The Fasting Mimicking Diet, Cellular Regeneration and Reversing Age-related Diseases …
In September, 1982, the National Cancer Institute in America said, “Changing the way we eat could offer some protection against cancer.” A year later in 1983, the American Cancer Society stated its belief that “a greater use of fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce a risk of developing cancer.”
At a similar time, over 30 years ago, Professor Valter Longo arrived in America from Genoa in the Northwest of Italy. I listened to him tell his story of how he came to research cancer and other diseases of longevity, a couple of weekends ago, when, instead of being in beautiful Melbourne, Australia, at the conference, I was sitting at my kitchen bench. His beautiful Italian accent was a bit distracting, but I was fascinated with the man, who really has discovered ‘the fountain of youth’. With not a face-cream in sight, it is all about how to manipulate our genes to reset and reprogramme them to grow into healthy cells that ‘protect, regenerate and rejuvenate the body to keep us young and healthy for longer.‘ (Longo, 2016). His decades of research led him to develop the Fasting Mimicking Diet which is not a complete water-only fast, but a reduced calorie fast that you undergo for 5 days. Last week after his presentation at the conference I was attending virtually, I shared his protocol with women in my private coaching community. Many are now underway, trying it out this week. The photo below is him presenting in the virtual conference last weekend.
Fasting is not for the faint-hearted. But it is for the self-determined. Back in the 1980’s when the American Cancer Institute was preparing its first ever guidelines, I don’t think any of us would have given fasting for 5 days a thought. It was a different world back then. Many of us were still in our 20’s with the promise of an exciting and enriched life ahead of us [“where did that go” I hear some of you cry!]. None of us would have given menopause a thought, nor our changing health as we aged. What were you up to in the early 1980s? I was just back from working in London, filling in time before I went back nursing in New Zealand, cooking for men on a high-country sheep station in the back of beyond. The predominant meal those hard-working men loved was meat, potatoes and a hint of vegetables on the side. I wouldn’t have dreamed of serving a vegetarian lasagne.
As a young female in my 20’s, I also ate what the men ate. I wouldn’t hesitate to guess that over 30 years later, most women are still doing the same. I know that until I researched women’s healthy ageing and our menopause transition, I used to as well. But now, as we navigate menopause, it’s time to change our habits for our ongoing health. And how to achieve this through Professor Longo’s Fasting Mimicking Diet is what I loved hearing about in his presentation. His decades of research have led him to find a way to exploit our body’s ability to regenerate itself and switch off the built-in mechanims in cells that make us vulnerable to disease and degeneration. As Professor Longo’s research has found, this process begins in our 30s and 40s. And its fruits and vegetables, not high amounts of protein, that feature the most.
What you will notice from the Fasting Mimicking Diet, is that there isn’t an emphasis on protein consumption. A diet high in protein, especially animal protein, causes increased Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 [IGF-1]. IGF–1 is produced by the liver and skeletal muscle and is a hormone that, along with growth hormone (GH), helps promote normal bone and tissue growth and development. It’s important in young children and older adults but too much in mid-life (45-65 yrs) and it switches off the genes that control healthy ageing. As Professor Longo mentioned, “IGF-1 needs to be shut-down so we not only live-longer, but improve our health-span as well.” I figured this out through my women’s healthy ageing research as well, and it’s one of the surprises that I have for women who want to lose weight in menopause!
For over 30 years Professor Longo has been studying the health of the world’s oldest people from the Blue Zones countries, including his native Italy. During this time he has become a world-leading and award-winning scientist for his work around calorie restriction and how to ‘switch-off’ genes that cause disease. A lot of his research has been in cancer prevention, including breast cancer. There are many women on my programmes who have had breast cancer, so I loved sharing some of his publications with any who were interested to discuss with their Doctor.
There are two main areas of Professor Longo’s research that I heard about:
1. In the 1990’s a group of scientists from UCLA went into a ‘biosphere bubble’ in Arizona to do the world’s first experiments on longevity and our genes. As part of the experiement they had been calorie-restricted and consumed very few calories a day for 2 years. However, by the time they emerged, they were very skinny and very grumpy. So, whilst their biomarkers and blood work improved, this was not the way to live their life. Dr Longo knew he had to find a better way to increase longevity.
2. This led him to look into cellular ageing. What he discovered in his research was that if the cells are starved of nutrients, especially protein and sugars, then they lived twice as long.
Professor Longo lead the charge on calorie restriction and using fasting or modified fasting to improve longevity. His results of over 20 years of clinical research are a game-changer when it comes to improving our health as we age. This includes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer and even dementia. Impressive.
As I undertook my own doctoral studies into women’s healthy ageing, this longevity research led me towards establishing a new way through menopause that places menopause in healthy ageing studies. If we don’t get this phase of our life sorted and un-do the inflammation that’s been building up for years, at a time when our hormonal changes are making us more vulnerable to health changes, then our years ahead can become a whole lot more complicated in terms of our health. Our parents generation has already discovered this.
The research that has emerged from longevity studies had already led me towards coaching women on the MyMT™ programmes about how much our liver changes as we age and how to change our diet to accommodate these changes, especially when it comes to our weight loss in menopause (don’t forget that my Transform Me programme is on it’s final days of sale for you – see below at the end of this post).
