Intermittent “Fasting” Diet Boosts Health, Lifespan
Intriguing new research suggests that following a fasting-like diet for just 5 days a month may be sufficient to significantly boost health—and may even extend lifespan. The diet mimics the effects of fasting, which has previously been linked to improved health outcomes. But it avoids the dangers of doing without any food at all. “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 researcher, Valter Longo, of the University of Southern California.
Scientists have know for years that so-called calorie restriction (CR)—in which intake of calories is slashed by about 30% compared to normal consumption—can dramatically extend the lifespans of various creatures, ranging from simple yeasts and worms, to rodents and primates. But it’s extremely difficult to achieve. Humans who have attempted to adopt this form of self-administered near-starvation often report struggling with irritability and a lack of energy. As Dr. Longo noted, strict fasting is both difficult and dangerous. CR differs from fasting in that there’s an emphasis on getting complete nutrition, including all essential nutrients.
According to previous research by Longo and colleagues, CR appears to work through “stimulation of adaptive cellular stress responses that prevent and repair molecular damage.” In other words, drastically cutting caloric intake seems to prod the body into a sort of survival mode, which ultimately benefits many aspects of health at the cellular level. But, of course, it’s virtually impossible for most people to exercise this level of discipline. So Long’s team wondered what would happen if you only fasted—or nearly fasted—for a few days each month?
In short, both animal experiments and a small trial on human volunteers showed that this limited, intermittent fasting can provoke many of the same beneficial effects as CR, without the unpleasantness associated with near-constant near-fasting. In mice, the diet slashed belly fat, and boosted the number of stem cells in areas such as the brain. The animals experienced improved memory as a result.
Human volunteers experienced improved biomarkers, indicating less inflammation in the body, and better cardiovascular health. People on the “fasting-mimic” diet had their intake of calories reduced by 34% to 54%, for just five days a month. Afterwards, subjects were free to return to their normal eating patterns. “It’s about reprogramming the body so it enters a slower aging mode, but also rejuvenating it through stem cell-based regeneration,” Longo said, in a press release. “It’s not a typical diet because it isn’t something you need to stay on.”
Longo cautioned against attempting a water-only fast on one’s own, however. “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,” he 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.”
University of Southern California website. Newsroom page. Retrieved June 18, 2015 from: http://news.usc.edu/82959/diet-that-mimics-fasting-appears-to-slow-aging/