One of the more recent innovations in calorie restriction research has nothing to do with the science, and everything to do with figuring out how to pull more funding into the field. There is never enough funding for research in any field: going by how funds flow through our societies, it is easy to say that to a first approximation no-one really cares about progress in medicine. Bread and circuses, yes. Better technologies, better understanding of biology, and less disease, no. There is also a large difference between the funds available for non-commercial research versus money available and interested in investment in for-profit ventures. The latter is at least ten times the former, and much more easily arranged as well. Writing grants and raising philanthropic funding is a considerably harder job than pitching angels and venture firms; more effort for fewer dollars at the end of the day. But without the funding for non-profit research initiatives, there will be no new technologies ready to be carried forward in for-profit companies. It is one of the great frustrations of patient advocacy to know that the owners of countless millions of dollars are sitting on their hands, waiting for viable biotech companies, while the important research projects that will generate those companies struggle to raise hundreds of thousands to sustain shoestring budgets.
Calorie restriction is a particular challenge in this context. It is a lifestyle choice, not a drug or an antibody or something else that the medical industry understands how to package, market, and sell. It is nothing more than eating sensibly and eating less. Anyone can choose to do it. It is free and straightforward and well-documented. Yet the effects on long-term health and aging in ordinary individuals are much larger than anything that can be generated by the presently available panoply of drugs and other interventions. That, I should say, is more a statement on the poor quality of present medicine when it comes to treating aging as a medical condition than it is on the benefits of calorie restriction. It is a case of something being better than nothing: no presently available medicine deliberately addresses the root causes of aging, for all that the first therapies that will do that are in development at various stages. The nature of calorie restriction means that there has been little to no for-profit investment aiming to better characterize its benefits. Rather, all that funding was directed towards mapping the biochemistry and haphazardly testing the established drug libraries to find something that triggered any of the same effects. The search for such calorie restriction mimetics is well documented elsewhere, so I won't dwell on that, beyond noting that the outcome of ten to fifteen years of work and a great deal of money is, so far, nothing of any practical use.
So to calorie restriction itself, and how to obtain for-profit funding for research into eating less, and eating less in an effective way. The innovators here are Valter Longo and colleagues, who have achieved the goal of pulling in for-profit funding on the backs of turning specific implementations of fasting and low-calorie diets into FDA-approved therapies, such as an adjuvant in cancer treatment. The magic of regulation means that companies can manufacture a medical diet on the basis of research, and then use the barriers set up via intellectual property and regulatory pronouncements to charge an inordinate amount for what is, basically, a little bit of food that anyone could throw together after reading the papers to obtain the target calories, protein, micronutrient levels, and so on. That in turn means that the principals of these companies are willing to pay for the supporting research. On the one hand it's a depressing example of the distorted priorities that emerge from regulation of medicine, on the other one feels a certain admiration for Longo et al for having successfully hacked the system to fund the useful results they have produced these past few years. Quantifying the degree to which fasting alters the immune system, and quantifying the degree to which low-calorie diets and fasting are effectively equivalent in altering metabolism, are both helpful new information for those who practice forms of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting. In any case, here is a pointer to the less useful outcome from all of this, which is to say the medical diet. It comes across as a bad parody of itself, but that seems fairly true of most medical diet products.
Industry leading nutritechnology company L-Nutra has announced the release of ProLon, a groundbreaking 5 days per month only natural plant based meal program that nourishes the body while convincing it that it is fully fasting. This is the first time in history that 'Fasting with Food' is possible and is therefore called the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD). Developed at the Longevity Institute of the University of Southern California (USC) and under the sponsorship of the National Institute for Aging and the National Institute of Health, ProLon induces the body to protect itself and rejuvenate in response to 5 consecutive days of fasting.
In the latest clinical trial conducted at USC's Longevity Institute, 100 participants on 3 cycles of ProLon (5 days only per month over a 3-month period) showed statistically significant improvements on various health metrics: decrease in body fat; decrease in body weight; preservation of bone density; reduction in fasting glucose and insulin resistance; optimization of cholesterol and triglyceride levels; decrease in IGF-1 (aging marker); decrease in C-reactive protein; elevated mesenchymal/progenitor cells (rejuvenation marker). This 'fasting with food' program features meals ranging from 770 to 1,100 calories per day.
Needless to say you can do all of this yourself, and whether or not you happen to have cancer at the time. It isn't hard to construct and follow a diet to a specific target of calories and nutrients: it just takes the willingness to do it. When presented with the above, and there's more along the same lines if you want to explore the ProLon website, it has to be said that it is more of a challenge than usual to remain optimistic that the first generation of rejuvenation therapies after the SENS model, such as senescent cell clearance, will be able do without the ridiculous marketing language that characterizes present day efforts such as the one above.