For decades, the Italian Professor has been researching cell regeneration and how we can all stay young. Yes! His work teaches us that some form of caloric restriction helps to speed-up a process that the body naturally undertakes when we are younger, called apoptosis. This is when the cells regenerate. But we need a way of activating this process and according to Professor Longo, you enable this, through a form of fasting, which he has called the ‘Fasting Mimicking Diet’. His clinically-evidenced regime differs from the popular 5:2 diet.
The concept of the ‘fasting-mimicking diet’ is to trick the body into thinking it is experiencing a full fast, like a water fast, except you can eat certain foods during the period of 5-day fasting. This makes undertaking it much easier psychologically and physiologically according to Professor Valter Longo. I will await hearing this from women on my programme, some of whom are undertaking it this week.
The Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) is based on his years of research. Whilst it’s not completely fasting (you can still have vegetables and soups/ broths and a coffee a day), it takes you through a phase of 5 days of graduated caloric restriction. According to this fascinating research, we should all do this type of Fasting Restriction in mid-life to have a re-set of our genes and metabolism. Recognised internationally as a strategy to delay older-age diseases, mid-life is the time to do this and reducing our protein intake whilst on the fast is important.
It’s also a type of diet that we don’t need to do all the time.His protocol suggests to restrict caloric intake for 2-5 days (with Day 1 being slightly higher calorie intake) and then eat a normal Mediterranean diet (this is the type of diet I have modified for us in the MyMT™ programmes too) for the other 25 days but to get the right outcomes, then you must complete a 3 month cycle of this.
When you reduce calories, then you are essentially shrinking your liver, gut, pancreas and colon cells (he shared a photo of the colon to prove this!). When you do this, your body goes into ‘starvation’ mode. What ensues is the regeneration of new cells new cells as you gradually increase your food intake after the fasting period is over.
Now the good news is, that you can still eat twice a day, with a couple of snacks, but on Professor Longo’s regime, your food choices must be completely plant-based. As I shared his protocol and gave some meal ideas that I had put together based on his regime with women in my coaching community, I cautioned that this diet is not for everyone. If you are doing a lot of exercise, then you won’t be eating enough for your energy needs and if you are feeling a bit stressed by all that is going on around you at the moment, then please just move to the 800 calorie restriction with the awareness that increased stress uses up more energy and gives you a faster heart rate and increases your anxiety. I don’t want you to become ‘hangry’ – so if you try this, then please don’t blame me if you blow-up at the hubbie, partner, kids or dog. You have been warned. If you are on any medications (and I include HRT and anti-depressants in this statement) then you must seek approval from your Doctor as well.
The purpose of Day 1 is just to reduce your portions and shift your body into using up stored glucose and fats in your liver and muscles. You are therefore switching into your reserves.
The aim of Day 1 is to have 1100 calories throughout the day (normally you would be having 1800-2000 calories per day).
In essence we are halving our caloric intake which is the purpose of fasting. That’s why it is mainly vegetables with some nuts for fats. You can have a black coffee, 3-4 cups of tea (preferably green tea) and as much water as you like (try to stick to your 1.5 – 2 litres daily). You can have your food as 2 meals and 2 snacks or 3 meals and 1 snack. Believe me they won’t be big meals. Hence, Day 1 is an intake of 1100 calories with 500 calories from vegetables and 500 calories from healthy fats. [I haven’t shared the exact meals that I designed for the women in my coaching programme, but these are available for anyone coming on board].
Days 2-5 of Professor Longo’s Fasting Mimicking Diet requires you to drink unlimited water, 3-4 cups of tea (he recommends half Green tea and half ordinary tea) and only have 800 calories per day. 400 calories are from vegetables and 400 calories are from healthy fats. That’s not a lot of food, so as I said to women on my programme, preparation of food is important as is untaking quieter activities and monitoring how you are feeling as you go along.
Day 6 is a transition back to a normal diet.
When you come off the 5-day FMD, Professor Longo also suggests that you allow your body to re-set slowly to having more volume of food. For 24 hours following the 5-day fast, continue to minimise the consumption of fish, meat, saturated fats, pastries, cheeses, milk etc. I know from developing the MyMT™ programmes and my own experience with fasting in the past, that this will be too much load on your liver and gut too soon. Just continue to have healthy complex carbs, [vegetables and fruit, oats, brown rice], healthy plant fats and of course add in small amounts of protein from fish and salmon or tuna.
Finally, for those of you who are going through peri-menopause and menstruating heavily, then please be very careful about any fasting and make sure that before you start, you get your iron and B12 levels checked with your Doctor. If you are low in these nutrients, then sort these levels out first, because your hot flushes and sleep may become worse if you fast and then don’t have the energy intake your body needs to support menstruation.
I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring Professor Longo’s Fasting Mimicking Diet, as I’ve enjoyed talking about it not only here, but in my coaching community too. It’s also why, over the next few days, I will be developing a brand new module on fasting as part of my ‘Restoration Series’ to go with the MyMT™ Restore your Joyful Joints module
and the brand new MyMT™ Restore your Grateful Gut module
– both of which are now available as stand-alone modules for you to purchase, but are also part of my full 12 week online programmes as well. [Please use the promo code ATHOME20 to access your NZ$100 savings on my 12 week online programmes. This lockdown special ends in a few days].
Min Wei, Brandhorst, S.,Shelehchi, M., Longo, V. et.al. (2017). Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease