The Fasting Program That May Prevent Age Related Diseases

Apr 26, 2017 | Health and Diet |

The Dirt:

Cleansing, fasting, caloric-restriction— all of these diet “tricks” typically don’t sit well with the D2D team. But, new research has indicated that controlled fasting performed roughly twice a year may help keep your healthy cells healthy and enable your body to replace damaged cells. Is this another gimmick or new information that we should actually listen to? Before the media runs wild with this research, let’s find the facts…

We approach this topic with every intention of not sounding like a broken record. By now you’re probably thinking—we get it you don’t like diet hacks. And while that is true—we don’t think programs that support rapid weight loss are healthy— it is important to review new research when it is published.
In February 2017, a study entitled “Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease” was published and discussed a fasting program that is believed to help enhance healthy aging.
The premise behind the Fasting-Mimicking Diet is that it shocks your system into rejuvenating your bodies’ stem cells to prevent age related diseases, like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Aging is of course inevitable, but the goal of a fasting-mimicking program is to help you age in a healthier manner.

 But how does this ‘diet’ compare to other fasting diets we have reviewed?

The use of fasting is hardly a new concept in terms of dieting. And we have discussed different forms of fasting on D2D in the past. Previously, we argued against the idea that juice cleansing is healthy. (In reality, juice cleansing is not all it’s cracked up to be. Remember: you want to try and eat your fruits and veggies as juicing often removes all the fiber!) We also reviewed the famed 5:2 diet—a program that made the ‘fasting approach’ to dieting more mainstream. (Another diet hack we are not fond of.)

One scientist you might remember from the Michael Mosley BBC documentary, Eat, Fast, & Live Longer, is Dr. Valter Longo. Dr. Longo is a renowned cell biologist and the Director of the University of Southern California Longevity Institute.

When approaching this research, Longo asked himself, “Is it possible for people to guard against aging as well as aging diseases?” His research hopes to help prevent a disease all together— rather than treat a disease that already exists.

Dr. Valter Longo hopes to better understand the root cause of many life-threatening diseases, and asserts that age is the biggest contributing factor to diseases such as CVD, diabetes, and alzheimer’s.

He has discovered 2 out of 3 cellular pathways of aging and a natural intervention process with a tremendous impact on biological aging: Fasting.

“The medical field has turned into a ‘Band-Aid field”…. we wait until somebody has developed cancer and then we use chemotherapy or other therapies that do some good and kill cancer cells, but also kill the normal cells.” (Dr. Valter Longo)

In order to combat traditional “treat after diagnosis” medicine, Dr. Longo has explored the positive use of fasting and and a fast-mimicking diet program.

Dr. Longo believes that when used appropriately, a “fasting-mimicking diet”— which is not a diet plan, but rather of a way to shock your system— can help your body rejuvenate itself, regenerate healthy cells, and eliminate harmful cells.

Unlike most fasting gimmicks, a fast-mimicking diet is a program that is followed for a short period of time to help your body heal itself. Longo, like many nutritionists, does not believe in fad dieting as they often can encourage poor eating habits. Fasting diets, like the 5:2 method and the “Every Other Day Diet”, encourage a starve and feast approach to food—pretty unhealthy if you ask us!

While he has performed the bulk of his research in mice, more recently (and more notably), with other biologists in his field, Dr. Longo performed several human trials to test the success of a fasting-mimicking diet on both healthy people with risk factors for diseases, cancer patients, and multiple sclerosis patients.

Longo and his research team asked the questions:

“Is it possible that fasting tells the body to kill damaged cells and make new cells after re-feeding, such as new cells in the immune system.”

Does the body has everything it needs to rejuvenate itself?

Can fasting push your body to go into this regenerative and rejuvenated mode?

