Can Intermittent Fasting Prevent Age Related Diseases?

old age hands

A study published in February 2017, entitled “Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease” discussed a fasting program believed to help enhance healthy aging. The premise behind the Fasting-Mimicking Diet is that it shocks your system into rejuvenating your bodies’ stem cells to prevent age-related diseases, like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Aging is inevitable, but the goal of a fasting-mimicking program is to help you age in a healthier manner.

How does this diet compare to other fasting diets we have reviewed?

The use of fasting is hardly a new concept in terms of dieting. We have even discussed different forms of fasting on Dirt-to-Dinner in the past, arguing against the idea that juice cleansing is healthy. In reality, juice cleansing is not all it’s cracked up to be. Remember: you want to try and eat your fruits and veggies as juicing often removes all the fiber! We also reviewed the famed 5:2 diet—a program that made the ‘fasting approach’ to dieting more mainstream. (Another diet hack we are not fond of.)

One scientist you might recall if you’ve seen the popular Michael Mosley BBC documentary, Eat, Fast, & Live Longer, is Dr. Valter Longo. Dr. Longo is a renowned cell biologist and the Director of the University of Southern California Longevity Institute.

When approaching this research, Longo asked himself, “Is it possible for people to guard against aging as well as aging diseases?” His research hopes to help prevent the disease altogether— rather than treat a disease that already exists.

Dr. Valter Longo hopes to better understand the root cause of many life-threatening diseases and asserts that age is the biggest contributing factor to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. He has discovered 2 out of 3 cellular pathways of aging and a natural intervention process with a tremendous impact on biological aging: Fasting.

“The medical field has turned into a Band-Aid field…we wait until somebody has developed cancer and then we use chemotherapy or other therapies that do some good and kill cancer cells, but also kill the normal cells.”

-Dr. Valter Longo

In order to combat traditional “treat-after-diagnosis” medicine, Dr. Longo has explored the positive use of fasting.

Dr. Longo believes that when used appropriately, a fast-mimicking diet — which is not a diet plan, but rather of a way to shock your system — can help your body rejuvenate itself, regenerate healthy cells, and eliminate harmful cells.

Unlike most fasting gimmicks, a fast-mimicking diet is a program that is only practiced over a short period of time and used to help your body heal itself. Longo, like many nutritionists, does not believe in fad dieting as they often can encourage poor eating habits. Fasting diets, like the 5:2 method and the Every Other Day Diet, encourage a starve-and-feast approach to food.

While he has performed the bulk of his research in mice, more recently Dr. Longo performed several human trials to test the success of a fast-mimicking diet on healthy people with risk factors for diseases, as well as cancer patients and multiple sclerosis patients.

The research behind the fast-mimicking diet

Dr. Longo’s human trials indicated that fasting may trigger your body to remove damaged cells and use them for fuel during periods of starvation. Dr. Longo’s study, “Fasting-mimicking diet and markers/risk factors for aging, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease” was peer-reviewed by other scientists in the field upon its completion and the findings were established as credible. It was published according to best practices and standards set by the scientific community.

When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged. What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back.
– Dr. Valter Longo

The two-arm study included 100 healthy human participants from the United States and ran for 3 months. Participants were randomized and asked to follow an FMD program or an unrestricted diet. Those who were assigned FMD followed the program for 5 consecutive days a month, over a 3-month period. Data were collected after the first 3-month period, following which, control subjects were then crossed over from the control diet group into the experimental FMD group. Upon completion of the study, there were 71 subjects who participated in three months of FMD. Scientists collected blood glucose levels, IGF-1 levels, and cardiovascular markers, like inflammatory markers and cholesterol levels. Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a very important hormone for cell growth, tissue strengthening, and healing skin. It hypothesized that low IGF-1 levels can increase inflammation in the human body, but the science is in its infancy.

After the trial concluded, the results were compared to the original results from the study performed in mice. Dr. Longo’s report indicated that the human trial results were in agreement with the mouse model findings. As hypothesized, the human body presented signs of stem cell regeneration and rejuvenation when it followed a fasting-mimicking diet, followed by a feeding period. It is important to note that scientists believe that it is not just the fasting that is believed to promote cell regeneration, but rather the feeding period that follows.

