reported a few years ago already. That's why they also wanted to know whether chronic dieting has the same effect. To answer the question they studied 20 women aged between 52 and 79.

The researchers used the Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire to determine how many restrictions the women placed on their eating behaviour. The Questionnaire includes questions like Do you try to eat less at mealtimes than you would like to eat? and How often do you try not to eat between meals because you are watching your weight?

The researchers gave the women a Dietary Restraint score based on their answers. In addition the researchers measured the length of the telomeres in the white blood cells of their subjects. From this they compiled the figure below.

Constant fight against appetite reduces life expectancy

The more the women struggled to suppress their appetite, the shorter their telomeres were. The researchers also examined whether there was a relationship between the women's BMI or age and their telomere length. The results are shown below. Dietary Restraint is a stronger predictor of telomere length than age or BMI. The effect of struggling to suppress appetite is considerable.

Constant fight against appetite reduces life expectancy

In their article, the researchers also describe the study they did on 36 younger women, aged 20-50. This research produced the same results as the study of the older women.

The researchers donít think that it is dieting itself that reduces the length of telomeres, but continuously having lapses during which much more is eaten. "Dietary restraint is associated with dysregulated patterns of eating (fasting, bingeing, and purging)", they write. "Frequent missed meals followed by overeating, may cause 'metabolic strain', in the form of frequent and greater fluctuations in insulin and glucose levels, and such exposure is hypothesized to accelerate telomeric loss."

Traditional scientists rarely have a good word to say about protein-rich diets. They are sometines written off as 'unhealthy' and 'ineffective' when it comes to keeping fat mass down.

Nevertheless, there's mounting evidence that a protein-rich diet satiates well, and thus reduces feelings of hunger. If you lose weight by following a diet that contains 25 percent protein or more, you're unlikely to go off the rails and resort to bingeing. Maybe that alone should be enough to convince scientists.

Psychosom Med. 2008 Oct; 70(8):845-9.

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