Warning: This Article Tells You a Starvation
Diet Could Actually Be Good for You and Make You Live Longer
Pinned to my
mother Shirleys fridge on yellowing, curled paper is a handwritten
copy of a two-week crash diet. It has been there since 1979, the
year she decided she wanted to shed a stone in a fortnight. Its
survival is testament to the faith she holds in it.
tortures while on the diet, she allows herself no more than half
a grapefruit and a slice of dry toast with black coffee each morning.
Lunch is a few cold cuts of meat and a side of vegetables, and dinner
is similar. On a typical day this will amount to about 650 calories.
Now 78, you
would have thought shed have deserted this gruelling regime
and allowed herself to go into diet retirement.
But like so
many women of her generation, she believes the occasional fortnight
of eating little is key to a svelte figure and good health.
slimming plans have drifted out of fashion in the past few decades.
Crash diets are supposed to slow your metabolism down, leading to
more weight gain when you stop.
the mantra recited by the medical profession is steady weight loss
rather than starvation. And being curvy a la Mad Mens
Christina Hendricks is in vogue.
But it may
be time to reconsider this approach. And my mother, with her maddening
crash diet, might be on to something. Tomorrow, a BBC TV Horizon
investigation looks into the health benefits of fasting.
Michael Mosley speaks to scientists who have discovered that periods
of eating very little or nothing may be the key to controlling chemicals
produced by the body linked to the development of disease and the
ageing process. This backs up recent studies on animals fed very
low-calorie diets which found the thinnest (without being medically
underweight or malnourished) are the healthiest and live the longest.
The key, say
researchers at the University of Southern Californias Longevity
Institute, is the hormone Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1).
Mosley explains: IGF-1 and other growth factors keep our cells
constantly active. Its like driving with your foot on the
accelerator pedal, which is fine when your body is shiny and new,
but keep doing this all the time and it will break down.
Professor Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute, one
way to take the foot off the accelerator, and reduce IGF-1 levels
dramatically as well as cholesterol, and blood pressure
is by fasting.
adequate levels of IGF-1 and other growth factors when you are growing,
but high levels later in life appear to lead to accelerated ageing,
he says. The evidence comes from animals such as the Laron
mice we have bred which have been genetically engineered so they
dont respond to IGF-1. They are small but extraordinarily
mouse has a life span of two years but the Laron typically
live 40 per cent longer. The oldest has lived to the human equivalent
of 160. They are immune to heart disease and cancer and when they
die, as Prof Longo puts it: They simply drop dead.
film, Mosley tries various fasts for three days straight,
and for two days a week, for six weeks with dramatic results.
Not only does he lose weight, but his cholesterol levels and blood
pressure improve. These findings chime with recent reports that
reaching a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) may not be
enough we need to be as slim as possible to reduce our risk
experts havent emphasised this is that they dont want
to trigger eating disorders or demotivate the overweight trying
to get into the healthy weight range. There is only so long, however,
we can shy away from this because the evidence keeps mounting.
So has my mothers
generation been right all along? Is striving to be slim as
a pin good for us? And does this mean those who slip into
our size 12 jeans believing we are healthy are fooling ourselves?
of the Institute of Healthy Ageing, University College London, says:
Studies on monkeys show if we restrict the diet there is a
delay in the onset of cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes
in later life as well as staving off dementia.
food intake over months or years could boost lifespan by 15 to 30
per cent, experts believe.
My mother says
her determination to stay slender comes from her childhood during
the war. We were on rations until 1954, so everyone was slim.
Now food is everywhere, she says, repeating to me two phrases
she learnt from her mother He who sleeps, eats
and You have to suffer to be beautiful.
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© 2012 Daily