Can fasting help you live longer? Here’s what the science says.

This example of a five-day diet mimicking a fast would be taken no more than four times over the course of a year. Biochemist Valter Longo of the University of Southern California created the diet, which consists of a combination of nut-based or chocolate-crisp bars; spearmint or hibiscus tea; an algal oil capsule; vegetable soup; a multivitamin and mineral supplement; almond-and-kale crackers; olives; and a glycerol drink.


ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
BY: FRAN SMITH
PHOTOGRAPHS BY: JASPER DOEST

Can fasting help you live longer? Here’s what the science says.

It’s a popular practice, and research shows it has real health benefits. A new diet that tricks your body into thinking it’s fasting may have similar benefits.

Valter Longo spent childhood summers in Molochio, the village in the Calabria region of southern Italy where his parents were born. It happens to have a high concentration of centenarians. Longo grew up to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry and to study how food influences longevity. Although based in Los Angeles and Milan, he often returned to Molochio, hoping to discover the life-extending magic of the local diet. Not surprisingly, the village elders reported eating simply and sparingly: vegetables, beans, fruit, olive oil, pasta, and minimal meat.

But that wasn’t the whole story.

“When we talk to centenarians we often hear, ‘You know, we went through moments, through times, where there was just no food at all,’” he says.

Left: “Don’t eat too much,” says Grazia Cosmano, 102, and stick to fruits and vegetables. “Keep it as simple as possible.” That’s how Cosmano became one of an unusual concentration of centenarians in Italy’s Calabria region, says biochemist Valter Longo.

Right: Cosmano has pasta for lunch. She has eaten vegetables almost exclusively from her own garden her entire life—and she eats no red meat.


As a young laboratory researcher, Longo starved yeast to tease out how nutrient deprivation affects gene expression and other biological processes associated with longer life. He became convinced that fasting can delay aging, prevent many illnesses that come along with growing older, and help more of us blow past age 100 by resetting our metabolism and cleaning out cellular debris. But few people will stick to a days-long fast, and extended fasting can cause muscle loss and other problems.

So Longo spent years developing, testing, and fine-tuning a diet that tricks our bodies into responding as if we’re eating nothing at all. It is very low in calories, sugars, and protein, and high in unsaturated fats.

In experiments with middle-aged mice, Longo showed that a fasting-mimicking diet, or FMD, as he calls it, extends lifespan, revitalizes the immune system, and lowers the incidence of cancer. The diet also improved learning and memory in older mice, delayed cognitive decline in mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s, and improved the efficacy of cancer treatment.

Domenico Calisti, 59, visits nutritionist Antonella Pellegrino and undergoes a health check as part of Valter Longo’s fasting-mimicking diet clinical trial in Varapodio.


Longo packaged the fasting-mimicking diet into a food kit, which includes nutrient-rich crackers, olives, soup mixes, herbal tea, and supplements. A study of 71 healthy adults who followed the diet, for five consecutive days once a month for three cycles, found it reduced body fat, body weight, blood pressure, glucose, and C-reactive protein—all good things for staving off heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic ailments. The people at highest risk for these conditions improved the most.

In 2022, Longo and his colleagues reported that this diet improved the metabolic health of patients with prostate cancer, raising the possibility that the regimen could serve as a vital adjunct to conventional cancer therapies.

Now Longo is putting his diet to its biggest test. He is recruiting 500 people, ages 30 to 65, from Molochio, Varapodio, and neighboring villages for a head-to-head comparison of the effects of normal eating and FMD. He hopes the study will demonstrate, convincingly, that sending the body into fasting mode can improve the health of many adults and reverse age-related molecular and cellular damage at the root of the conditions that bedevil us late in life.

The popularity of fasting

The village of Stilo in the Calabria region of southern Italy. There are about 20,000 centenarians in Italy and this region has the highest concentration.


In 2022, 10 percent of Americans surveyed by the International Food Information Council said they fasted intermittently. By contrast, 2 percent reported following a vegan diet, 3 percent said they were vegetarian, and 5 percent said they ate a Mediterranean-style diet. However, the meaning of “intermittent fasting” varies widely—12 hours a day, 16 hours, alternate days, one day a week.

Diet fads come and go with such regularity it would be easy to chalk up the current mania for intermittent fasting as a passing fancy. But in the year-plus I spent reporting on the science of longevity for National Geographic, I was impressed by the number of researchers who routinely take a time-out from food on the strength of evidence showing health benefits for the practice.

