EPISODE 20 | DR. VALTER LONGO, P.h.D | TRY THE FASTING MIMICKING DIET
Why you should listen –
In my 35 years of being in the health and wellness business, I’ve experienced a lot of strategies for staying healthy and living longer. But none more convincing that what we’re talking about today.
One of the privileges I have of being a member of the board of counselors for the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology is going to a yearly retreat. During that retreat, some of the top scientists present their research on aging.
Our next guest, Professor Valter Longo, was one of the most talked about presenters at the retreat when he shared his latest findings on FMD…Fasting Mimicking Diets…
It appears that by periodically adopting a diet that mimics the effects of fasting may yield a host of positive effects on aging, organ function, and weight management.
Professor Valter Longo is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on prolongation of lifespan and longevity. His work and discoveries are labelled as some of the greatest achievements in science. He directs a laboratory of twenty researchers at the Andrus Gerontology Center, one of the oldest and leading centers for research on aging and age-related diseases in the country.
For over 20 years, he’s been studying the complex mechanisms which control aging. He’s an award-winning researcher, gerontology and biological sciences professor and director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California.
In today’s episode, you’ll discover:
- How does intermittent fasting help slow down your biological clock?
- How often should the average person go on a fast?
- What effects does fasting have on cancer, weight, and aging?
- What are the different types of fasting, and which one is best?
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Valter Longo: Thank you for having me.
Kathy Smith: So, let’s start at the beginning. I’ve read in a lot of different places that you grew up in a small town in Italy, and it was known for its incredible longevity. Of course, Italy’s also known for its great Mediterranean food. By the way, I’m going to Italy in about three weeks, and I’m looking forward to that Mediterranean food.
Here you are, you end up on the cutting edge of research on fasting, restricting calories and the effects that it has on cancer and weight and aging. Tell me a little bit about this journey and what was the reason that you chose to get into studying fasting and longevity?
Valter Longo: We were very interested in the genetics of aging and actually what I call the mechanisms of aging. Why is aging occurring and what are the details of what occurs during the process? First, we looked for the genes, and we identified several genes that now are recognized as very central in the aging process. They are the [unclear 00:03:07 – 00:03:10] aging.
Then, we moved to interventions that could modulate these genes, basically regulate these genes, and they will also be safe to people. Particularly fasting-mimicking diets are diets that allow the patients and subjects to eat while getting the benefits of fasting. They made more sense to me because they essentially do not require a chronic change of someone’s diet. That was important to me, because I came from the laboratory of Roy Walford. Roy was a pioneer in calorie restriction. Because I was in his laboratory, I actually learned how difficult calorie restriction is and lately we now know that thanks to research at the Madison Institute in Aging in Wisconsin that chronic [unclear 00:04:05] causes both positive effects and negative effects, so that’s where the fasting-mimicking diet comes from.
Kathy Smith: I remember when I first started in this business. People would talk about fast, and fasting was literally where you just drank water or strictly liquids. There was even something called bieler broth, which was a combination of some veggies that you would blend up in the blender, but mostly it was with water. Interestingly enough, it was hard to do, hard to stick to and I don’t know if this is necessarily even that healthy.
So, what you’re saying is that to try to develop something that people can actually maintain through a course of three, four, five days or longer because it’s not as radical as just going on, let’s say, a water fast, but it has the benefits of the fasting. Am I explaining it kind of correctly?
Valter Longo: Yes. That has some advantages of fasting but it has the calories and the quantity of food that most people can live with. Also, as important is, most doctors can live with. So, the problem we encounter when we first started recommending this or certainly continuing this for cancer patients was that most of the patients didn’t want to think about it and most of the doctors didn’t want to consider it. Now, it’s very different because of the high nourishing and relatively high calorie intake that this fasting-mimicking diet provides.
Kathy Smith: Give me a bit of the protocol. I’ve been reading many different articles and your thoughts on fasting. As far as the length of time and who should be doing it. In general, is this something that the general public should be doing for health for minimizing risks for cancer, for a lot of the other reasons we talked about or is there a specific group of people that should be considering intermittent fasting?
Valter Longo: Well, the answer is both. A, everybody should do it – well, maybe not everybody because there are some people, for example, that are taking drugs and anorexic individuals. But, say, the percentage of the people should consider the treatment or with the ok of the doctor or [unclear 00:06:56] of the patient, and this is where I’m confident about this having done a hundred something clinical trials with the mice cross over [unclear 00:07:05] with really some fantastic results. The group in this trial was people that did not have any disease at age ranging from 20 to 70. So, now, we have a pretty good idea; although, we do need to do additional studies. But now, we have a pretty good idea because of the work in mice and the work in the paperwork with these 100 subjects that it is safe and it’s effective and it can benefit everyone.
Now, [unclear 00:07:41] with the mice, we know it’s slowing down the aging process, but it’s also, somewhat, bringing back the aging process, meaning that the mice appear to be rejuvenated so we started this at middle age, and the cycles of the diet was just eight days a month, we were able to make the mice younger at least as far as the new system is concerned and also the nervous system.
