Last night I watched a very interesting program I recorded ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’. A very interesting documentary about new research that suggests a calorie restricted diet could be the answer to reducing obesity and increasing our life expectancy without predominant western diseases. Research is still continuing in this area but so far scientists have found links when testing the diet on mice that their longevity increases.
How does it work then? Well during the great depression in the 1930’s life expectancy increased by 6 years…diets were restricted! So using this theory scientists began a trial. Humans have a growth hormone called IGF-1. This hormone is thought to be responsible for our ever-increasing obese population. Basically, when humans eat too much or more than the body needs IGF-1 kicks in because the body thinks it has the fuel it needs and so cells increase, but unless you are young and still growing we do not need high levels of IGF-1 and evidence shows that high levels of IGF-1 are linked to cancer, diabetes and other nasty illnesses. IGF-1 is produced by the liver especially when high levels of protein are eaten. New cells are produced because of IGF-1 which may sound like a good thing but it increases the chances of the body becoming sick. When protein levels are reduced IGF-1 reduces and the body begins to repair itself.
Scientists believe that by fasting (not eating or eating very little) this decreases IGF-1 significantly and the body begins to use fat cells for energy instead which not only helps a person lose weight but ‘believe it or not’ makes them healthier. Mice scientifically developed to have Alzheimer’s disease were put through fasting once a month and the results showed that the mice did not develop Alzheimer’s until later in their life much later than they would normally have developed it which in turn increased their longevity. More significantly was the fact that the mice developed new brain cells…all due to not being allowed to eat for a couple of times a month.
Michael Mosley, BBC presenter, decided to give the fasting a try due his own health indicators being somewhat worrying. He had high IGF-1 levels and 27% body fat amongst other things. He tried the three-day fast and managed it but felt he could not achieve this level of fasting every month, however, after the three-day fast his IGF-1 levels reduced significantly by 50% proving the theory works. He visited two other scientists all working on the same theory but trialling different levels of fasting and decided to give the 5:2 fast diet a go. You eat normally for five days i.e. advisory calorie intake per day and then for two days you reduce your calorie intake to about 500 for women and 600 for men. Michael did this for five weeks and in that time his results showed that his IGF-1 levels had reduced drastically, he lost over a stone in weight and his body fat % reduced from 27 to 19% as well as reducing his cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Pretty impressive.
Michael believes this could be the answer to obesity and western disease, obviously more research is needed but it is a very interesting theory and worth a try if you too are feeling the affects of bad diet and lack of exercise!
This program can be watched on BBC iplayer which I recommend to fill you in on the small details I have probably left out.