A PILL that could add decades to the average lifespan moved a step closer. Scientists have identified an anti-ageing enzyme that protects cells from decay. The groundbreaking discovery could pave the way for the development of drugs that will help us all to live well beyond 100. It has long been known that slashing calorie intake can prolong life as well as keeping us healthy. Now US researchers have solved the mystery of how eating less helps people to live longer. Professor John Denu, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has shown how the enzyme Sirt3 acts on the molecules inside cells. Knowing the molecular basis of how the enzymes work may ultimately lead to the development of drugs that slow down the process of ageing, he said. Daily Express could lead to a pill that would mimic the effects of a low-calorie diet without having to stick to a strict eating regime. Cutting calorie intake by around 60 per cent, while maintaining vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, can prolong life by up to 40 per cent. It is also thought to slash the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, while staving off age-related degeneration of the brain and nervous system. Professor Tomas Prolla, a geneticist who also worked on the Wisconsin study, said: Were getting closer and closer to a good understanding of how calorie restriction works. This study is the first direct proof for a mechanism underlying the anti-ageing effects we observe under calorie restriction. An extra-low calorie diet, including specialist sprouted- grain bread and plenty of vegetables such as turnip, broccoli, celeriac and cauliflower, is believed to reduce the damage to cells caused by compounds known as free radicals. The compounds have been linked to heart disease, cancer and Alzheimers disease but can be neutralised by the antioxidants found in healthy foods. Writing online in the journal Cell, the scientists show that higher levels of the enzyme Sirt3 also protect cells from free radicals. The study involved mice with age-related hearing loss, which is linked to free radical damage to the cells in the inner ear. Commenting on the report, nutritionist Angela Dowden said: Its a bit premature to say we should all start going hungry to live longer, and anyway it can take away much of the pleasure of food and social aspect of sharing a meal which is important to wellbeing too. If you are cutting calories it is very important to plan your diet very carefully to ensure adequate nutrition. There are risks to being very underweight too. Foods high in antioxidants include oily fish like salmon and sardines, barley, soya, blueberries, almonds, cinnamon and wholegrain bread. Daily Express