“It is really proven, and I think validated—fasting is good,” says Tzipi Strauss, a physician who is establishing a clinical center for healthy longevity at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center. “You don’t need to eat three times a day. Or every three hours. No. We are not babies. We don’t need to grow.”

Evelyne Yehudit Bischof, chief associate physician of internal medicine and oncology at Renji Hospital, Jiaotong University School of Medicine in Shanghai, eats nothing before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. When I received several emails she sent at midnight, I wondered how she worked so late without falling over, famished. “I eat a lot during the hours I’m allowed,” she says.

Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California—an expert on circadian clocks, the internal system that regulates body rhythm—is an intermittent faster, too. According to his studies, limiting the time spent eating keeps cells and organs, the brain included, running in sync. His research tells him that ideally, he and his family would skip food for 16 hours daily. But he didn’t think he could sell his wife and daughter on fasting longer than 12 hours.

All this variation and improvisation leaves Longo determined to answer fundamental questions. “Fasting is just a word, like eating,” he says. “You have to move into exactly what kind of fasting works and why.”

Left: Maria Rosa Tranquilla, 93, poses for a portrait with her six-month-old great-granddaughter, Kiara. Children born today in prosperous countries are likely to live into their nineties. ​
Right: Aldo Calabrese, 83, shakes fruit from a tree as his wife, Nazzarena Murace, 75, catches them in her dress. Locals grow much of their own produce.


Craze or cure?

Today’s fasting mania grew out of more than a century of research showing that extreme calorie restriction—a reduction of 20 percent to 40 percent—dramatically extends the lives of animals, including worms, flies, mice, rats, and rhesus monkeys, as long as they get the nutrients they need. No other antiaging intervention comes close. These studies also demonstrate that extremely low-calorie diets significantly reduce the incidence of age-related diseases, especially cancer.

Lab animals are typically fed only once or twice a day—they don’t watch Netflix and munch popcorn at all hours. For decades scientists overlooked the possibility that the hours without food might contribute to the health and longevity gains among calorie-restricted animals. Now it’s apparent than when we eat may be more important for longevity than how much.

In 2022, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reported the results of an elaborate four-year experiment tracking hundreds of mice over their whole lives. Automated feeders allowed some mice to eat as much as they wanted, while sharply reducing calories for others and allowing that group access to food on different schedules—within a two-hour window, within 12 hours, around the clock, day vs. night. Calorie restriction alone increased the lifespan of the animals by 10 percent. Coupled with limiting chow time to two hours at night, peak activity time for mice, the diet extended their lifespan by 35 percent. That would translate into about 25 years, on average, for humans.

It would take decades—and thousands of volunteers with the superhuman discipline to adhere to a fasting regimen all that time—to determine whether strictly limiting when we eat can give us so much more time on Earth. But the practice has clear upsides. A 2019 study followed 2,001 heart patients and found those who routinely fasted were much more likely to be alive four years after a common procedure, cardiac catheterization, compared with patients who never fasted, did it briefly, or stopped many years earlier.

Researchers Rafael de Cabo of the National Institute on Aging and Mark P. Mattson of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reviewed years of clinical trials of intermittent fasting and concluded that there is enough evidence of the health benefits that physicians should be trained on the subject and offer guidance to patients.

Of course, what we eat matters, too. Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway recently estimated that a 20-year-old who cuts out hamburgers, hot dogs, white bread, and other staples of the Western diet, and makes a habit of eating beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables could increase their life expectancy by up to 13 years. And as with exercise, it’s never too late to start and reap the benefits.

A 60-year-old could gain more than eight years, and an 80-year-old could add more than three years, the scientists say. They did not measure the impact of fasting on life expectancy. But Panda notes that in addition to the physiological changes induced by fasting, the discipline encourages better food choices and less snacking.

There doesn’t seem to be a downside to following a 12- to 16-hour food-free interval nightly. In 2022, Panda and his colleagues published a study of 137 San Diego firefighters, half of whom agreed to eat only within a 10-hour daily window for 12 weeks. In a region plagued by wildfires, Panda initially worried: What if 14 hours without food left a firefighter sluggish or fuzzy minded during an emergency?

“That was the most scary part for us,” he says. “If some participant is feeling weak, is not responding to a 911 call, is not getting into that fire engine within 60 seconds, that would be the end of the study.” But performance didn’t slip. Overall, the fasting group showed improvements in cholesterol and mental health, and cut back on alcohol. Those who had high blood pressure or high glucose at the start of the study saw their levels go down.