Participants demonstrated similar results to the studies performed in mouse models.

The study concluded: “An analysis of subjects from both FMD arms showed that body mass index, blood pressure, fasting glucose, IGF-1, triglycerides, total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and C-reactive protein were more beneficially affected in participants at risk for disease than in subjects who were not at risk. Thus, cycles of a 5-day FMD are safe, feasible, and effective in reducing markers/risk factors for aging and age-related diseases.”

In a pilot clinical trial, three FMD cycles decreased risk factors/biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer without major adverse effects, providing support for the use of FMDs to promote health-span. Source

The study determined that for “normal” participants (i.e. participants that showed no genetic markers or pre-disposition for disease) the blood glucose levels dropped a small amount, but for pre-diabetic subjects, blood glucose levels dropped quite significantly. In fact, participants with pre-diabetic blood glucose levels returned to an almost normal blood-glucose level— which is very significant. Similarly, IGF-1 levels in both normal participants and “at risk for cancer” participants dropped, however these hormone levels it dropped much more significantly in “at risk for cancer” participants than normal participants.

Lastly, C-reactive Protein (CRP), which is a marker for cardiovascular disease was also measured. Just as with blood glucose levels and IGF-1 levels, both the normal participants and the “at risk for CVD” participants both demonstrated lower markers, however, the “at risk group” dropped more significantly than the normal participants.

Dr. Valter Longo at a Ted Talk Presentation
Fasting: awakening the rejuvenation from within.

Should we incorporate the Fast-Mimicking Diet into our routine?

Until the findings of this research are replicated in larger human trials, it cannot be conclusively stated that fasting-mimicking diets are the key to cell rejuvenation. 

However, the findings of this study demonstrate that the FMD approach is safe for practice with the approval of a licensed nurse practitioner or physician. “Pre-disposed” participants experienced a significant drop in key markers for CVD, diabetes, and cancer. Additionally, healthy participants demonstrated a minimal drop, which is also a positive outcome. For example, researchers would not want a participant who has low blood pressure or low glucose levels to drop further into an unsafe range, as this could cause health problems. Despite this success, the results can only be considered conclusive when they have been replicated across many different human trials. Longo and his colleagues will have to perform larger multi-center studies to conclusively demonstrate the efficacy and safety of the periodic FMDs. 

How often should the average person go on a fast?

According to Dr. Longo, it depends.“Somebody that is very healthy, exercises, and has a perfect weight may need it twice a year. Somebody that has high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure, abdominal adiposity (so they’re overweight or obese, etc.), or they have a high risk of cancer in the family, they probably need to do it once a month.

“The reality is that 70% of Americans are overweight or obese and probably over 80% of them have at least one elevated risk factor for disease. Thus, a well-balanced diet, even if it can be followed, is not sufficient and it is important to move to new and effective combinations of healthy diets and periodic interventions, such as the fasting-mimicking diet.”
– Dr. Longo

Dr. Longo believes that the fasting mimicking diet “switches the clock back a little bit by promoting regeneration and rejuvenation effects,” thus delaying the progression of age-related diseases. Large human clinical trials are currently being planned to try and determine whether the Fast Mimicking Diet is something that should be incorporated into everyone’s future. We will have to wait and see! In the meantime, Dr. Longo’s research can also be found on his facebook page.

CTRL+ALT+P…here comes your dinner!


At D2D, we are intrigued by the important role technology plays when bringing fresh food to your dinner table. We have discussed hydroponic farming in “Meet the ‘Ponics”— local, fresh greens are being grown in urban environments. We explored meat that is now being created in a lab without a live animal (in “A New Burger”). And now, we are shining a light on the future of 3D food.

Imagine this: You are enjoying your morning cup of coffee and lightly stirring it with a straw— not a plastic straw, but a 3D straw made from one your favorite sugar sweeteners! This edible straw dissolves perfectly into your warm mug as you enjoy your caffeine fix.

And the possibilities don’t end there… maybe you attend a wedding where a detailed 3D replica of the happy couple is featured on each slice of cake.

