STAT

He wants to sell you a $300 ‘fasting diet’ to prolong your life. It might not be as crazy as it sounds

Biochemist Valter Longo is promoting a 'fasting diet' that he claims can improve health and maybe prolong life. Here's what the science says.

LOS ANGELES — He knows he sounds like a snake-oil salesman.

It’s not every day, after all, that a tenured professor at a prestigious university starts peddling a mail-order diet to melt away belly fat, rejuvenate worn-out cells, prevent diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer — and, for good measure, turn back the clock on aging.

But biochemist Valter Longo is convinced that science is on his side.

Longo has spent decades studying aging in yeast cells and lab mice. He now believes he’s developed a diet that may boost longevity — by mimicking the effect of periodic fasting. So he’s packed precise quantities of kale chips, quinoa soup, hibiscus tea, and other custom concoctions into boxes that go for $300 a pop.

Longo’s ProLon diet (it stands for “pro-longevity,” he says, and not “Professor Longo”) reflects a growing interest in episodic fasting, which has been touted by celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel and Benedict Cumberbatch and in best-selling books like “The Alternate-Day Diet.” His approach stands out because he insists he can use certain combinations of nutrients to trick the body into thinking it’s fasting without actually being on a punishing, water-only diet.

Read more: Kale crackers and hibiscus tea: My five days on a ‘fasting diet’

Intrigued, STAT reviewed dozens of scientific studies and talked to a half-dozen aging and nutrition experts about fasting in general and ProLon in particular. We visited Longo’s lab at the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute, where slender black and white rodents pass their days in clear plastic boxes labeled “DO NOT FEED.” We even tried Longo’s diet for one long and rather hungry week.

Our conclusion? Fasting does appear to boost health — certainly in mice, and preliminary evidence suggests it might do so in humans as well, at least in the short term. It’s not yet clear whether that’s because abstaining from food prompts cellular changes that promote longevity, as some scientists believe — or because it simply puts a brake on

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