TOR: the Secret to Maintaining Longevity and Healthy Aging

From yeast to monkeys, calorie-restricted diets have been shown conducive to life extension and healthy life of all living organisms as long as there is no malnutrition. Although there is no long-term research to prove the benefits of limiting calories to human life, short-term studies have shown that it does improve health.

It might work like this. Our body monitors and senses the amount of nutrients through specific molecules in the cell. Depending on the amount of food we eat, these molecules regulate our metabolism to intervene how we use the available nutrients. One of these molecules is an enzyme called TOR. When there are many foods, the TOR enzyme will indicate cells to grow in the body. If there is less food, TOR will indicate cells to be vigilant - what scientists call 'mild stress response.'

Many experiments have shown that when animals eat a lot of food, especially for a long time, TOR will feel this, and their life will be shorter. But does all food have this effect on TOR?

The TOR enzyme is particularly active when cells sense large amounts of amino acids (components of proteins) or proteins. Protein-restricted diets do not cause malnutrition and can have the same effects on the metabolism and longevity of laboratory animals as calorie-restricted diets.

Age-related Diseases

It is well known that age-related diseases are caused by genetic mutations, but is there a link between TOR, nutrition and senile diseases? We know that nutrition is associated with cancer and heart disease, and overactive TOR is associated with these diseases, but recent studies have shown that TOR is also directly associated with neurodegenerative diseases. For example, the TOR activity in the brain of Alzheimer's patients is much higher than in a healthy brain. In addition, mimicking these diseases in mice and other experimental animals suggests that removal of excess TOR can prevent brain cell death.

So, what we eat, how our body perceives, and the risk of neurodegenerative diseases may be linked. Scientists are exploring various possibilities to prevent neurodegeneration. If more protein means more active TOR, we can either safely adjust our diet or develop a drug that deceives our body and makes it think it consumes less protein.

Many laboratory studies have shown that caffeine and a drug called rapamycin actually can do that. Although cells are rich in proteins, their metabolism and longevity are similar to those of protein-restricted cells. We are currently conducting research on human neurons in this area, and the first result points in the same direction.

Not So Simple

Does this mean that we should change our diet and protein intake? What about other nutrients like sugar? Unfortunately, as expected, things are not that simple. Many other molecules in our body are involved in the perception of nutrients, including carbohydrates, which affect lifespan and age-related diseases.

This is why we need to be very cautious. First, everyone's nutritional needs vary, depending on his/her stage of development, age, gender, or level of activity—only a few important factors are listed here. In addition, although there is growing evidence from the use of human cells and tissues in laboratories, we need to conduct large-scale population studies that record specific diets, including protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake, while analyzing related health or molecular markers. Such research will take decades to produce reliable data and valid conclusions.


Nonetheless, with the development of new technologies and scientific methods, we are taking steps to understand the underlying causes of aging and age-related diseases. Coupled with targeted clinical trials and population studies, we may be able to achieve healthy aging and longer life in the near future.

07 July 2022
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