For the simple reason that food can make us well or make us sick, there is much debate in the literature and much effort put into understanding the ideal diet.
Nutrition is necessary for life, but it also triggers detrimental responses. For example, amino acids are necessary for us to live, but protein also increases IGF1, which is associated with accelerated aging. The trade off is necessary – in the same breath, what gives life can cause disease, and will eventually cause death. For this reason, finding the ideal dietary balances are a pre-requisite for healthspan/longevity.
Nutrients acts as building blocks for mechanistic function – tissue repair, cell proliferation, all types of tissue genesis within the body.
But an overlooked concept, and one that solidifies the value of nutrition in health and longevity, is that nutrition also acts as a trigger, a communication tool we can use to communicate with our bodies.
This is not only true at the level of microRNA communication between plants that we ingest and our genome and epigenome.
It also holds true in the effects the timing of nutrition has on our stem cells and regenerative mechanisms.
For many years it has been known that calorie restriction (CR) lengthens life and healthspan in invertebrates, and now it is confirmed in monkeys, and certainly holds true for us.
For humans however CR is difficult to maintain, and all body mass is compromised – not only visceral fat but also brown fat, muscle, and bone.
However fasting-mimicking patterns of eating are looking highly promising – they are much easier to adapt to, and diminish visceral fat but regenerate muscle and other body tissues, as well as immune system cells. This approach appears to provide much of the benefit of CR but without the loss of critical tissue.
Fasting-mimicking diet – FMD
Unlike continually restricting calories, periodic fasting has separate phases. As your body searches for nutrients but does not have them, the acute deficit causes a shrinking of the system – the liver actually begins to downsize, for example – and at the same time primes our stem cells, alerting them that the body expects regeneration when it is safe to do so.
The shrinking of the system and stem cell priming appears to come from both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting. However it is during the re-feeding phase of the intermittent fast that the signal is sent to regenerate – rebuild the system with new cells, as there is now ample material to do so.
It is in this way that intermittent fasting, specifically FMD, enables the body to clear itself of visceral fat and damaged cells, then regenerate healthy muscle and tissue to preserve lean body mass.
A studied example is the immune system.
As we age immune system function drops, leaving the door open to cancer and other diseases – the main reason aging is a disease risk. We know that within the immune system lymphocyte populations decrease as we age, and the myeloid population rises. The myeloid-derived immune cells are pro-inflammatory, with inflammation acting as a key marker of aging and disease.
As we age we also develop what are called senescent cells, these are cells that no longer function but hang around still, producing inflammatory substances and negatively influencing the cells around them.
It has been found that the fasting-mimicking pattern of eating destroys 40% of our immune system cells, including triggering what is called autophagy, the killing of unnecessary cells like senescent cells.
Then, however, because the stem cells are also triggered, the re-feeding process generates new immune system cells. This re-set returns the lymphoid-myeloid ratio to more youthful levels.
Additionally it was found that autoimmune response was eliminated in 20% of subjects using fasting-mimicking diet for 3 days every week for 3 months – the autoimmune cells died and were replaced with healthy immune system cells.
It is documented that 3 cycles of fasting-mimicking is all it takes to lower inflammatory markers (such as CRP, IL6 and TNFa).
Fasting-mimicking eating pattern:
Day 1 – 1,090 calories (10% protein, 56% fat, 34% carbohydrate)
Day 2-5 – 725 calories (9% protein, 44% fat, 47% carbohydrate)
The company L-Nutra has created the complete food-based package for cycles of fasting-mimicking.
This is a list of recipes derived from the fasting-mimicking research: http://agingadvice.org/FMD-Recipes.html
Looking back at how humans developed, we can imagine that fasting periods were common – food would be plentiful and then scarce. Our systems most certainly are wired for this kind of cycling, as is indicated by the greatly beneficial effects of intermittent fasting. The simple instance of the improvement of our immune system and upregulation of autophagy tells me that this is a piece of the longevity puzzle.
There is no doubt that this eating pattern can also be employed in reversing disease – but this should only be done under the care of a healthcare provider as this pattern can have very powerful effects on the system.