Following a diet based on calorie restriction has been shown to be beneficial to the health of several organisms, but its effects on humans have been a subject of controversy as it requires individuals to undergo an extreme regimen of fasting.

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have developed a nutritional plan known as Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) based on the concept of restricting the calorie intake of individuals in order to yield positive effects on health.

Valter Longo, professor of gerontology and biological science and director of USC's Longevity Institute, and his team of researchers conducted an experiment on a group of laboratory mice to find out the effects of FMD. The subjected the animals to a calorie-restricted similar to fasting for eight days a month.

The researchers discovered that the regimen helped improve the mice's regeneration in multiple systems and lengthened their lifespan.

Longo and his colleagues then applied a program for nineteen different individuals that followed a similar five-day low-protein and low-calorie diet schedule once a month for three months.

This time the researchers found that the diet plan, which was meant to simulate fasting and be supervised medically, was shown to improve the health of the participants and reduced risk factors related to aging.

The team, however, noted that larger randomized clinical tests are required to further support the findings of their study.

The USC study suggests that fasting can help increase the resistance of cells against stressors by cutting down the protein and molecule levels that are linked to growth and aging.

Longo and his team were successful in creating a dietary plan that has similar effects to fasting but with less health risks and without starving individuals. The FMD focuses on a regimen that is high in healthy fats but low in carbohydrates and protein.

In their experiment on mice, the researchers saw an increase in stem cells and various other types of cells, such as muscle, bone liver, immune and brain cells after subjecting the animals to FMD for four days twice a month.

The program helped improved memory and learning in the animals, and it reduced the risk for cancer, bone loss and inflammatory diseases.

The FMD program for the nineteen human participants, on the other hand, was administered for five days a month for three months. It provided them with around 34 percent to 54 percent of their normal calorie intake made up of 11 percent to 14 percent of proteins, 42 percent to 43 percent of carbohydrates and 44 percent to 46 percent of fat.

When the program ended, the participants experienced a reduction of risk factors related to several illnesses including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and aging.

"This is arguably the first non-chronic pre-clinically and clinically tested anti-aging and healthspan-promoting intervention shown to work and to be very feasible as a doctor or dietitian-supervised intervention," Longo said.

"The FMD intervention will now undergo the rigorous process needed for FDA approval, which will first require confirmation and additional tests in 60 to 70 participants, followed by a trial with 500-1,000 participants."

The University of Southern California study is featured in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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