The Longevity Diet: Lots of Beans and Intermittent Fasting Slow Aging

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Valter Longo grew up in a village in Calabria called Molochio, known as a so-called ‘blue zone’ – an area where locals were known to live exceptionally long lives and suffer less from chronic diseases.

In recent years, the plethora of centenarians in the city has become a curiosity for congeners National Geographic- and what has emerged is a story of people eating mostly beans and fruit, not red meat.

And in often more difficult times, they hardly ate.

Maybe it was all those old people who scared young Valter Longo. As a teenager, he fled to the US, where he lived with an extended family and planned to become a rock star.

But eventually he abandoned his guitar and started studying those old folks from the hometown and asked why they’ve managed to live longer and healthier lives than most – and along the way, he’s become a rock star in the somewhat controversial field of slowing down. aging.

An article he wrote in 1994 detailing yeast aging pathways was rejected and even mocked for seven years. It was finally published in 2001.

As an enthusiastic 2017 profile reported in Stat News, the paper has been quoted hundreds of times since.

‘If someone were to say, ‘What are you doing?’ we would say oxidative chemistry,” Dr. Longo told Stat. “Aging you couldn’t say. That was seen as a joke.”

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Diet may be better than curing cancer

Some theorists, such as British molecular biologist Aubrey de Grey, believe that aging is a disease that can be cured. Once that is achieved, we can live 1,000 years, De Grey’s controversial claim.

Dr Longo professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute is more modest in his ambitions. He has become convinced that nutrition is the key to a vigorous life up to 110 years.

Professor Valter Longo on his way to longevity. Photo: USC

By way of contrast, he pointed out in his 2016 Ted Talk that if we could completely cure cancer, the gain in lifespan would be relatively modest, perhaps an extra four or five years on average.

While Aubrey de Gray is something of a superstar in the field of immortality, his ideas have been written off by many serious scientists.

Professor Longo, on the other hand, has convinced many of his colleagues that he is really onto something. Even skeptics have suggested his ideas are plausible, but want to see larger studies in humans.

The Longo Plan

In April, Professor Longo been pursuing a long life for 30 years co-authored a widely published paper with Dr. Rozalyn Anderson, director of the aging metabolism program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

The researchers reviewed hundreds of studies on nutrition, disease and longevity in laboratory animals and humans and combined these with their own research on nutrients and aging.

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The net result was “a clearer picture of the best nutrition for a longer and healthier life”.

“We examined the associations between nutrients, fasting, genes and longevity in short-lived species and linked these associations with clinical and epidemiological studies in primates and humans – including centenarians,” said Professor Longo.

Eating right can save your marbles and even your teeth. Photo: Getty

“By taking an approach based on more than a century of research, we can begin to define a long-lived diet that provides a solid foundation for nutritional recommendations and for future research.”

The short version: “Lots of legumes, whole grains, and vegetables; a few fish; no red meat or processed meat and very little white meat; low in sugar and refined grains; good amounts of nuts and olive oil, and some dark chocolate.”

In fact, this is essentially the diet that Professor Longo previously published in book form but now science is catching up.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem that groundbreaking.

But the innovation isn’t in the foods you consume most of the time on the plan, the life-prolonging potential is in what’s called a fasting-mimicking diet.

It’s a neat trick, where the body goes into fasting mode for five days – allowing stem cells to regenerate the immune system – while actually eating a modest number of calories.

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The Longo plan involves eating 1,100 plant-based calories consisting of nuts, vegetables, soups, olives, and tea on the first day — and then about 800 for the next four days.

Does it actually work?

In 2017, Professor Longo and colleagues published a randomized phase II clinical trial involving 71 healthy people aged 20 to 70 years.

For three months, the participants followed a periodic, five-day fasting diet designed by Longo.

The diet reduced cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure, signs of inflammation (as measured by C-reactive protein levels), as well as fasting glucose and decreased levels of IGF-1, a hormone that affects metabolism.

It also reduced the waistline and resulted in weight loss, both in total body fat and trunk fat, but not in muscle mass.

Overall, the diet reduced the study participants’ risks for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other age-related diseases.

These positive results were found to persist for three months after the trial.

What happens now? A large FDA Phase III clinical trial to test the fast-mimicking diet in patients diagnosed with or at high risk of age-related diseases.

Professor Longo may be a very old man by the time he completely cracks the code for longevity. By then he will be proof of his own theories. Or not.

To learn more about Professor Longo and fast mimicking can slow aging, see here.