3d printing allows for creativity in the catering business.  Source

Or perhaps you want to try insect protein but are a bit reluctant. Well, with 3D printing technology, you can pour the insect powder into the printer with some chocolate and create a yummy chocolate grasshopper snack.

It is probably hard to imagine that a printer could be a staple in your kitchen, much like a blender or a microwave. But as the technology advancements continue, this is quickly becoming a reality. Yes, food can be fresh, homemade…and printed!

What is 3D printing?

3D printers have the capability of printing almost any material into three dimensions. Virtual design is created with 3D modeling software, which then instructs the printer to make anything from airplane engine parts, racing car parts, guitars, and even 3D bikinis! 3D printing is cheaper, uses less individual parts, and the design changes are much more efficient. And now, 3D printing has entered the realm of food.

3D food printing – targeting specific nutritional needs – is not so far in the future.  Source

Customization of a product is a benefit of 3D food

Ingredients can be printed to a specific shape, which makes the process of creating a food product cost effective and allows for more culinary creativity.

Traditionally, food shapes are made on the assembly line with a specific mold. Therefore, changing the shape means changing the entire assembly line. Printing out a variety of food shapes through a software program makes creating the final product easier and (eventually) faster. At the moment, the main limitation of 3D printing is speed. It takes anywhere from 2-4 minutes to print out a shape. And while this might not seem like a lot of time, if you are trying to mass produce a product it is both time consuming and inefficient to wait 4 minutes for 1 item.

Food can be printed into novel shapes and various textures

Peter Callahan, a Food Conceptualist, is limited only by his imagination when it comes to creating intriguing (and delicious) dishes for his clients. He is the creative mind behind a significant amount of innovation in the catering world, including the miniature hamburger slider and other “mini” comfort food favorites!

“It is all about design and texture…everyone is looking for something different to make food fun and exciting to eat,” says Peter Callahan.

“3d printing in food is opening up a whole new world of creativity where it will become the medium to bring new food concepts and  ideas to life that previously were not able to be done or certainly not able to be done so quickly.”
–Peter Callahan

Callahan is building a technology center in NYC to bring creative ideas to market as well as redefine the boundaries of what can be done with food— and 3d printers are a large part of this.

His relationship with 3D printing began with a simple idea: completely edible chicken wings. Peter started to think about how to make a truly bite-sized chicken wing…and that brought him to 3D printing. “What if we incorporated 3d printed ‘chicken bones’ made of hot sauce or blue cheese?” This would add novelty as well as instant flavor to the chicken wings. Can you imagine? Being able to pop a whole chicken wing in your mouth with the blue cheese built right in! It is this kind of creativity that will drive the future of 3D printed food.

Large scale food producers are also creating unique shapes to distinguish themselves from the competition. For instance, Barilla pasta has collaborated with TNO, the Dutch Research Center, to print 3D pasta. By replacing the “ink cartridge” with dough, unique shapes can be printed out in under two minutes. And that isn’t the only advantage of printing rosette or star-shaped pasta.

Barilla is investing in the future of 3d printed customized food. On the left is the 3d printer; above is the newly shaped pasta. Source

Traditionally, the ingredients used in pasta are not hard to copy— but if a producer can patent the process by which a food item is made, they can control the market for 20 years and build a very strong brand without fear of competition. Patenting a specific pasta printing process could be very beneficial for large companies. Currently, gluten free, whole grain, and vegetable printed pasta are currently in the works.

Have you ever thought about the potato chip as being part of the future? Pepsi did, and with the help of a 3D printer, Pepsi now has a patent on using specific blades to design deep ridges in their Ruffles potato chips. This 3D printed chip will give a new look and a new eating experience.

Pepsi Co has patents on not only the design of the Deep Ridge potato chip, but also the cutter and the ‘mouth’ experience. Source

Hershey, in partnership with 3D Systems, makes 3D chocolate in almost any shape. In France, the start-up Les 3Dandies lets customers order their own design and their 3D chocolate order is printed with fair-trade and organic chocolate.

Video: Hershey can print chocolate in almost any shape.

