A Surprising Diet Trick for a Longer Life?

A Surprising Diet Trick for a Longer Life?

Doctors prescribe a variety of different diet plans for different people, but the message always tends to be the same: if you want to live longer, eat healthy and exercise often.

You rarely hear a physician say that fasting is a healthy weight loss or anti-aging technique. In fact, experts agree that it’s unmanageable – and dangerous -- to starve your body of the nutrients it needs. But oddly enough, fasting has been garnering a lot of attention for its health benefits lately. A small 2015 study published by Cell Metabolism found that mice who fasted over a period of four days saw several positive effects: less belly fat, a lower cancer risk, a stronger immune system, reduced inflammatory diseases, slower bone mineral density loss and improved cognitive abilities. When a small pilot study was conducted on humans, scientists found that subjects had lower levels of aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and even fat – without harming bone and muscle mass.

So Are Doctors Wrong About Fasting?
Not at all – what’s important to note is that the diet followed in the pilot study was a modified version of fasting (known as the fasting mimicking diet, or FMD) that reaps similar benefits – and is much safer. Participants weren’t fasting in the sense that they didn’t eat anything all day; they simply slashed their calorie consumption for a few days a month. On five consecutive fasting days, once a month, they ate 34 to 54% of their normal calorie intake – but they were required to eat a specific combination of nutrients that included protein, carbs and fat. On the other 25 days study participants went back to their regular eating habits. It made no difference if they had good or bad eating habits during the 25 non-fasting days -- if they fasted, they saw positive health results.

Why FMD May Be Good For the Body
At the cellular level, fasting may help starve out cancer cells while protecting immune and other cells from chemotherapy toxicity. Plus, lowering caloric intake has been shown to reduce amounts of the hormone IGF-I, which has been linked to aging and cancer risk.

FMD isn’t the only modified-fasting approach that affects your body. In a small, three-week clinical trial published in the journal Rejuvenation Research, intermittent fasting (IF) -– switching off between days of eating a lot and days of eating little -- was shown to increase SIRT 3, a gene that promotes longevity.

Tips to Fast Safely
Despite the early positive effects that have been seen in fasting research, it’s important to note that more research needs to be done at a larger scale on humans to verify the health benefits of fasting. In the meantime, check out these guidelines to lower your calorie intake safely for a potentially younger you.

1. You must, must, must consult your doctor.  Not only is it unhealthy to start a new diet plan without speaking with your doctor first, it’s also dangerous to ride on the fasting road without supervision – especially if you have any health conditions like diabetes or even a body mass index lower than 18.

2. Keep in mind that fasting is not a long-term solution.  Very low calorie diets can be dangerous. Researchers for the FMD study explain that this diet plan is meant to “reprogram the body” so that it ages slower; it’s not meant as a long-term solution for weight loss. For healthy people, it may be ok to try every three to six months. That being said, the objective is not to starve yourself. Again, talk to your doctor about your options.

3. Try eating small meals throughout the day instead: When it comes to weight loss, adjust your calorie intaketo a healthy level and watch your portion sizes. To keep your metabolism humming along, add cardio and strengthening exercises to your weekly routine and follow a nutritious eating plan. Healthy lifestyle habits like these are also a tried-and-true way to boost longevity. 

Take the first steps to growing younger and healthier with the RealAge Test.

Medically reviewed in March 2018.

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