The FMD Research…

Research indicates that your body can do this, probably because of the necessity to remove damaged components and use them for fuel during periods of starvation. You can think of an old train that burns wood for fuel and that is running out of wood. To make it to the next station, it can start burning the wooden chairs in the train, starting with the ones that are damaged. When it arrives to the next station, the chairs can be replaced with new ones.

As we mentioned, Dr. Longo, with a team of prominent scientists in the anti-aging field, published the study “Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.” Additionally, upon its completion, this study was peer-reviewed by other scientists in the field. The findings were established as credible and it was published according to best practices and standards set by the scientific community.

“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged…

What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back.” – Dr. Valter Longo

In this study, the team sought to determine whether human participants would demonstrate the same response to a fasting-mimicking diet that had been collected from mice trials. The results of mice trials indicated that a fasting-mimicking diet reduced risk factors for cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)  is a very important hormone for cell growth, tissue strengthening, and healing skin. However, too much or too little can have detrimental effects on health. The science is still inconclusive on effects of too high or too low IGF-1— but it hypothesized that low IGF-1 levels can increase inflammation in the human body. For example, it has been found that people with inflammatory bowel disease often have low IGF-1 levels. Levels of high IGF-1 are also associated with cancer, especially for people that show markers for cancerous cells.

The two-arm study included 100 healthy human participants from the United States and ran for 3 months. Participants were randomized and asked to follow an FMD program or an unrestricted diet. Those who were assigned FMD followed the program for 5 consecutive days a month, over a 3-month period. Data was collected after the first 3-month period, following which, control subjects were then crossed over from the control diet group into the experimental FMD group. Upon completion of the study, there were 71 subjects who participated in three months of FMD. Scientists collected blood glucose levels, IGF-1 levels, and cardiovascular markers, like inflammatory markets and cholesterol levels.
After the trial concluded, the results were compared to the original results from the study performed in mice. Dr. Longo’s report indicated that the human trial results were in agreement with the mouse model findings. As hypothesized, the human body presented signs of stem cell regeneration and rejuvenation when it followed a fasting-mimicking diet, followed by a feeding period. It is important to note, that scientists believe that it not just the fasting that is believed to promote cell regeneration, but rather the feeding period that follows.

Participants demonstrated similar results to the studies performed in mouse models.

The study concluded, “A post hoc analysis of subjects from both FMD arms showed that body mass index, blood pressure, fasting glucose, IGF-1, triglycerides, total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and C-reactive protein were more beneficially affected in participants at risk for disease than in subjects who were not at risk. Thus, cycles of a 5-day FMD are safe, feasible, and effective in reducing markers/risk factors for aging and age-related diseases.”

In a pilot clinical trial, three FMD cycles decreased risk factors/biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer without major adverse effects, providing support for the use of FMDs to promote health-span. Source

A ‘post hoc analysis’ means that after concluding the human trial, the scientists who performed this study then compared the results of participants who were on the FMD diet versus participants who remained on the normal diet to see if differences existed.  So, in laymen’s terms, the human participants benefitted from the FMD cycles, similarly to what had been shown in mice.

The study determined that for “normal” participants (i.e. participants that showed no genetic markers or pre-disposition for disease) the blood glucose levels dropped a small amount, but for pre-diabetic subjects, blood glucose levels dropped quite significantly. In fact, participants with pre-diabetic blood glucose levels returned to an almost normal blood-glucose level— which is very significant. Similarly, IGF-1 levels in both normal participants and “at risk for Cancer” participants dropped, however these hormone levels it dropped much more significantly in “at risk for Cancer” participants than normal participants.
Lastly, C-reactive Protein (CRP), which is a marker for cardiovascular disease was also measured. Just as with blood glucose levels and IGF-1 levels, both the normal participants and the “at risk for CVD” participants both demonstrated lower markers, however the “at risk group” dropped more significantly than the normal participants.

Dr. Valter Longo at a Ted Talk Presentation:
Fasting: awakening the rejuvenation from within.

Applying this research to the average consumer…

So, should we incorporate the FMD fast in our life?

