How important fasting can be in slowing down the aging process by promoting cell renewal had already been amply explained with the book The Longevity Diet, released in 2018 and immediately became a world bestseller. On the other hand, how the fasting mimicking diet (the diet that allows you to eat and, at the same time, to have the same identical effects on your body as fasting) can help prevent and treat many types of cancer, even in advanced stages, Valter Longo demonstrates it. now with Fasting cancer, new essay published by Vallardi – in bookstores from 20 September – intended to broaden the perspective on the role that nutrition can play not only in preserving health but also in regaining it.
Full Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences, Director of theLongevity Institute at the School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California of Los Angeles and del Longevity and Cancer Laboratory all’IFOM Institute of Molecular Oncology of Milan, in this new publication the biochemist Longo explains the data collected in decades of basic and clinical research, which demonstrate how a controlled use of fasting-mimicking diet e longevity diet can help to prevent, but also to defeat, tumor pathologies, removing nourishment only from diseased cells. We interviewed him to better understand the scope of his studies and to hypothesize where all this important evidence could lead us to the next ten years.
Long Professor, Fasting cancer comes out five years after The longevity diet. What has happened in the meantime?
“Basically two things have happened, one in the area of prevention and one with regard to clinical trials. On the one hand, it has become increasingly clear that cancer can be prevented – or at least it can be done for a large proportion of cancers – and this thanks to genetic studies, and related publications, on the effects of those who eat low proteins and those who eat little. he eats a lot of them. Moreover, 5 years ago, all clinical studies were missing and ours was the only laboratory that published studies on fasting in mice, while now the laboratories that do so are much more numerous and with all with positive publications. Finally, there are now clinical studies, that is, relatively large studies – including one with 125 patients, mentioned in the book – that show the powerful effects of mimicking fasting on women with breast cancer.
In the book, the preciousness of a “team” medical approach (which includes the oncologist but also a dietician, a nutritionist, etc.) in dealing with the treatment of a tumor is highlighted. Why is it important to do this?
«Inside the hospitals it is insisted that the patient fed with the meat lives and reacts better to the treatments. There is a lot of insistence on this, because nothing was yet known about the relationship between nutrition and cancer. The nutritionist and dietician’s assumption has always been precisely to feed the patient as much as possible. But now we are starting to have about fifty reports that show that it does not matter what tumor it is, it does not matter what type of therapy it is, but fasting the tumor any therapy works much better. Clearly, at the moment, this team with a multi-approach to cancer is rare, we have it in Los Angeles and Milan thanks to the intervention of the Foundation’s nutritionists, but it is still difficult to see it in the daily practice of oncological treatments all over the world “.
Let us dwell on the focus of your book: what role can nutrition play in the management and care of a patient with cancer?
“Nutrition can be central but it is obvious that we must look at the cancer cells on the one hand and the patient on the other. We are always looking for a magic bullet that will kill the tumor and sooner or later it will arrive, but nutrition, in the meantime, allows us to make an exceptional distinction between normal cells and cancer cells: normal cells know exactly what to do when we don’t eat, because fasting is part of our history; cancer cells, on the other hand, find themselves in great difficulty and refuse to stop, despite the fact that fasting makes them “hungry”: this gives considerable power to the anticancer therapy in progress, whether it is chemotherapy, immunotherapy or hormonal therapy. We are seeing from the first clinical studies that this strategy works: the revolution implemented through the fasting mimicking diet makes the tumor less resistant and more sensitive to therapies. The newest discovery, in this sense, is linked to immunotherapy: we are noticing that, in mice, when fasting is combined with immunotherapy it is much more powerful and makes the tumor more visible to the immune system ».
Specifically, how does fasting affect cancer cells?
“I use a metaphor: if we put a billion people in the desert for 15 days and they had shade and they had water, after a couple of weeks those people would probably all be alive. If, on the other hand, that billion people (the cancer cells) were forced to run for two weeks (the attitude of these cells) but were deprived of water (which in the case of the patient with cancer would be food) and forced to stay under the sun (which would be chemotherapy or other forms of therapy), how many people would survive after two weeks? Maybe none. “
In what types of tumors, in particular, have there been improvements in the inclusion of fasting or a fasting mimicking diet?
