Madrid.- Going without food for several hours or several days has a beneficial effect In almost all living things that have been analyzed, from insects to people. During fasting, the body tries to adapt to the lack of food. The multiplication of cells slows down and autophagy is activated, which allows the body to eliminate old cells and, in general, sustain itself with its own reserves.
for decades, Biochemist Walter Longo (Genoa, 55 years old), professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, has tried to understand benefits of fasting To find a way to reintroduce them with a diet capable of improving health and prolonging life expectancy. What matters is what you eat, but also when, he warns. He says that one of the most interesting findings from their study is that fasting seems to improve the effectiveness of treatments in people with cancer.
Longo is also a controversial figure in his field. His studies do not reveal the exact composition of the diets he uses to mimic the benefits of fasting, but he has founded a company to market them in several countries. While visiting Madrid to give a conference at the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), Longo reveals the potential of food to improve health in this interview.
—How strong is the scientific evidence on the benefits of fasting?
‘Very strong. Six or seven years ago this was a demonstrated relationship in rats. Now it has been confirmed among the people. Numerous clinical trials have proven the benefits of fasting and diets that mimic the physiological processes of fasting. There are also chores that show that the hours you eat are important. Fasting 12 to 13 hours each day — for example, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner before 8 p.m. and not eating again until breakfast — improves several metabolic markers and improves sleep quality. Is. But you don’t need to go overboard. If the fast is extended to 16 hours, for example by skipping breakfast, there is no beneficial effect and some metabolic problems occur.
“Why does fasting have such beneficial effects?”
For thousands of years, our species ate a lot in the summer, when food was more available, and this saved us during the winter shortage. But now winter never comes. We eat more than we need and this can lead to insulin resistance, which is the cause of diabetes. Fasting or fasting-mimicking diets put us back in winter mode, and banish insulin resistance.
—What effect has the fasting-mimicking diet shown?
—I advocate following a special diet that mimics fasting for four or five days, about three times a year. There are clinical trials that have shown that following such a diet reduces glucose and cholesterol levels, eliminates obesity, and lowers blood pressure. A small study conducted in collaboration with Heidelberg University also showed that this diet is helpful for people with diabetes to reduce the amount of medications they take to control their weight, or even stop them. makes it possible.
How do you describe a fasting-mimicking diet?
– low in calories [en torno a un 60% menos]High in protein and sugars, very plant-based and in fat from olive oils, walnuts and almonds. The first time I described this diet in detail in one of my books in Italy, it caused problems because a lot of people basically did what they wanted. That is why it is important to always consult at least one nutritionist.
Can diet keep us alive longer?
-Definitely. A large review of studies that analyzed data from two million people around the world found that eating lots of legumes, whole grains and nuts, and little or no red and processed meats prolong life. If you mimic fasting or dieting in that diet, I think we can live 20 years longer than we do now.
“If you’re too old, is it already too late to benefit from a change in diet?”
-No. According to the study I mentioned, if you change your diet at age 20, you can increase your life expectancy by more than 10 years. If you start at 60, you earn for eight years; Even if you convert at the age of 80, you get the benefit of about three years. Moreover, it is not only about life expectancy, but about years of healthy life. In the US, the average 55-year-old American already takes two medications for a lifetime to treat chronic conditions. 65, three or more. We see more and more people who are already sick at the age of 30. They are kept alive by surgery and very expensive drugs. 20 percent of US GDP is spent on medical treatment, which is now becoming more expensive. It is not durable. We need a revolution and nutrition is the way to do it.
There is also a connection between diet and cancer.
—About 15 or 20 years ago we started studying the effects of fasting in people who had cancer. We realized that cancer cells are uncontrolled. They are not affected in the least by hunger or lack of food, they keep on going. What has been shown in both animal and patient studies is that fasting or fasting-mimicking regimens make treatment more effective, patients respond better, and have a better prognosis.
—and people who don’t have cancer?
There is no diet that can prevent cancer. For example, it is not possible to change the effects of a genetic mutation with what you eat. Now, the biggest risk factor for cancer is not smoking or obesity, but aging. In this sense, the age of 30 is 50 times more harmful than smoking. So with diet you cannot avoid cancer, but you can age in a healthy way, as we mentioned. And, besides, that diet not only protects you from tumors; Other age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart attack, stroke.
—What do you think about the alternative to creating drugs that mimic the beneficial effects of fasting or exercise?
“They have a problem that isn’t talked about much. You can give a drug to someone who has diabetes or cancer, and you assume that there will be a small percentage of patients who will suffer from side effects. But You can’t give any medicine to a healthy population if a small percentage of people are going to suffer side effects. That’s why I advocate the diet we invented that mimics the effects of fasting.
—the diet is sold by a company you set up that sells prepared meals in boxes. But the same food can be bought from any market or supermarket, right?
Yes, of course, you can, although it won’t be exactly the same diet, because we’ve patented it. In any case, whatever I earn with that company, I donate to solidarity projects. What we are trying now is to get medical authorities in the United States to include this diet as a treatment for people with diabetes or high blood pressure, for example; In Italy too. We believe that in one year, with enough nutritionists, we can significantly reduce the percentage of the population living with diabetes and the associated medical expenditure, which is in the millions of Euros.
—Do you think some food products should be banned?
-No. There is an interesting fact. We study the diet of Italian children. Everyone said that more obesity is due to sugary drinks. But we saw that it was not so much the diet, which was very bad. It was based almost entirely on pasta, pizza, potatoes and protein. The boys were eating between three and four times as much protein without the knowledge of major medical associations. So I don’t think it’s about banning.
“How can this problem be solved?”
—With more and better nutrition professionals who accompany and support doctors. Many doctors today know very little about this area. Hopefully in the race he did the nutrition topic. And as far as nutritionists are concerned, right now most of them study for three years. More professionals with master’s degrees and doctorates are needed in this field. They could work by hand. And together, they can help patients live longer, healthier lives.
by Nuno Dominguez
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