That is a little tougher to answer…

Until the findings of this research are replicated in larger human trials, it cannot be conclusively stated that fasting-mimicking diets are the key to cell rejuvenation. 

However, the findings of this study demonstrate that the FMD approach is safe for practice with the approval of a licensed nurse practitioner or physician. “Pre-disposed” participants experienced a significant drop in key markers for CVD, diabetes, and cancer. Additionally, healthy participants demonstrated a minimal drop, which are the results you want. For example, researchers would not want a participant who has low blood pressure or low glucose levels to drop further into an unsafe range, as this could cause health problems. Despite this success, the results can only be considered conclusive when they have been replicated across many different human trials. Thus, Longo and his colleagues will have to perform larger multi-center studies to conclusively demonstrate the efficacy and safety of the periodic FMD’s. 

Unlike more notable fasting diets and trends, the fasting-mimicking diet is designed to be used as more of a reset.

Recent studies on fasting “provide the foundation for a new way to prevent and treat diseases, not by lowering specific risk factors but by activating stem cells, killing damaged cells, and replacing them with new and functional ones.”

In an interview with BlueZones.com, Dr. Longo was asked how often the average person should go on a fast:  It depends, “Somebody that is very healthy, exercises, has a Blue Zones diet, and has a perfect weight may need it twice a year. Somebody that has high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure, abdominal adiposity (so they’re overweight or obese, etc.), or they have a high risk of cancer in the family, they probably need to do it once a month.
So, if you typically eat well, stay hydrated, exercise, get plenty of sleep and you are interested in a fasting-mimicking diet, you could probably try the program once or twice a year. Of course, in order to start FMD you should consult a nutritionist or physician about this program.
The D2D team is a strong believer in the effectiveness of a well-balanced diet. However, we spoke with Dr. Longo and he argues that “while no one is arguing with this, the reality is that 70% of Americans are overweight or obese and probably over 80% of them have at least one elevated risk factor for disease. Thus, a well-balanced diet, even if it can be followed, is not sufficient and it is important to move to new and effective combinations of healthy diets and periodic interventions, such as the fasting-mimicking diet” (Dr. Valter Longo).  

Dr. Longo believes that a fasting mimicking diet “switches the clock back a little bit by promoting regeneration and rejuvenation effects,” thus delaying the progression of age-related diseases. Large human clinical trials are currently being planned to try and determine whether the Fast Mimicking Diet is something that should be incorporated into our future. We will have to wait and see! In the meantime, Dr. Longo’s reearch can also be found on his facebook page.

The Bottom Line:

This research is promising. Although it cannot be definitively stated that a fasting-mimicking diet will rejuvenate your healthy cells, the study presented indicates that a FMD could be a healthy way to rejuvenate your body and lower markers for age-related diseases like CVD, cancer, and diabetes. 

Resources:

“Fasting for Longevity: 9 Questions for Dr. Valter D. Longo.” Blue Zones. N.p., 23 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.

Gersema, Emily. “Fasting-like diet turns the immune system against cancer.” USC News. University of Southern California, 12 July 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.

Jones, Christopher Edward. “IGF-1 & Intermittent Fasting: Discussion with Valter Longo.” Michelson Medical Research Foundation. 26 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

Wei, S. Brandhorst, M. Shelehchi, H. Mirzaei, C. W. Cheng, J. Budniak, S. Groshen, W. J. Mack, E. Guen, S. Di Biase, P. Cohen, T. E. Morgan, T. Dorff, K. Hong, A. Michalsen, A. Laviano, V. D. Longo, Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Sci. Transl. Med. 9, eaai8700 (2017).

“Scientists Explain How Fasting Fights Cancer, Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration & Changes Your Brain (In A Good Way).” Collective Evolution. N.p., 27 Aug. 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.

“The Surprising Truth About IGF-1 and How to Increase and Inhibit It.” Selfhacked. N.p., 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.