2024-02-21| R&D

USC-Led Study Reveals Benefits of Fasting-Mimicking Diet in Reducing Disease Risk and Slowing Aging

by Richard Chau
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A recent study led by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) Leonard Davis School of Gerontology suggests that cycles of a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) can significantly lower risk factors for disease and reduce biological age in humans. Published in Nature Communications on February 20, the study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the beneficial effects of FMD in combating aging-related health issues.

“This study shows for the first time evidence for biological age reduction from two different clinical trials, accompanied by evidence of rejuvenation of metabolic and immune function,” said Dr. Valter Longo, USC’s Professor in Gerontology and Biological Science and the senior author of the new study.

Related article: Intermittent Fasting Improves Alzheimer’s Pathology, Possibly Breaks New Ground for Future Research

Fasting-Mimicking Diet as a Promising Intervention

The FMD is a 5-day diet high in unsaturated fats and low in overall calories, protein, and carbohydrates, mimicking the effects of water-only fasting while providing necessary nutrients. Developed by Prof. Longo’s laboratory, the diet is more manageable and easier to complete, thereby offering a feasible alternative for individuals seeking the benefits of fasting without stringent lifestyle changes. 

Previous research led by Longo has linked brief and periodic FMD cycles with stem cell regeneration, reduced chemotherapy side effects, and decreased signs of dementia in mice, as well as lower risk factors for various age-related diseases in humans. Besides, the Longo lab previously demonstrated that one or two cycles of FMD for five days a month could protect normal cells while killing damaged cells, reduce inflammation, promote multi-system regeneration, and extend longevity. However, until now, whether FMD has any effect on aging, biological age, liver fat, and immunity in humans has remained an unanswered question.

Evidence of Improved Health and Rejuvenated Cellular and Tissue Functions

Analyzing data from two clinical trial populations involving men and women aged 18 to 70, researchers observed significant improvements in participants following the FMD regimen. Blood test results showed that patients adhering to 3 to 4 monthly cycles of the FMD (one 5-day FMD cycle followed by a 25-day normal diet each month) experienced lower diabetes risk factors, including reduced insulin resistance and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed a decrease in abdominal and liver fat, indicating a diminished risk of metabolic syndrome. 

Moreover, FMD cycles appeared to rejuvenate the immune system, indicated by an increase in the lymphoid-to-myeloid ratio. Statistical analysis across both trials revealed an average reduction in biological age by 2.5 years among FMD participants, showcasing evidence of cellular and tissue function improvement.

Implications for Healthcare Professionals and the General Population

Lead authors Sebastian Brandhorst and Morgan E. Levine emphasize the study’s implications for health and longevity. The findings suggest that FMD cycles could serve as a short-term, achievable dietary intervention to mitigate disease risks and improve overall well-being without necessitating drastic lifestyle changes. 

With these compelling results, Professor Valter Longo urges healthcare professionals to consider recommending FMD cycles to patients with elevated disease risk factors, as well as to the broader population seeking enhanced functionality and a younger biological age.

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