Scientifically-designed fasting diet to lower risk of major diseases

The benefits of a fasting and extremely low-calorie diet is currently inconclusive as the study is still in its early stages. Photo credit: Horrace

by Kat Pooprasert

A randomised clinical trial showed that a periodic, five-day fasting diet designed by researchers might safely reduce the risk factors for common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other age-related illnesses.

The study was conducted at USC Leonard Davis school of Gerontology and involved 71 adults who were given three cycles of a low calorie, “fast-mimicking” diet. The results showed reduced cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, inflammatory markers (CRP), fasting glucose and IGF-1. Physically, the subjects also lost weight, with a decreased waistline, and total body and trunk fat loss. Surprisingly, they did not suffer from a loss of muscle mass.

This low calorie diet was also shown to reduce the risk for cancer, diabetes and heart diseases.

Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute and a professor of biological sciences for USC Davis and Dornsife concluded that “this study provides evidence that people can experience significant health benefits through a periodic, fasting-mimicking diet that is designed to act on the aging process.” He also described that “prior studies have indicated a range of health benefits in mice, but this is the first randomised clinical trial with enough participants to demonstrate that the diet is feasible, effective and safe for humans”.

Since this study is still in its prime, being a phase II trial, Dornsife warns that “larger FDA studies are necessary to confirm its effects on disease prevention and treatment.”

The study subjects were divided into two main groups. The first group, also known as the control group were to continue eating their normal diet for three months. The second group involved subjects who were placed on a three-month test of the fasting-mimicking diet. They h ad to eat food products supplied by L-Nutra during five days each month. The fasting-mimicking diet allowed participants to eat between 750 to 1,100 calories per day.

The participants in the second group significantly lost weight, with an average of around 6 pounds. Furthermore, apart from the weight, their systolic blood pressure dropped by 4.5 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure dropped by 3.1 mmHg. Their levels of IGF-1, a metabolism hormone also dropped around 21.7ng.mL to 46.2 ng/mL, a range which is associated with lowered cancer risk.

Furthermore, Longo said “after the first group completed their three months on the fasting diet, we moved over participants in the control group to see if they also would experience similar results. We saw similar outcomes, which provides further evidence that a fasting-mimicking diet has effects on many metabolic and disease markers. Our mouse studies using a similar fasting-mimicking diet indicate that that these beneficial effects are caused by multi-system regeneration and rejuvenation in the body at the cellular and organ levels.”

It is important to keep in mind that this research is still in its early stages and is therefore inconclusive. The effects of a low calorie and fasting diet have always been controversial, and for now, meeting the daily calorie requirements as suggested by the public health, and eating proportions of a variety of food in moderation seems to be the healthiest way to go.