“The bottom line is, many of the fasting protocols will have some benefit that’s much better than not fasting at all,” Panda says.

How fasting works

Valter Longo directs the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and the Longevity and Cancer Program at the IFOM Institute of Molecular Oncology in Milan. He says his fasting-mimicking diet works in large part by activating blood stem cells, which strengthen the body’s ability to produce infection-fighting white blood cells. It happens not during the FMD cycle but when normal eating resumes. The regimen also promotes a cellular cleansing process called autophagy: Cells devour their own damaged parts, which are replaced by functional components.

In clinical trials, Longo has found that FMD switches the body from a sugar-burning mode to a fat-burning mode—essentially reprogramming metabolism, which the modern Western diet has thrown out of whack. Studies of intermittent fasting have demonstrated a similar effect, which may explain why people with metabolic risk factors such as pre-diabetes appear to benefit most.

Roughly 30 clinical trials around the world are testing FMD on people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, “and almost any disease you can think of,” Longo says.

A kit for Longo’s five-day program is also available commercially, for close to $200. Longo says all his profits go to the Milan-based foundation that supports his research. Still, the price puts the package out of reach for many Americans, especially low-income people and people of color, who have disproportionately high rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

“It’s not scalable,” Panda says. “It’s not going to help half of the population in the U.S. who actually need this approach. They cannot afford it. They cannot even afford food, healthy food.”

I wondered why Valter Longo decided to bring a new way of eating to a region of Italy famous for centenarians and healthy traditional fare. “Nowadays, not a lot of people follow this diet,” says Romina Cervigni, scientific officer at Longo’s foundation. Roughly one-third of children and adolescents in Calabria are overweight, one of the highest rates in Italy. Sixty-one percent of residents ages 65 and older have high blood pressure, 29 percent have heart disease, and 24 percent have diabetes, with the rates shooting up as people reach their late 70s and 80s, according to the chronic disease surveillance system set up by the Italian Ministry of Health.

“We hope the study will improve life for a new generation,” says Orlando Fazzolari, the mayor of Varapodio.

Longo and his team are recruiting volunteers who are overweight and have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, or other metabolic risk factors. The researchers will randomly sort people into three groups. One will eat normally, switching to the fasting-mimicking regimen for five days three times—at the start of the study, three months later, and three months after that.

The second group will follow the same FMD schedule and the rest of the time, they’ll eat what he calls “the longevity diet.” It’s nearly vegan, except for some fish, and ideally consumed within a 12-hour daily window. The final group will serve as controls, changing nothing about their diet. The study will measure changes in body mass index, numerous biological markers, and biological aging.

At the end of six months, Longo will invite the control group to switch to the longevity diet. Years of research have taught him that when people volunteer for a study and wind up getting nothing that might boost their health, they often feel cheated. The study takes place in villages with a couple thousand residents, at most, and everybody knows one another. He doesn’t want people in the control group to complain: Why did my cousin get the diet, and not I?

Calorie restriction in a pill

No antiaging intervention tested by scientists—and they’ve investigated hundreds—has had stronger, more consistent effects than calorie restriction. It boosts the lifespan of rodents by up to 50 percent. Rhesus monkeys—closer to us than mice, genetically speaking—also benefit. In one study, researchers slashed the daily calorie intake of rhesus monkeys by 30 percent for their entire adult lives, without skimping on nutrients. Those animals not only lived longer than monkeys fed standard fare, they also were less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and the brain shrinkage that often comes with old age.

In humans, eating the bare minimum for survival might prevent or delay some ailments, but over the long term it would cause other problems, such as bone loss. Even if the practice was safe, many of us might not think a longer life worth living if it meant walking around hungry all the time. João Pedro de Magalhães, a professor of molecular biogerontology at the University of Birmingham in England, feels that way.

“I’m terrible when I’m hungry,” he says. “I get very grumpy. So the question is, could we develop a way of getting the benefits of the health effects and longevity effects of calorie restriction without having to go on a diet? That’s something that, for decades, people have dreamed about.”

Now his lab has taken a step toward finding an answer. In a series of experiments, de Magalhães and his colleagues showed that a prescription blood pressure medication, rilmenidine, extends the lifespan of the worm C. elegans by about 20 percent—and does it by mimicking the protective biological effects of calorie restriction. The drug activates the same genetic pathways as a super low-calorie diet. It also induces what’s known as autophagy, or the clearing out of old cells, a critical process for health and one that deteriorates as we age. Worms lived longer even if they did not get the drug until they were old.