Imagine you could you print out broccoli pasta in the shape of dinosaurs so your children will happily eat their vegetables… It will hopefully soon be a reality. Natural Machines, located in Barcelona has developed a printer called Foodini— bringing 3D printed food to our kitchen counter. They recognize that we want fresh, homemade food brought to the table quickly and conveniently. Because it is connected to the internet, recipes can be accessed from laptops, mobile phones and even fitness trackers. Co-founder, Lynette Kucsma, is excited that all you have to do is put your own ingredients into plastic containers and the printer takes care of the rest. They are even working on a version where the food will come out cooked, hot, or cold.

The Foodini simplifies the process of creating homemade food by taking the time-consuming part of food preparation out of the equation. Video and image source: Natural Machines

However, there are still challenges in having a printer in your kitchen. As any cook knows, the final product depends on precise mixtures, measurements, temperature, and ingredients. And even then, things don’t always turn out perfectly. Would 3D printing take the variability out of the process, or could it make it worse? Right now, sugar and chocolate seem to be the safest edible 3D items. Printing hamburgers, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated. Nevertheless, the biggest obstacle facing the creation of 3D printed food in large quantities is the time it takes to print a product out.

3d Printers and Customized Personal Nutrition

Hod Lipson sees 3d printing as the ‘output device’ for data-driven nutrition and personal health, akin to precision medicine, with huge potential for a profound impact.”

Jeffrey Lipton, a professor with M.I.T, and formerly of Cornell Creative Machines Lab, and Hod Lipson, an engineering professor at Columbia University, are pioneers in 3D printed food. Lipson is currently working on food that cooks while it prints. Early on, Lipton and Lipson went from 3D printing any material to foods such as Nutella and Easy Cheese. They then took it to the next level and asked themselves, “What would happen if you bring software and robotics into something as basic as cooking? The opportunities are there for the ability to control nutrition and creating new and novel food items you can’t create any other way.”

These innovative food scientists have experimented with customizing personal nutrition into a cookie or breakfast item. Creating their own software program, they put in their body metrics (height, weight, etc.), what they ate for the day, and what exercise they did. A cookie printed out with just the right amount of calories for each of them based on their body needs.

“3D food printing offers revolutionary new options for convenience and customization, from controlling nutrition to managing dietary needs to saving energy and transport costs to creating new and novel food items.” -Jeffrey Lipton

Looking forward, the customization of specific nutritional needs could be done through 3D printed food. This sounds farfetched but think of the personalized data we collect with FitbitWhoop, and 23 and Me. Let’s say you also have access to your blood panel profile from your Doctor. Combine that with your biometrics such as body composition, caloric intake, and daily workout routine – input into a program, which then feeds the 3D printer with your exact caloric and nutritional needs. Voila – out prints a perfectly formed tasty cookie with just the right vitamin profile for you.

3d Printers Can Meet the Nutritional Needs of the Elderly or those with Dysphagia

Let’s face it, hospital or institutional food is not known for its culinary delights. In nursing homes, malnutrition is often a problem because the residents have a hard time eating. Blending together nutrients and good taste into a meal that looks like the ‘real thing’ enables residents to stay healthy. Smoothfoods has created a way to blend together fresh foods with specific texturizers to create visually appealing foods that taste great and are easy to swallow. The 3D printer holds liquefied vegetables, meat, and carbohydrates. They all have a gelation agent so the food, such as a steak or carrots, sticks together on the plate.

Biozoon’s 3d printed chicken and vegetables in a nutritious and palatable form for those who have trouble chewing and swallowing.

3D printing for the Military

3D printing has powerful implications for the military as well. One of the challenges of feeding our troops is making sure that each soldier gets the correct nutrition and right rations for the job they are doing. For instance, the caloric and nutritional requirements are very different if you are sitting behind a computer operating a drone or running through the desert fully suited up with backpacks and rifles. Custom printed nutritional food can go a long way to keep every soldier healthy and strong.

3D food in Space

NASA is also looking at 3D printing in space. Astronauts get tired of the same old ‘space friendly’ meals— here they have an opportunity to be creative and eat novel and different foods.  When you are in space for a year, there is only so much that can be packed in the pantry. With a 3D printer, they can print out fresh and nutritious meals.

