If the idea of living longer has ever intrigued you, Valter Longo’s Fasting Mimicking Diet may be the secret.
Associate Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences, as well as the Hanson Chair of Biogerontology at the University of Southern California (USC), Longo is also director of the Longevity and Oncology program at IFOM, in Milan, Italy, and he invites us to rethink our alimentary habits.
For over 20 years, Longo has devoted himself to understanding the cellular and molecular biological mechanism triggered by calorie restriction mimicking fasting, with the help of his research team.
A periodic diet that mimics fasting promotes multi-system regeneration, enhanced cognitive performance and health-span, according to last year’s Cell Metabolism publication. There is more. After studies run on yeast, mice and human, it has been proofed that the mimicking fasting diet halves tumors, abolished cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and reduces significantly the risk of Alzheimer.
“When normal cells are starved, the body uses up stores of glucose and energy to keep them functioning; in response, the cells shift into survival mode, revving up repair mechanism and protective processes to resist anything,” writes Scientific American.
Still, it is important to follow a conscious diet recommended and followed by a doctor. In addition to regularly limiting the daily percentage of calories and reduce the consumption of proteins and sugar, the Longo’s philosophy suggests to ingest 100 calories per day for up to four-five days, once or twice a year.
“Imagine you have pressed a reset button that is immensely beneficial to the body,” writes La Repubblica. “This goes both for healthy and sick people. As the experiments published last year by Cell Stem Cell show, those who mimicked fasting during chemotherapy were defeated by its toxicity.”
The creator of the diet is originally from Genoa, Italy. At age 16 he first moved to Chicago and has been moving around the U.S for more than 30 years now. His current home base is the City of Los Angeles, CA.
What brought you to specialize in ageing and Alzheimer disease?
At 19 years old, I quit the jazz performance program at the University of North Texas because they wanted me to direct a marching band. I refused and switched to the Biochemistry Department to study aging and diseases. It was my curiosity that made me choose classes like chemistry and biology, which are vital backgrounds to have in order to study aging. After that, I spent many years specializing in pathology, immunology, neurobiology and endocrinology, among other topics, which have been essential to translate into my work at the clinic.
Why is the Fasting Mimicking Diet beneficial to those suffering from Cancer, Alzheimer and Diabetes? And to others?
This type of diet is beneficial because it reprograms the body. Also, it causes multi-system regeneration and rejuvenation by activating stem cells. During our studies on mice re-feed after fasting, the stem cells started to proliferate in coordinated mat to regenerate parts of systems and organs. We believe the same occurs with humans.
During the research run on starving and non-starving mice, injected with a megadose of chemo, what were the main differences discovered?
In some cases, all fasted mice were alive and well and all mice on the normal diet died. For the animal activist out there, we only did these experiments before going to the clinic. Mice on a normal diet receiving chemotherapy die because the normal cells of many organs, including brain and heart, are made sensitive by the normal diet but enter a shielded mode in response to the starvation. At least three clinical trials are suggesting that the same protective effects occur with patients.
How does the Fasting Mimicking Diet work?
We have knowledge of the molecular connection between major nutrients and the function of a cell. We exploit this understanding to mimic fasting while allowing mice and people to eat about 1/2 of the calories. It first causes the killing of many cells in the body, then it activates stem cells and after that, during re-feeding, it regenerates parts of organs and systems. We do not reveal recipes since people should either undergo the FMD tested clinically made by L-Nutra (I founded the company but will donate all shares to charity) or go to a fasting clinic.
What are the contraindications of this diet? And what is the safest way to follow it?
This diet is not compatible for anorexic people, diabetics taking any drug, people with metabolic disorders not compatible with fasting. Must be done under medical supervision, but after the first time a registered dietitian can follow the patient.
In what way has the collaboration with Dr. Jaime Guevara, who is studying the Larson syndrome on Ecuadorian indigenous, that blocks the growth hormone and makes them immune from cancer and diabetes, influenced your longevity discoveries?
The collaboration with Guevara allowed us to confirm what we strongly suspected from studies on simple organisms and mice. Jaime is my collaborator, as well as the personal doctor of all the Larson subjects, who have the mutation equivalent to that which causes record lifespan extension on mice. Thus, Jaime has been a key collaborator for our work on the genetics of aging and diseases. Obviously, it’s incredible when you see this working on people.
Vegetarian, vegan, raw-food and fruitarian diets, what do you think about these alimentary restrictions?
Vegan and Pescetarian diets appear to be ideal for many reasons such as avoiding malnourishment, while maximizing anti-aging effects. The majority of long-lived populations adopted diets like this. I’m now writing a book in which I explain the benefits in details. The name of the book is not finalized yet, but it is going to be about nutrition, longevity and diseases with a particular focus on long-term and fasting diets.
As a Longevity Director both at the University of Southern California and IFOM, in Italy, what are the main operating differences between the two?
Both are excellent centers: USC is a leading center for aging, while IFOM is a leading center for basic research on cancer. We are now trying to have joint programs between the two centers such as establishing exchange programs for PhD students.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment and why?
Starting to succeed using basic science to solve major medical problems. We like to go from the molecules all the way to the clinical demonstration. We highly focus on the patient and on how to use the molecular understanding cell biology to solve his/her. It may take up to 20 years to develop the proper technology to study such things. For now, my strategy appears to be working with initial clinical successes in interventions that help against autoimmunity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and age-dependent cognitive decline.