Scientists have studied other compounds that imitate the genetic and molecular action of extreme dieting. Two of the most promising drugs for slowing aging, rapamycin and metformin, act on the same pathways and mechanisms that give calorie restriction its life-extending power. But some experimental compounds that seemed promising turn out to be toxic in animals.

De Magalhães uses computational methods to find a potential calorie-restriction-mimicking pill in the vast repositories of widely used medications, ones that are already proven safe in humans. He has found that rilmenidine triggers the same protective molecular effects in mice that he saw in worms, and he plans to study whether it also increases mice lifespan.

He also hopes to investigate the anti-aging and longevity effects of the drug in people who take it for hypertension. Does rilmenidine lower their biological age? Does it reduce the risk of other age-related ailments?

It’s a long way, of course, from treating worms to treating people. When might we see a pill that safely and effectively tricks the human body into acting as if it’s on the sparsest of diets, even as we eat to our heart’s content?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” de Magalhães says. “On one hand, I’m optimistic about it. On the other hand, I’m also realistic that the benefits seen in animal models are not going to translate fully to human beings. The lifespan effects, 20 percent in worms, are going to be far more modest in humans. But if we can even only slightly increase lifespan—and it’s not just about lifespan—if we can improve the health of elderly individuals by having this prevention measure, then that would be a fantastic achievement by itself.”


Squash: Benefits, Healthy Recipes and the ProLon Diet

All about squash

Highlight

Squash is a fruit which is very well known for its different nutrients and benefits, which can often affect a person’s general health conditions in a positive way. Due to its versatility, you can often find and prepare a variety of healthy recipes!

 

Due to the properties found in squash, it represents one of the key core ingredients which can be found in the ProLon diet.

The Origins of Squash

Squash, which is a flowering plant (family of Cucurbitaceae), is defined as a vegetable, but is botanically seen as a fruit due to the number of seeds it contains.

But what is the advantage? 

Squash is an ingredient which will allow you to create both sweet and savory plates!

Squash originates from Mexico and Central America, where it was originally cultivated by indigenous people, however, discovered by European settlers just after 1942. The Hubbard Squash, named by Lady Elizabeth Hubbard in the 19th century, is the best-known American squash.

How many types of Squash are cultivated worldwide?

In total there are more than 30 different types of squash, which all vary in different sizes, shapes, colors, methods of cultivation and preparation.

The families of squash can be divided into two types: summer and winter. Summer squashes are plants that grow quickly and produce small fruits which come in diverse shapes and colours which ranges from yellow to green. Examples that we all know in the summer squash family are zucchini and yellow crooked squash!

However, on the other hand, pumpkin and butternut squash are both part of the winter squash family! They are vine plats that produce large fruits which can be stored for longer than the average summer squash.

What is the difference between Pumpkin and Butternut Squash?

The most renowned winter squashes are Pumpkin and Butternut Squash. Although they share some features, at the same time they represent two distinct varieties. 

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is often seen by many cultures as the symbol of Halloween. It is a rounded fruit, colored yellow-orange. It is made out of 90% of water. What most people do not know is that there are more than 45 types of pumpkins, which can be cultivated on every continent (besides Antarctica). 

The main health benefits of pumpkins are:

  1. Beta-carotene (that gives the orange color to the pumpkin), which helps to protect against asthma and heart disease.
  2. It contains vitamin C and potassium, which supports the health of your heart.
  3. Additionally, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Beta-carotene help sustain eye health and also help prevent degenerative damage in elderly people.

Curious about what pumpkin was used for in the past? 

It has ancient origins! Pumpkin seeds used to be consumed by the Aztecs as a satiating snack. However, other indigenous populations used the pumpkin pulp as a medical mixture, which focussed on alleviating burns.

So what we have in common with history is that, as we did in the past, we have never stopped consuming every part of the pumpkin: from the skin to pulp, the whole pumpkin is edible.

Butternut Squash

A fruit that reminds you of a bell, colored in a cream skin, with yellowish or orange pulp. But what are the most important health benefits of butternut squash?

  • Vitamin A and Vitamin C are the first important antioxidants that help protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules. They also help in slowing down the ageing process, and support the growth of tissue like skin and hair! Lutein and Zeaxanthin, the which are the other two antioxidants, also support eye health.
  • The high quantity of fiber found in butternut squash helps to prevent constipation.
  • Potassium helps in preventing higher blood pressure, and with other elements such as Magnesium, Manganese, and Calcium, they all play a key role in improving your bone density.

