Los Angeles, CA – Cutting-edge research reveals that occasionally adopting a diet that mimics the effects of fasting may provide dramatic health benefits.
“Fasting flips a regenerative switch essentially regenerating the entire immune system. It gives the OK for stem cells to go begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” said Prof Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California.
A study, led by USC’s Dr. Valter, revealed that a “cycles of a four-day low-calorie diet that mimics fasting (FMD) cut visceral belly fat and elevated the number of progenitor and stem cells in several organs of old mice — including the brain, where it boosted neural regeneration and improved learning and memory,” according to USC News.
The initial tests on mice were part of a three-tiered study on the effects of periodic fasting — testing yeast, mice and humans — which was published in Cell Metabolism on June 18, 2015.
According to a report from USC News:
Mice, which have relatively short life spans, provided details about fasting’s lifelong effects. Yeast, which are simpler organisms, allowed Longo to uncover the biological mechanisms that fasting triggers at a cellular level. And a pilot study in humans found evidence that the mouse and yeast studies were, indeed, applicable to humans.
Bimonthly cycles that lasted four days of an FMD which started at middle age extended life span, reduced the incidence of cancer, boosted the immune system, reduced inflammatory diseases, slowed bone mineral density loss and improved the cognitive abilities of older mice tracked in the study. The total monthly calorie intake was the same for the FMD and control diet groups, indicating that the effects were not the result of an overall dietary restriction.
In a pilot human trial, three cycles of a similar diet were given to 19 subjects once a month for five days and decreased risk factors and biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer with no major adverse side effects, according to Longo.
Dr. Longo notes that strict fasting can be difficult for people to adhere to, and also has the potential to be dangerous, while pointing out that a fasting mimicking diet is much safer and easier.
“Strict fasting is hard for people to stick to, and it can also be dangerous, so we developed a complex diet that triggers the same effects in the body,” said Longo, Edna M. Jones Professor of Biogerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute. “I’ve personally tried both, and the fasting mimicking diet is a lot easier and also a lot safer.”
The fasting mimicking diet cuts a person’s daily caloric intake over the fasting period down to 34 to 54 percent of their daily average, with a specific balance of micronutrients, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
In previous groundbreaking research, Longo has shown how fasting can protect immune and other cells from chemotherapy toxicity, while simultaneously starving out cancer cells. Fasting for seventy-two hours protected cancer patients against the toxic impact of chemotherapy:
“Chemotherapy causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest fasting may mitigate the harmful effects of chemotherapy,” said co-author Tanya Dorff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital.
“We are investigating the possibility that these effects are applicable to different systems and organs, not just the immune system,” Longo said.
“The good news is the body got rid of the parts in the system which might be damaged or old and inefficient parts, during the fasting. If you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system,” he said.
USC News reports that:
For 25 days a month, study participants went back to their regular eating habits — good or bad — once they finished the treatment. They were not asked to change their diet and still saw positive changes.
Longo believes that for most normal people, the FMD can be done every three to six months, depending on the abdominal circumference and health status. For obese subjects or those with elevated disease risk factors, the FMD could be recommended by the physician as often as once every two weeks. His group is testing its effect in a randomized clinical trial, which will be completed soon, with more than 70 subjects.
“It’s about reprogramming the body so it enters a slower aging mode, but also rejuvenating it through stem cell-based regeneration,” Longo said. “It’s not a typical diet because it isn’t something you need to stay on.”
“If the results remain as positive as the current ones, I believe this FMD will represent the first safe and effective intervention to promote positive changes associated with longevity and health span, which can be recommended by a physician,” Longo told USC News. “We will soon meet with FDA officers to pursue several FDA claims for disease prevention and treatment.”
Despite its positive effects, Longo cautioned against water-only fasting – noting that they should only be done in specialized clinics – and warned even about attempting the fasting mimicking diet without first consulting a doctor and seeking their supervision throughout the process.
“Not everyone is healthy enough to fast for five days, and the health consequences can be severe for a few who do it improperly,” he said. “Water-only fasting should only be done in a specialized clinic. Also, certain types of very low-calorie diets, and particularly those with high protein content, can increase the incidence of gallstones in women at risk.”
“In contrast,” Longo added, “the fasting mimicking diet tested in the trial can be done anywhere under the supervision of a physician and carefully following the guidelines established in the clinical trials.”
Longo warned that diabetics should not attempt to undergo a fast or the fasting mimicking diet while receiving insulin, metformin or similar drugs and that subjects with a body mass index of less than 18 should not try the FMD diet.
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