So, in the human trial, we used a variety of markers and risk factors. Certainly, the inflammatory risk factors were lower in fasting glucose than people that had high sugar levels in the blood. They came down. People who had high IGF-1, which was one of the major factors associated with cancer, and it also came down dramatically in the people that had high levels of IGF-1 to begin with.
So, we used many different systems and, so, we envision, though this may be a little ambitious, but I envision this type of fasting-mimicking diet being part of the toolkit of doctors all around the world in the next ten years. We are already seeing this in the United States. We have hundreds of doctors that are now recommending the fasting-mimicking diets. We’re starting to talk to doctors in the U.K., Australia, Italy, Germany. I think pretty soon it’s going to be everywhere.
Kathy Smith: I like the way you use that word “part of the toolkit,” because I think that’s what I’ve learned through the years. You have these little things that you can turn to, and they’re just part of the equation. It’s not the whole equation but it’s part of it, and what I find fascinating is that – and I think I understood you correctly – that the tests were done on eight days a month, but that it’s not something that has to be done every day or should be done every day but periodically taking the time to restrict calories. At the same time, getting all of your macro and micronutrients is really beneficial to the body.
So, I want to talk about why is that? Why is it so beneficial? I know through history, by the way, if you think about it – Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle – everybody back in those days talked about and praised the benefits of fasting. There was even a saying that, “Fasting is the greatest remedy. It’s the physician within.” Why is it so great to let the body, I guess, rest in a sense and eat less calories during certain times of the month?
Valter Longo: I will comment that fasting has been around for a long time. But fasting is being as criticized as [00:10:51]. Really, I think that this is now just a bad idea or good idea. Certainly, a lot of people were doing it, but it wasn’t clear. Most of the doctors, historically, have been against it or very strongly against it.
Kathy Smith: So true. Yes.
Valter Longo: So, I think it was important to do the studies, do the science and do the clinical work. I think, now, we see things turning all over the world, and I think that’s what was missing about fasting.
Now, why does it work? I agree. I don’t always say the doctor from within. I just gave a pep talk and this title was Rejuvenation from Within, the fasting from within. So, yes, absolutely. It works because of something actually very simple, which is during periods of famine, of starvation, the body has to save energy. To save energy, it has to get rid of a lot of cells, and it also has to get rid of a lot of components within the cells by a process called autophagy. So, the combination of these two things makes it a lot leaner essentially.
I think of it as a train that is running out of fuel, and it’s burning its own wooden seats – if you want to look at it like that – so it can make it all the way to its destination. Once it gets to its destination, it can fuel up again. Then, you can rebuild the entire train. The incredible part, I think, is not so much the fasting. Not much goes on. Actually, fasting, you could argue, is negative because it kills cells and it destroys intercellular components of the cells, meaning it can destroy certain parts of the cell.
The extraordinary part occurs when you get the fuel again, when you refuel, when you refeed. That’s when everything gets rebuilt. The rebuilding process – we’ve shown it in a number of papers – is extraordinary. It looks a lot like the building process that occurs when we’re first born, during development. Of course, the incredible event here is that it’s extremely coordinated because it’s something that has really been evolving for billions of years.
For example, let’s exaggerate. Let’s say somebody was to fast for a month. That person’s liver, after one month of fasting, might be 20, 30, 40% smaller. Then, that person refeeds. Within a week, that liver is going to go back to its normal size or close to it. So, now, in just a week, the body is able to rebuild 40% of the liver. You can see the power of this. I’m always very surprised that we were the first ones to think about this. It’s such a simple concept that it’s amazing that somebody hasn’t done it before.
Kathy Smith: Yeah. So true. It reminds me, as you’re talking, I think about a sponge. If you let a sponge dry up and it’s just sitting there, it gets shriveled up and dry. As soon as you dump it in water, it expands. It soaks up all that water and expands. It’s ready to receive as opposed to if you take a wet sponge, there’s nothing much to soak up.
So, when it comes to the actual fasting, what are you recommending? What combination of nutrients do you recommend for the fast? One of the reasons I want to get into this – because I know you’ve talked a bit about protein on some of your other articles I’ve read. It’s interesting because we’re in a period in our fitness/wellness cycle where protein has gotten very popular. We have paleo diets and we have low-carb diets. I want to hear what you feel about protein but also the other macronutrients and what you should be ingesting when you’re fasting.
Valter Longo: We did that 10 years ago when we first started talking about fasting and cancer. The results were that people would improvise and cancer patients would improvise. Really, it got to a very scary point. The reason is that fasting is extremely powerful, and to recommend fasting at home like this is like to recommend that people go and buy a bunch of drugs, put it together and take it.
So, we don’t do that anymore. This is why I started a company called L-Nutra. I have to say that I’m going to assign all my shares of the company to a foundation. I don’t take any consultation with a company nor a salary. I try to do this because I thought this was the only way to get it to patients in an appropriate form and, also, to have the doctor become involved and become essential for this process.
I can tell you that the diet is low in protein. It’s all vegan. It’s very low in sugar, relatively high in complex carbohydrates and high in good fats. This is what that is.
