This is the title, without the question marks, of a fascinating BBC program which aired on PBS (please support public television!) on 4/3/2013.
The origin of the link between calorie restriction and longevity probably originated in the United States, during the great depression. It was found that between 1929 and 1933, the average age of the population increased by six years!
Further studies, mainly in mice, has shown that calorie restriction resulted in significant increase in the age of the mice (equivalent to 120 years in humans).
Mr. Mosely also met a CRONI (a person on a calorie restriction but with optimal nutrition). Out of necessity, such a diet is very high in fruits and vegetables. Both the CRONI and Michael had their blood drawn which showed a much higher level of IGF-1, glucose (borderline diabetic) and cholesterol in Michael’s blood compared to the CRONI.
It was suggested by the researcher, Mr. Luigi Fontana at Washington University School of Medicine, for Michael to fast for 3 days to reverse the effects of his diet. Surprisingly, after the fast, Michael’s IGF-1, glucose, and cholesterol levels had all normalized.
However, Mr. Mosely found fasting for such a long time rather difficult. So he traveled to the University of Southern California to meet Professor Valter Longo, an expert on aging. Mr. Longo’s theory is that high levels of IGF-1 (Insulin like Growth Factor) are the culprit when it comes to diabetes, heart disease, and especially cancer. He has found bio-engineered mice with low IGF-1 live much longer and healthier lives than their normal counterparts. He has also studied a group of people in Ecuador with Lorain-Levi Syndrome, also called pituitary dwarfism, who have low levels of IGF-1. None of these people eat a healthy diet, nor watch their smoking habit, yet have extremely low incidence of diabetes and cancer. Mr. Longo believes IGF-1 causes the body to be in a constant “GO” mode which results in an inability of the body to repair itself adequately. Lowering the level of IGF-1 is thought to slow the process and allow the body to repair any DNA damages. Fasting is one way to lower IGF-1.
Mr. Mosely also met Dr. Krista Vardary, at the University of Illinois in Chicago, who has started trials of fasting on human beings. She advocates an alternate day fasting regimen. On the fasting day, protein consumption should be limited as well as calories (400-500 for women and 500-600 for men). On the “FEED” day, one can eat ANYTHING they want! Although the results are early, she has found an average of 5 pounds weight loss and a significant reduction of cholesterol, especially LDL (the bad type). Interestingly, the results were the same regardless of if the patient at a high fat diet or a low fat diet on the “FEED” day.
The final stop for Mr. Mosely was at the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore. Mr. Mosely met Professor Mark Mattson who is an expert on aging of the brain. He has found that in mice prone to Alzheimer’s, a period of fasting followed by feeding, resulted in significant delay in the development of Alzheimer’s (equivalent to 30-40 years for humans). He has also found that fasting in mice results in growth of NEW nerve cells in the grey matter of the brain. He believes fasting results in increased cognitive function as a survival mechanism. He recommended Mr. Mosely try a 5 day feed and 2 day calorie restriction diet for five weeks and see what the results show.
At the end of the five weeks, Michael lost 14 pounds of weight. His body fat percentage also dropped from 27% to 19%. Most importantly, his blood level of IGF-1, which has been linked to breast, prostate and colon cancer, dropped by 50%. His glucose and cholesterol levels also became normal and his HDL/LDL ration improved.
This was a very fascinating program indeed. However, some questions were not answered. Is this a short-term effect like the Atkin’s diet? What happens if someone continues this trend for one year or for life? I hope Mr. Mosely updates us if he continues on this eating pattern.
Why does fasting cause these changes? We don’t really know the answer. Is it because we originally were hunters and had episodes of fasting between each hunt? Perhaps our bodies need episodes of fasting to feel normal. Will evolution eventually change this?
I hate to be a pessimist, but there are also practical problems to consider. As it is, it is becoming much harder to save enough money for retirement. If one lives for 120 years, will he/she have enough money to even survive? Should the retirement age be increased even more as a result?
If you are “blessed” with crappy genes (your father died of a massive heart attack at age 40, or everyone in your family has cancer), you may want to consider enrolling in human trials. If you live in Southern California, please contact the USC Gerontology Center to see if such trials are on the way. If you decide to do this solo, PLEASE do it under the supervision of a physician.
Michael A. Jazayeri, M.D. is a board certified plastic surgeon with over 13 years of experience. His office is located in Orange County, California. To schedule a complimentary consultation, please call (714) 834-0101.
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