A 3D Printer in Every Home?

This technology is still in its early stages. Today’s appeal is really with unique design and textures. Whether 3D printed food becomes a household conversation depends on a variety of factors such as accessibility, cost, convenience, customization, taste, and looks. Of course, at D2D, we cannot predict the future, but we can say this… if there is a machine where we could put in fresh ingredients, a vitamin compound, and print out a yummy dinner – we are in!

When is “Science” Truly Science?

science activists with signs

The Power of a Headline

Remember when we were told drinking red wine was as good for us as an hour in the gym? This headline surfaced after researchers at the University of Alberta published a study demonstrated the benefits of a heart-healthy antioxidant found in red wine. However, “cover stories” like this one largely misrepresents the data found from the research.

These days, our desire for a healthy lifestyle has made us gullible for any research that touts miracle health benefits. And it seems that companies, scientists, marketers, and non-profit organizations use scientific findings to sway public opinion so they can sell products or convince people to their point of view.

Furthermore, the media has fed this interest by featuring medical and scientific experts supporting their products and services on social media, TV, and radio, and print publications— making it easier for consumers to believe the information. We as educated consumers must go beyond the ad and do research of our own.

Here’s a quick way to distinguish science from pseudoscience:

  • If science is being reported, who is reporting it? Are they selling something? Do they have an objective?
  • If you are reading a scientific journal, is it peer reviewed? Has the scientist cited opposing views? Is the scientist unbiased?

As readers and listeners from non-scientific or research backgrounds, how do we evaluate a study presented to us to determine its quality and accuracy?



The problem, it seems, is that media outlets and publications are not always transparent about:

  • How they decide what to report, and
  • The methods they use to determine the scientific discoveries are fact-based and supportable.

There is a call for the media to be more accurate in their reporting of science.

Some non-profit groups are trying to improve the quality of science being reported. Organizations like the Science Media Centre help scientists engage more effectively with the media. The Centre will connect scientists with journalists so that there can be a conversation— particularly when it comes to controversial science-related issues.

Additionally, following some high profile retractions, the Center for Open Science, several major scientific journals and individual science journalists are calling for news outlets to do a better job of reporting science to the public by creating reporting guidelines for the industry.

Let’s be better-informed consumers…

When you hear about or read a second-hand review of a particular scientific study or a so-called science-based claim, be sure to read the original study or related studies.

Relying on reports written by someone other than the study author(s) increases the possibility of getting a flawed, biased interpretation of the study’s findings. Reading the primary source will get you closer to understanding the research findings.

If you’re not a scientist and have never cracked the cover of a scientific journal, this may seem daunting and that’s understandable! But if you wish to read original publications, we’d like to equip you with some tools to help you better understand what you are reading. If you decide reading scientific studies is not for you, this article provides some critical issues to look for when findings are being interpreted by others:

Another reliable method of fact-checking is to see if other scientists in the same field have critiqued the report. Scientists have opinions and, sometimes, their opinions cloud their reasoning,  just like everybody else. However, if multiple scientists point out the same flaws in a study, then there’s a good chance the criticism has merit.

For example, in our previously published post, Dear New York Times, D2D reported on the response of various scientists to a New York Times article on genetically modified crops. The scientists’ critiques were detailed regarding the choice of data and the analytical methods used.

The Power of the Scientist: Good studies require “Good Scientific Practice”

“Researchers have a professional obligation to perform research and present the results of that research as objectively and as accurately as possible.”

 National Academies of Science and Engineering; Institute of Medicine

According to the National Academies of Science, the leading U.S. science body, good scientific practices include:

  • Precision when defining terms, processes, context, results, and limitations;
  • Openness to criticism and refutation; and
  • Addressing bias and avoid overstatement.

Let’s explore each of these good scientific practices a bit further:

Scientific Precision = Addressing Uncertainty

All scientific data and processes have limitations and therefore include a measure of uncertainty to account for the unknown. For example, if you run 200 meters twice daily for two weeks you will post different times. This is why numerical data in a scientific or technical paper should never be only one value but should include a range of plausible values.