I think other than that, I think there are two ways in doing this. The clinic has a product, which is ProLon. People find that it at L-Nutra.com or go to a doctor or a nutritionist who is experienced with that. They can look at a paper and use our paper to come up with a fasting-mimicking diet that will be effective.
They don’t need to buy the product, but if someone does want to buy the product, then I think it’s necessary to either go to a clinic that does fasting – there are several in the United States – or have somebody that is experienced with this fasting-mimicking diets, and they can look at our paper and come up with something that is going to be safe and effective for the patient. Also, this person will love their job of monitoring the people that are going to do this.
Kathy Smith: Ok, for our listeners out there, if you’re interested, I would recommend that everybody goes and checks out the site. It’s L-Nutra and you’ll find all kinds of additional information about what we’re talking about today, and you’ll see the product, the ProLon, which is there. That’s what I love about this process is that Dr. Longo has simplified it so it’s taking not only the guesswork out of it, but it’s made it safe.
Just to reiterate what Dr. Longo said is that it’s important that you talk to your physician whenever you go down this path. Even though it’s powerful, it’s so powerful you want to make sure you’re doing it safely.
With that in mind, let’s talk about–I mean, through the years, whenever I hear about fasting, I think about maintaining muscle mass and your energy levels. What have you found about that when you go on fast and your type of periodic fasting? Can you maintain muscle mass and your energy level?
Valter Longo: Yes and no. The fantastic observation that we made was that while you’re on the fasting-mimicking diet, the patients and the mice lose muscle mass. The difference between this and almost every diet that you can think of is, then again, during the refeeding, the fat is not rebuilt. The fat is burned preferentially during the fasting-mimicking diet especially the abdominal fat. That’s what we have demonstrated. During the refeeding, the fat stays the same so there is no rebuilding of fat, but the muscle gets regenerated.
So, in the end, there was either no loss of muscle of lean body mass or minimal loss. It is really remarkable because you’re really not going to see this in almost any chronic diet that you can think of, whether it’s Atkins, paleo or whatever. All these diets, with the loss of fat, you’re also going to have loss of water and loss of lean body mass. So, this is really an advantage of the fasting-mimicking diet because the cycles of fast and refeeding leads to the shrinking but, then, to the rebuilding and regeneration which brings the muscle mass back to its normal state.
Kathy Smith: So, what is next for you? Do you have other plans for testing fasting in regards or as it relates to other diseases? What’s on the horizon for you?
Valter Longo: Yes. Let me first complete the question, because you also had the one about energy.
Kathy Smith: Ok.
Valter Longo: In clinical trials, some people had less energy during and some people had more energy during. There are a number of people that feel less energetic, so they have to rest more. This is recommendable that it is done during periods where somebody does not necessarily have to have a very strenuous set of tasks to be completed.
Now, as far as other diseases, yes. We’re now looking at Alzheimer’s. We’re looking at all the autoimmune disorders. We finished with multiple sclerosis, but we’re going to do larger trials. So, I think the plan is to pursue FDA approval for both multiple sclerosis but also other auto immunities and diabetes. So, these are the major trials we’re going to run. One, for sure, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.
Kathy Smith: All I can say is you’ve opened up my eyes to an incredible approach to, obviously, the things we mentioned: disease prevention, weight management. I love the fact that you said that when you go on the diets and the periodic fasting is that it really targets that belly fat, which we know as we age is the unhealthy fat. Also, just for cosmetic reasons.
We’re talking a lot about health and disease and prevention, but on the mere vanity side of this whole thing is that you can minimize body fat, especially that belly fat. What I have found as I have done periodic fasting is that my energy level, even though it might drop during the time when I’m fasting, I have better and increased energy afterwards. It helps me maintain the energy and that mental clarity. That’s the other thing that I find when I come out of doing some kind of intermittent fasting is that mental clarity.
Valter Longo: Yes, I was referring to during. During, more times, people feel more energetic after, I think. Almost unanimously you hear a common feeling to yours: more mental clarity, more energy. So, just feeling better overall. Also, a lot of people comment that, I would say a good 80%, if not higher, that the skin looks better. So, that’s interesting. Another vanity-based component. That certainly is something that we hear all the time.
Kathy Smith: We like that, the older we get. What I also find fascinating is in your studies, and I’ve read papers and things that you’ve written. This is something that if you started and you think about your 40s, your 50s, your 60s, your 70s. Again, we always want to qualify with a doctor’s supervision, but it really is another piece in your toolkit as you so eloquently said earlier to just keep you active, participating in life, functioning at your best. That’s what I love about the work you’re doing.
I could talk all day, but we have wrap up. So, just in closing, let’s make sure that everybody knows that they can find more information about all of this at L-Nutra.com.
I also want to thank you for all the amazing work that you do including raising $6,000,000 in grant support from the NIH and private foundations to do this research in Alzheimer’s and all the things that are on our mind – cancer, aging. You’ve helped so many people, and for that, I thank you.
Valter Longo: Well, thank you very much. It’s been great.
Kathy Smith: Ok. Bye-bye now.