But how can you store Butternut Squash? It is advised to store butternut squash in a cool, dry and dark place away from fruits that will ripen quickly, for instance apples. Apples when ripening release ethylene gas which can affect the butternut squash, which will lead to the rotting of your butternut squash. Also ensure good air circulation, however do not refrigerate!

Healthy recipe with Squash

Here is a healthy recipe from The Longevity Diet book:

Pumpkin Soup with croutons

  • Pumpkin or squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped (300 g)
  • Olive oil (12 ml/1 tbsp)
  • Chili flakes (optional)
  • Parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Croutons (40 g)
  • Pumpkin seeds (9 g/1 tsp)

Instructions:

  1. Boil the pumpkin or squash in salted water. 
  2. Once cooked, drain the water. 
  3. Add the oil, chili flakes, onion, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Stir well. 
  5. When soup reaches the desired consistency, puree it with a hand blender.
  6. Serve in a bowl garnished with croutons and pumpkin seeds.

Alternative: You can also try the tasty Butternut Squash soup, which can be found in our ProLon® 5-Day.

Butternut Squash and the link with our ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet 

Butternut squash is a key ingredient in our second version of the ProLon® 5-Day. Being a key component of our 4 soups, the fruit provides our soup with a light orange color, while consisting of a dense consistency which can be compared to pureed soup. And let us not forget the sweet and nutty flavor that can be found on plate.

Although all of our ProLon® 5-Day soups are dried, our soups still contain all the properties of their ingredients, which when combined with all the different nutrients in our box, will allow for your body to enter the fasting state, in which the process of cellular regeneration and energy boost starts, following an additional 25% of hydration to your skin.

Never tried the ProLon® 5-Day? Discover how easy it is to enjoy all the benefits of its ingredients, all within five days.

Buy now

Mental Wellness and the ProLon® 5-Day

Mental Wellness

Highlight

Mental wellness is a life necessity. It allows us to manage all of our normal functions as human beings. Functions like emotions, rational thinking, communication and the ability to connect and interact with people around us are just some examples of these functions.

Did you know that mental wellness has an important relationship with the ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet?

What is mental wellness?

Mental Wellness is “a resource that helps us think, feel, connect and function”.

Although many suggest that we evolved from animals, we are quite different. Our mind allows us to act reasonabily, while still being able to balance it with the rationality of our actions. This is done out of pure primordial instinct. This simply allows us to manage and face a variety of situations, while acting differently to each situation. 

The majority of our actions are conscious, allowing us to know how we will act, as a result of our behaviour. This allows us to often think of alternative solutions to be able to treat a problem or situation from a different perspective.

Why is Mental Wellness important?

Mental wellness is important as it allows us to behave accordingly to everyday circumstances. It also teaches us how to improve the way we act, in order to be able to relate to the world in the future.

Mental wellness is needed to be present in your everyday life, allowing you to actively be the protagonist of your life.

If you feel mentally active, relaxed and good, it will allow you to have control of your own functions. It will allow you to intensely enjoy each moment during the day, as you are only concentrating on the current moment and how you are interacting with the world around you. There is nothing to hinder you.

However, the worst thing for your mental wellness is stress. If you allow stress and bad thoughts relating to stress to take control, you won’t have the chance to be present and live life optimally.

Periods of stress are always creeping around the corner, however it is important to find simple solutions to tackle them consistently.

3 tips to implement to improve your mental wellness

To ensure your mental health, here are some tips which you can implement to your everyday life:

  1. Take breaks or pauses during the day, ensuring balance between hectic times and times in which you can rest;
  2. Get 7-8 hours of sleep. Make sure to switch off all your electronic devices while you are sleeping, so you can get a good night’s rest;
  3. Follow a healthy diet. Healthy food can really help both your body and mental wellness. Nutrients like spinach and nuts, rich in antioxidants, can improve your memory and general concentration!

Mental wellness and the ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet

Thanks to many years of research and development, our products are correctly calibrated with the right amount of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Five days of our ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet will allow your body to have a break from all the mental heaviness correlating to stress and allow you to better focus on daily activities, which will allow for your mental wellness and clarity to reach its old highs. 

ProLon healthy foods help support mental health and wellness and will get you feeling lighter, more energetic and more concentrated.

Discover more

Want to discover more of the benefits of our ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet and how it can improve mental wellness?

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