When designing or conducting a scientific study, one of the key tasks is to identify and control for errors or variations as much as possible and to estimate the magnitude of the remaining errors. Going back to our running example, to eliminate as much variability in your data as possible, you would run on the same indoor track at the same time each day, one hour after you eat a bowl of oatmeal and a banana. Your results might not otherwise be the same.

Size of the study matters

Another factor that affects the researcher’s ability to detect an effect, such as differences between treatment and controls, is the size of a study. This is referred to as the statistical “power” of a study and determines the confidence with which conclusions can be drawn. When it comes to the sample size, bigger is usually better. You can think of this in terms of the average: the average of a large number of samples is more informative than the average of a smaller sample set.

Scientists must be open to criticism and refutation…

Science is all about discovery and exploration – the pursuit of knowledge at the expense of opinions. When researchers discuss their work, they should compare their findings to what is already known and address how it fits as one piece into the larger puzzle. If their results conflict with others’ work, they should discuss what they believe is the reason for this. If their results were unanticipated or introduced unanswered questions, these should be discussed along with suggestions for further research that may provide the missing information.

“Researchers must remain open to new ideas and continually test their own and other’s ideas against new information and observations.”

 National Academies of Science and Engineering; Institute of Medicine

What does “peer-reviewed” mean?

You may have seen the term “peer-reviewed” used to describe scientific and technical studies. What does this mean and why is it important? When a paper is “peer-reviewed” it means it was submitted to other experts in the particular field of research to judge the quality of the work.

“Methods of communication that do not incorporate peer review or a comparable vetting process could reduce the reliability of scientific information.”

 National Academies of Science and Engineering; Institute of Medicine

The practice of peer-review offers a valuable way of evaluating and improving the quality of scientific studies. Peer-reviewed journals are publications that follow a process of subjecting an author’s scholarly research to the inspection of other experts in the same field before publishing a study. Journals that do not go through the peer-review process are missing an important quality control mechanism.  And by publishing a paper in a non-peer-reviewed journal, scientists run a greater risk of having to correct or retract flawed work after it was published versus making corrections prior to publication during the peer-review process.

Scientists must address/deal with bias…

Just as no measurement is free from error, human interpretation is not free from bias. However, when conducting research, scientists must design experiments to provide unbiased, useful data that, when analyzed, either do or do not support the hypothesis.


Of course, this is easier said than done since bias constructs are innate and difficult to recognize in ourselves. But the scientific process takes this into account and scientists must give significant effort in addressing it.

In designing a study, scientists incorporate methods (e.g., randomized assignment to groups, investigator “blinding” so they do not know which subjects are being treated, etc.) to eliminate or control bias as much as possible. Whatever bias is not eliminated or controlled by study design, must be considered and discussed when researchers interpret their results

Other sources of bias such as conflicts of interest are more overt. Some peer-reviewed journals mandate researchers declare potential conflicts of interest. Even if a conflict of interest statement does not appear in the article, a reader can do their own research to determine if the author and/or a funding source benefits in any way from reporting the results as they were reported.

How do you evaluate a study?

Now that we’ve reviewed the basic architecture of a scientific article and the National Academies’ good scientific practice, let’s consider how to critically evaluate the actual research findings and conclusions.

In addition to the National Academies’ publication, three prominent scientists published concepts for interpreting scientific claims in the acclaimed peer-reviewed journal, Nature. The authors created the list with politicians in mind to provide them with some basic understanding so they could ask their advisors informed questions. However, the authors also stated that if everyone in society understood these concepts it “would be a marked step forward,” and we here at D2D couldn’t agree more!

Are you ready to try your hand at spotting some erroneous or misleading data? Two professors at the University of Washington developed a course called “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data”, and as part of the coursework provide case studies illustrating statistical distortions, misleading data, and other violations of scientific principles and practices. These case studies provide great examples of how data is used intentionally and unintentionally in a way that misleads the reader if you are not aware or knowledgeable about what to look for. Take a moment and test your “BS” acumen by reading some case studies here.