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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Five-day 'fasting' diet miraculously slows aging, can prevent death from heart disease, cancer and diabetes

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) have developed a diet that creates the same health effects as long-term calorie restrictions such as fasts if followed for just five days a month.

"I think based on the markers for ageing and disease in humans it has the potential to add a number of years of life but more importantly to have a major impact on diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other age-related disease," researcher Valter Longo said.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Same benefits, easier to follow

One of the diet's main advantages, Longo said, is that it makes the benefits of fasting available to more people.

"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," he said.

The new study is based on previous research that shows that a wide variety of organisms actually live longer when they are on a severely calorie-restricted diet. Last year, the USC researchers also showed that fasting seems to regenerate the immune system, leading to long-term health improvement.

"For many years, caloric restriction (cutting out 30-40% of your calories each and every day) has looked the best bet for improving health outcomes during ageing, but this new diet appears much easier to stick to than caloric restriction," said Associate Professor of Biochemistry Lynne Cox of Oxford University, who was not involved in the study.

Improved brain health, memory

The "fasting mimicking diet" (FMD) involves restricting calorie intake to between one-third and one-half of the usual amount for five days. It is built around foods such as chamomile tea and vegetable soup. Day one of the diet contains 1,090 calories, with 10 percent of them coming from protein, 34 percent from carbohydrates and 56 percent from fat. The following four days, the diet contains only 725 calories, with 9 percent from protein, 47 percent from carbohydrates and 44 percent from fat.

For reference, the recommended caloric intake for an adult is 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day.

In the most recent study, participants were asked to follow the diet for five days a month but not alter their diets for the other 25 days. After three months, the participants had shown lower levels of body fat and biomarkers linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and the effects of aging.

When mice were fed the diet, the number of regenerative stem cells in organs including the brain increased. This led to the creation of new neurons as well as improvements in learning and memory. Middle-aged mice on the FMD also had lower cancer rates, improved immune function, improved cognitive function as they aged, lower rates of inflammatory disease and slower rates of bone mineral density loss.

More research needed

Some findings of the study, such as the benefits of replacing animal protein with vegetable protein, are consistent with current mainstream health advice. Others, such as the diet's high fat content, call that advice into question.

Further research will be needed to confirm the results and the safety of the diet over the long-term and to determine how frequently it needs to be practiced. Longo suspects that following the diet once every three to six months would be sufficient for most people.

The USC research team is already carrying out a randomized clinical trial.

"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," he said.

Longo cautioned that because of the diet's complexity, it should not be attempted without medical supervision.

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