Scientifically-designed fasting diet lowers risks for major diseases

February 16, 2017, University of Southern California
Credit: iStock/University of Southern California

What if you could lose weight and reduce your risk of life-threatening disease without any changes in what you eat—other than a five-day special diet once every few months?

That's what happened for 71 adults who were placed on three cycles of a low-calorie, "fasting-mimicking" . The phase II trial, conducted by researchers at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, demonstrated a host of benefits from the regimen.

The diet reduced including blood pressure, signs of inflammation (measured by C-reactive protein levels), as well as fasting glucose and reduced levels of IGF-1, a hormone that affects metabolism. It also shrank waistlines and resulted in weight loss, both in total body fat and trunk fat, but not in muscle mass.

In effect, the diet reduced the ' risks for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other age-related diseases, according to the findings published Feb. 15 in Science Translational Medicine.

"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," said Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute and a professor of biological sciences for USC Davis and Dornsife. "Prior studies have indicated a range of health benefits in mice, but this is the first randomized clinical trial with enough participants to demonstrate that the diet is feasible, effective and safe for humans.

"Larger FDA studies are necessary to confirm its effects on disease prevention and treatment," he added.

One hundred people participated in the trial from April 2013 to July 2015. The participants, ages 20 to 70 and all generally healthy, were divided into two groups for the randomized trial.

Participants in the first group, the control group, were asked to continue their normal eating habits for three months. People in the second group were placed on a three-month test of the fasting-mimicking diet.

Those on the special diet were required to eat food products supplied by the nutrition company L-Nutra during the fasting periods of five days each month. The diet, which was designed to mimic the results of a water-only fast, allowed for participants to consume between 750 and 1,100 calories per day. The meals for the fast-mimicking diet contained precise proportions of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

After three months, participants in the control group were moved onto the special diet.

The researchers found that participants on the fasting-mimicking diet lost an average of about 6 pounds. Their waistlines shrank by 1 to 2 inches. Their systolic blood pressure, which was in the normal range when the study began, dropped by 4.5 mmHG, while their diastolic blood pressure dropped by 3.1 mmHg. Also, their levels of IGF-1 dropped to between 21.7 ng/mL and 46.2 ng/mL, reaching a range associated with lower cancer risk.

"After the first group completed their three months on the fasting diet, we moved over participants in the to see if they also would experience similar results," Longo said. "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 these beneficial effects are caused by multi-system regeneration and rejuvenation in the body at the cellular and organ levels.

"Our participants retained those effects, even when they returned to their normal daily eating habits," he added.

The researchers also noted that participants considered "at risk" because they had risk factors such as high IGF-1, cholesterol, blood pressure or , made significant progress toward better health.

For example, baseline levels for participants with high blood sugar levels (putting them at risk for diabetes) dropped into the healthy range, below 99 mg/dl—but these levels didn't drop among participants who already had healthy levels at the beginning of the study. Cholesterol was reduced by 20 mg/dl in those with high cholesterol levels, and by about 5 mg/dl in all participants.

"Fasting seems to be the most beneficial for patients who have the great for disease, such as those who have high blood pressure or pre-diabetes or who are obese," Longo said.

The researchers had invited in the study for one last set of tests three months later, at the end of the diet. The research team found that the beneficial effects—from weight loss, smaller waistlines and lower glucose, and IGF-1 levels—were sustained.

The next step for researchers is a large, FDA phase III clinical trial to test the FMD on patients diagnosed with age-related diseases or at high risk for them. The researchers said further investigation will determine whether the benefits of the diet can continue for several months.

Explore further: Fasting-like diet reduces multiple sclerosis symptoms

More information: Min Wei et al, Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, Science Translational Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aai8700

Related Stories

Fasting-like diet reduces multiple sclerosis symptoms

May 26, 2016
Evidence is mounting that a diet mimicking the effects of fasting has health benefits beyond weight loss, with a new USC-led study indicating that it may reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Replacing diet beverages with water may help diabetic patients lose weight

October 17, 2016
In a study of 81 overweight and obese women with type 2 diabetes who usually consumed diet beverages and were on a weight loss program, those who substituted water for diet beverages after their lunch for 24 weeks had a greater ...

Diet that mimics fasting appears to slow aging

June 18, 2015
Want to lose abdominal fat, get smarter and live longer? New research led by USC's Valter Longo shows that periodically adopting a diet that mimics the effects of fasting may yield a wide range of health benefits.

Study finds whole grain diet reduces cardiovascular disease risk

October 19, 2016
A team of Cleveland Clinic researchers, in collaboration with Nestle Research Center, conducted one of the largest controlled studies of its kind on whole grains and concluded that a diet rich in whole grains may significantly ...

Very low carbohydrate diet beneficial for obese with T2DM

August 5, 2014
(HealthDay)—For obese adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), a very low carbohydrate diet is associated with greater improvements in glycemic control and cardiovascular risk markers than an energy-matched high unrefined ...

Daily handful of walnuts linked to better diet and improvements in some health risk factors

November 23, 2015
Eating a daily handful of walnuts is linked to better overall diet quality and an improvement in certain risk factors among people at high risk of diabetes, finds research published in the online journal BMJ Open Diabetes ...

Recommended for you

Self-lubricating latex could boost condom use: study

October 17, 2018
A perpetually unctuous, self-lubricating latex developed by a team of scientists in Boston could boost the use of condoms, they reported Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

How healthy will we be in 2040?

October 17, 2018
A new scientific study of forecasts and alternative scenarios for life expectancy and major causes of death in 2040 shows all countries are likely to experience at least a slight increase in lifespans. In contrast, one scenario ...

Nutrition has a greater impact on bone strength than exercise

October 17, 2018
One question that scientists and fitness experts alike would love to answer is whether exercise or nutrition has a bigger positive impact on bone strength.

Father's nicotine use can cause cognitive problems in children and grandchildren

October 16, 2018
A father's exposure to nicotine may cause cognitive deficits in his children and even grandchildren, according to a study in mice publishing on October 16 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Pradeep Bhide of Florida ...

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

Many supplements contain unapproved, dangerous ingredients: study

October 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—U.S. health officials have issued more than 700 warnings during the last decade about the sale of dietary supplements that contain unapproved and potentially dangerous drug ingredients, new research reveals.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.