The coffee arrives on the table and, before sipping it, opens a sachet of white sugar. He pours some into the cup. Observed, he explains: «But I never said you can’t eat. For this I have just been to Calabria and I have also eaten some salami, it is not easy to resist. Do you think that the other day I was in a bar in Genoa, a person recognizes me and says to me: “But Professor Longo, I saw you, you put sambuca in your coffee!”. Well of course, you can. It is useless to eat half a kilo of bread, pasta, pizza and potatoes a day and then spend four grams of sugar. It does not make sense”.
The point, in short, is to habitually follow a different diet. But, above all – explains Valter Longo, director of the Longevity and Cancer Laboratory of IFOM (the Firc Institute of Molecular Oncology of Milan) and of the Longevity Institute of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles – to understand that fasting is a certain type diet can help fight cancer. Or, better said, that the studied combination of diet for longevity and fasting mimicking diet can achieve important anti-tumor effects: eating little, in short, but well can delay the progression of the disease in cancer patients. Valter Longo, biochemist by training, born in Genoa in 1967, defined this year by the American scientific journal Science as a pioneer in the field of nutrition, tells about it in his new book, Fasting cancer, in bookstores for Vallardi from 20 September. He is so convinced of his theory, Longo, that he makes an important prediction: «Today we know that almost one in two people will get cancer. But, thanks to advances in science and technology, I believe that in less than 20 years we will defeat cancer. If it took us longer, it would be really upsetting. Of course, it is not something of tomorrow but scientific research is really well underway. Now it is a question of understanding how much nutrition can make its contribution “.
The longevity diet
The secret therefore lies in the integration of the longevity diet and fasting mimicking diet. The first is a peach-vegetarian diet that involves the intake of low protein (in adults about 0.8 grams per kilo of ideal body weight), limited sugars and refined carbohydrates (in order to provide nutrition without causing high insulin levels) and the decision to eat only in the concentrated arc of 12 hours a day, in order to fast for the other 12 (in healthy people, while in the treatment of various types of cancer it is advisable to go up to 13-14 hours a day of fasting) . “The longevity diet should always be followed throughout life, albeit with differences in quantity depending on age, because it is ideal for maximizing longevity and minimizing tumor progression”.
The diet mimics fasting
This type of diet – “at specific times established by the doctor, strictly avoiding do-it-yourself” – is then combined with cycles of fasting mimicking diet, a 5-day food program so called because it allows you to eat, even if little , and at the same time having the beneficial effects of fasting: it is a low-calorie, low-protein diet (with exclusively vegetable proteins), low in simple sugars and which provides for a very studied balance between macro-nutrients (proteins, fats , carbohydrates, fiber) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals).
“These two diets – Longo is convinced – are not only able to delay aging and lengthen youth but can really make life difficult for cancer cells”. So much so that they are considered real “therapeutic jokers” to reinforce traditional anti-cancer therapies such as chemo, immunotherapy or hormonal therapies. But what is the mechanism by which they act according to Longo? “Put simply, it is as if fasting helps to separate healthy cells from cancer cells: while the former know how to behave because fasting is part of human history, the latter, when they are starved, are in difficulty. In this way it is as if the healthy cells were silent, while the anti-cancer therapies do their duty by hitting only the sick ones ». This dynamic, he says, had already been demonstrated on yeasts and mice. And now the different randomized human trials cited in the book seem to be heading in the same direction. In the meantime, two randomized studies are about to start, coordinated by Longo, together with the University of Calabria to discover the effects of the longevity diet on the inhabitants of Molochio and Varapodio and to understand if, after three cycles of fasting mimicking diet and studying the markers of youth, it is possible to bring back the biological age of people.
The team: oncologist, nutritionist and biologist
The change of perspective is evident. It has always been thought of having to restore the patient’s strength. Now you have to take a stint. “But is not so. The goal is always to get back in strength but by eating differently, to put the tumor in a position to stop. Without eating more but not even without caloric restriction, an unsophisticated diet conceived in past years that led to anorexia. For example, I have been following this diet since I was 30, after discovering that I have very high cholesterol and blood pressure like all my family. Today I have normal values, I do not take drugs and I am not underweight at all: I am 186 centimeters tall and I weigh 78 kilos ». Therefore, traditional therapies guide the treatment strategy, the diet works side by side to maximize its effects. “The oncologist, therefore, is no longer enough. To heal the disease or stop its progression, a team is needed, a team made up of an oncologist and then also a nutritionist, molecular biologist and psychologist who can build a more effective strategy together “. Reality or utopia? «We are already there. This is how we work in our non-profit clinics in Milan and Los Angeles which we hope will get bigger and bigger. And anyone can contact the nutritionists of the Valter Longo Onlus Foundation, where the service is free for those who cannot afford it and at low cost for others ».
The scientific community
After that, however, there is still skepticism on the part of the scientific community about this strategy. “Unfortunately, the longevity diet and fasting mimicking diet are not yet accepted by most oncologists as aids to traditional therapies. However, these are not alternative treatments, what we are describing is the result of scientific research and years of continuous work at Ifom in Milan and in Los Angeles in collaboration with oncologists from all over the world. Now we just have to go ahead with research and studies to definitively prove the validity of the idea “. Meanwhile, Longo’s parents are convinced: “They live in Genoa, my dad is 96 and my mom is 86. And they’ve been following my directions for some time. But it is not difficult: after all, the longevity diet is what they ate during the war: vegetables, many legumes and a little pasta. With them I am a strategist – he smiles -. I talk to the geriatrician, the neurologist, the cardiologist, I listen to everyone and then I connect them. Of course, the dream would be to be able to do this with everyone, not just with my parents ».