Does fasting make your life longer?
You’ve probably heard that fasting has a lot of health benefits, and maybe you’ve also tried the Diet 5:2, which promises a fast losing weight solution by eating only 600 kcal 2 days a week.
Perhaps you also tried to drink only veggie-smoothies or other types of juices with the idea of “Purifying your body”
This is a world full of trends and very often Instagram is the source of these trends and it can influence our decisions.
Nevertheless, now science, and also Instagram, started speaking about the benefits of fasting, and this may be more impactful than everyone has ever thought.
It has been shown that a diet that includes one or two days of fasting can activate remarkable processes that are not only capable of losing weight, but also that have regenerative properties.
Processes that not only burn fat, but also contrast heart diseases, slow down the aging, lower cholesterol, “reset” the immune system and increase the human lifespan.
But the research about the benefits of fasting doesn’t stop here; recent studies on laboratory mice show that fasting can stop some forms of cancer and can improve the chemotherapy effects. In some other studies fasting itself was as effective as chemotherapy. In short words, science is telling us that the hunger pain caused by fasting could heal some of the biggest problems connected to our welfare society in which we’re living.
The person behind this research is Doctor Valter Longo, Italian teacher at the University of Southern California. Valter Longo studied how fasting can have benefits on the immune system and other good effects that it can have on the rest of the body. For example, the capacity of our cells to fight toxins, improving our ability to regenerate and also to cure cancer by “starving” the cancer cells.
Many of these secret weapons are already part of our DNA, but fasting activates them. And in many cases, the reasons behind the benefits of fasting are still unknown, but the positive effects on our body remain.
Doctor Longo’s latest research shows that periodic fasting, along with low-calorie diets, have a regenerative effect on the whole body, and this mechanism is deeply written inside our DNA. Many reasons behind this effect are known, and others remain a mystery. It is considered that fasting kills cancer cells by removing the glycogen and making them die of starvation, (cancer cells rely on glycogen more than normal cells); this process would make them release radicals free that would cause the “cell suicide”.
But the most powerful healing mechanisms that come from fasting are different. Longo has shown that fasting activates the production of new stem cells that repair our body by regenerating tissues, organs, blood, and “restart” our immune system. It sounds too good to be true but Longo states in an interview: “The regeneration that is triggered is remarkable. During fasting, organs like the liver and the whole immune system shrink, because they are considered less necessary. When the body rebuilds them, it releases healthy stem cells that regenerate these systems, and they’re healthier, younger and more functional.
He says it’s similar to hitting the restore button of your body’s operating system. “The reconstruction it’s so massive that it is probably the one that is close to the original embryogenesis process of human development.” (The growth of an embryo during 1-8 weeks.)
“This is not just proliferation of new cells, but it’s a very coordinated operation. It is an advanced program that has existed since billions of years because organisms were dying of starvation.” For the first Homo Sapiens, that were without a fridge, periods of fasting and famine were normal. Longo claims that all we have to do is to recreate that primitive state of humans.
But there is a problem, because it’s not just about not eating for 5 days, you have to severely limit your calories intake. In his research, Longo states that what you’re eating has to be balanced in order to activate a natural process called “autophagy”, that stimulates your body to consume the waste cells, eliminating them. Immagine it like a natural recycling process that removes the old and damaged cells that may cause health problems. Furthermore, autophagy process halts the PKA enzyme and its absence it’s connected to the extension of lifespan and to the proliferation of healthy stem cells, and it also lowers IGF-1 hormone, which is associated with the aging process and with the risk of cancer.
Longo’s discoveries could enrich our lives, but not before they enrich L-Nutra, a company built by the University of Southern California. With L-Nutra, Doctor Longo has developed ProLon: Fasting Mimicking Diet” (FMD). A five days menu that contains soups, nuts bar and snacks that theoretically shouldn’t compromise the miracles caused by fasting. ProLon makes your body feel like it’s starving, even if it’s not.
