So many of us turn to fake science, trendy diets, and bizarre fasts to try and shed excess pounds or to look younger. Quite often we have momentary success and then life gets in the way of our diet commitment or we simply can’t sustain the program. New research suggests that if we adopt a diet that mimics the effects of fasting, it may have a wide range of health and wellness benefits and it may also slow down the natural aging process.
The researchers used a concept called FMD, or fasting mimicking diet, and the results were a reduction of visceral belly fat and a noted increase of progenitor and stem cells (associated with boosting neural regeneration and improved learning and memory) in the mice subjects. Mice are actually excellent test subjects for this research because of their rather short lifespan.
The study was done in three tiers, looking at periodic fasting’s impact. A separate pilot showed that the impact of FMD was also measurable in humans. And a study on yeast cells showcased the impact of intermittent fasting at the cellular level. In the first tier of the study, two middle age groups of mice subjects were given the same total monthly calories. In the control group, subjects ate a certain daily calorie amount. In the test group, there were twice-a-month four-day periods of extremely low calorie consumption. The FMD group showed extended lifespan, reduced incidence of cancers, booted immune systems, reduced inflammatory diseases, a slower rate of bone loss, and improved cognitive function, as the mice were tracked. It was a sort of re-boot, clearing out damaged cells, and helping to instigate the growth of new cells.
In the human pilot phase, the test group (19 subjects) had three cycles of a five-day FMD over a 90-day period and those individuals when tracked had decreased risk factors and biomarkers for aging, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and no major adverse side effects from these three “reduced calorie” periods. The fasting mimicking diet is more feasible for compliance since strict fasting is really hard for most people to follow. The results were not surprising since prior research, which starved cancer cells, still supported the immune system and actually helped to protect other cells from cancer. Valter Longo from USC School of Gerontology and Director of USC Longevity Institute explains the impact of a diet that mimics fasting as “reprogramming the body to enter a slower aging mode while also experiencing rejuvenation through stem cell based regeneration.”
In the human pilot study, the first day of the diet contained 1,090 calories and a specific protein/fat/carbohydrate profile, while days two through five offered 725 calories, with a slightly altered profile (more carbohydrates, less fat). Participants ate a lot of vegetable soup, kale crackers, and chamomile tea.
After the 30-day experience (five days of FMD and 25 days of regular diet) the study participants went back to their standard eating habits. Despite no more FMD cycles, the subjects continued to experience positive health changes (as measured by lab data). Longo believes that doing an FMD cycle every three to six months would be of benefit to most normal subjects, while obese patients might benefit from cycles as frequent as every two weeks, with doctor supervision. Longo and the other researchers will be meeting with FDA officers to discuss this dietary approach for disease prevention and treatment.
Longo warned that this diet is not a match for every person and that doctor supervision is necessary. As an alternative to very low calorie diets and water-fasting diets, thought, the science suggests that this new approach may be an excellent option for certain individuals.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”