“In animal studies, in all types of cancer. Clinical ones, at the moment, have instead focused on breast cancer, ovarian cancer and recently prostate cancer. On breast cancer and chemotherapy there are already very positive data, let’s say that there would be no study conducted on 300 or 400 patients to ensure that this can become a standard therapy “.
Based on what you have discovered so far, what can be done to prevent cancer and stay healthy?
“Various things can be done: follow a pescetarian diet, that is to eat fish (low in mercury) once or twice a week so as to limit the excess of proteins. Because, we have shown it and others have confirmed it: too many proteins of animal origin are associated with the increased risk of cancer and therefore a pescetarian diet, associated with a bit of pasta, many vegetables and many legumes, represents the ideal lunch or dinner. All respecting the 12-hour rule in which to concentrate all meals: from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening or from 9 in the morning to 9 in the evening, allowing the body to fast for 12 hours. Also, if you are overweight it can help to eat twice a day by limiting yourself to a lunch of only 100 calories. Personally, when I gain weight, I skip lunch and eat 100 calories of walnuts or a small salad with some oil. I do this for 5 days a week and this allows me to control my weight without changing my diet. Finally, adopting the fasting mimicking diet, two or three times a year, can be helpful for most people who are not overweight but tend to have more weight than they would like. “
You coined the term “iuventology”; what exactly does it do?
«With the term iuventology we mean the period of life when we remain young and healthy, the so-called Health Life Span. It is a period that has never been studied and after all there was not even a word that defined it. It originates from the question: “How long do you stay young?“Today we would say that juventology reaches the age of 40, but it is possible to shift this period of youth from 40 to 60? Of course it is possible, but how do we move it? Because once thehealth life span (the life span in health), everything is shifted, even the life span itself. Since everything is interconnected, the point is therefore to study how to keep people young and not just healthy ».
Is there any evidence that the way we eat may be one of the key factors accelerating the aging process?
«In fact, food is at the center of life and evolution, it controls everything: whether a woman can get pregnant or not, the growth of a child, everything. It would be enough not to eat for a couple of days and the metabolism would be immediately affected as in no other way. Food is so much more than we see it, check out longevity programs too. If we look at the last 1000 years, we see that the extension of life has been possible thanks to a higher intake of calories. Caloric restriction, however, can also have positive effects. Within our laboratory, we focus our work on optimizing the positive part of food, with regard to fasting, how many hours a day we eat, diets, types of diets ».
Is there also a relationship between food and the development of tumors?
“At the moment, there are various publications in the United States on the relationship between animal protein and cancer, which show that Americans who eat a lot of animal protein have a three to four times higher risk of developing cancer disease than those who eat less. Food is clearly central in this sense too, an example being the people living in the mountains of Ecuador with Laron Syndrome, who lack the gene that is activated by proteins and who at the same time hardly ever develop tumors. The same occurs in areas of the Middle East, and cancers are clearly controlled by these genes. Ultimately, clearly the diet, both from the point of view of protein intake and for the development of obesity, can have an influence. There is also the theme of organic: those who eat organic food lower the risk of developing tumors by a quarter compared to those who eat normal food and this means that those who ingest food rich in toxins run a higher risk of cancer. These are obviously correlation studies, no one has ever proven it clinically but we know that certain toxins are carcinogenic, as demonstrated by a recent American lawsuit won against some pesticides, guilty of having favored the formation of lymphomas ».
His research and studies have as a general objective that of discovering the mechanisms that can delay cellular aging. Based on what is being discovered, what could change in ten years’ time?
“We can expect, in our case, practical demonstrations of what we stand for. The current state we have three ongoing diabetes studies that we will complete within the next year. We have been talking about cardiometabolic effects for many years and we will come out with 4 studies on diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I think from here to the next ten years we will pass from a reality in which drugs have always dominated exclusively to a reality where nutrition will be the protagonist of therapies, to the point, as in the case of diabetes, to even replace drugs. Food will be used as a drug and not to “fix the problem” but to bring the patient back to a state of full health. Already today, through our Foundation, we have brought hundreds of diabetic and prediabetic people to an antecedent stage of the disease. And I see precisely this in the next 10 years when, especially young or more enlightened doctors, they will say enough to the escalation of 60-70 year olds stuffed with drugs that do not even have a curative function ».