The first day has 1090 kcal (10% proteins, 56% fats and 34% carbs), and other days it goes down to 725 kcal (9% proteins, 44% fats and 47% carbs). Longo explains that the priority of this project is to emulate fasting. “The meals are the result of 20 years of work, in which all the ingredients are balanced to obtain the best results and to not interfere with fasting effects, we also tried to make the people feel full after eating.”
Hover, not everyone is equally convinced about this. “Many of the benefits of fasting are about life extension, and it’s possible, but we don’t know for sure that fasting itself is the one responsible for it.” Says Kieran Clarke, a Professor from Oxford University's Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics. “It could be correlated to having a normal body weight. Reading the statistics, healthy people don’t fast.”
Doctor Tim Woodman, medical director at Bupa Uk, believes that fasting could have opposite effects: “Losing weight too fast means also that you may lose muscle mass and water, consequently, your body will work slowly and will need less calories to work. Hence, when you will start eating normally again, the calories in excess will be stored as fat.”
One of the main opponent of fasting is Doctor Joel Fuhrman, author of The End of Dieting and Super Immunity. Fuhrman is the man behind the “nutritionism” theory, which states that the key to longevity is to maximize the number of micronutrients per calorie consumed. “Fasting is just a distraction.” he says. “Modern diet is so poor in nutrients that it is inopportune to speak about fasting, without putting it in a normal diet. Our diets are too deficient in micronutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants for maintaining the normal function of the immune system.”
“If you want to live longer and to be healthy, forget about fasting. Eat just raw vegetables: a portion of 30g of nuts, chia and flax seeds. A meal with mushrooms, beans and onions and 3 portions of fruits per day, like cherry, plums and oranges, every single day. A nutritional diet is the most efficient way to avoid heart diseases, cancer and dementia, and to live up to 100 years. Ah, and additionally, remove meat from your diet, because the animal proteins are the biggest obstacle in our life.” States Fuhrman. “Important studies that monitor people for 15-24 years show that eating animal products cause cancer. There is no controversy here, all the nutritional scientists agree on this.” Says Fuhrman.
Aso, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently added red meat and processed meat to the list of carcinogenic elements. These studies aren’t new, some of them are from 2010, but our desire to increase the protein intake made us ignore them.
“My diet is just 10% animal products and 90% plant based” Says Fuhrman. Some days of fasting won’t help you unless you don’t change also your daily diet. Animal proteins increase the IGF-1 hormone, that accelerates the aging process and has a negative impact on lifespan. Yes, a brief calories restriction could limit the IGF-1, but if you consume animal products daily, with the time it won’t decrease. If you limit the amount of animal protein and you follow a vegan diet at the same time, you can have benefits without fasting.”
To eat or not to eat? It would be naive to believe that there would be a unanimous consensus on this topic. But Longo’s and Fuhrman’s arguments are not so different. Fuhrman admits that fasting is effective, but he questions it when people start eating again their normal diet after fasting. Although the theories exposed by the fasting critics, Longo’s research about its potential is still convincing.
According to a study published in Research in Complementary Medicine there is "great scientific and empirical evidence" that medically controlled fasting can help people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity and that this is far too important to be overlooked.
“We will never claim that fasting is effective so that people can go back to smoking and having a bad diet once they stop it.” States Doctor Longo. “If someone has a vegan diet with low protein consumption and has a BMI of 23, and also trains regularly, he will have an advantage from fasting, but not as big as someone who is not healthy.”
However there’s still some road to go. Doctor Longo believes that there they’re just beginning to understand the real potential of fasting. “Think about it, if you’re a 50 years old man and you just had a child and he’s completely healthy, this means that your cells know exactly how to rebuild perfection. How do they know it? Is it possible that we can do the same with our body, without generating a new person? This is what we’re teaching here.” Longo seems very excited about his studies, almost to make him dizzy.