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Fasting intermittently reduces cell proliferation, a marker for cancer risk, study finds

70 years have established that substantial calorie reduction - up to 50 percent in some studies - not only can reduce the rate of cell proliferation, it can extend the maximum life span of a variety of organisms, including rats, flies, worms and yeast. The results can be dramatic, with 30 to 70 percent increases in life span reported in the studies.

"Significant caloric restriction is the one and only thing that has been scientifically proven to extend life span," said Hellerstein, who has a joint appointment at UC San Francisco. He noted that while exercise and good nutrition can prevent premature death by disease, they have not been shown to extend a maximum life span.

Cutting calories has also been shown to reduce the development of cancer, enhance insulin sensitivity and lower the risk of heart disease.

Yet, as remarkable as those studies may be, their applicability to a human diet is clearly limited. The researchers refer to an old joke that goes along with the findings on caloric restriction: "It's not that you're living longer, it just feels that way."

No doubt, one would be hard pressed to find people willing to embark on what amounts to a lifetime of food deprivation, so the prospect of a more viable intermittent-feeding pattern is appealing.

"What we found is that it may not be necessary to severely restrict calories to reap some of those health benefits," said Elaine Hsieh, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. student in molecular and biochemical nutrition and lead author of the study. "Cutting just a few calories overall but feeding intermittently may be a more feasible eating pattern for some people to maintain."

The researchers conducted several trials with a control group of mice that ate "ad lib," or freely. They compared the control group with mice that ate 5 percent fewer calories but were fed three times a week with mice that were given 33 percent fewer calories. Trial periods ranged from two weeks to three months.
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Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
15-Mar-2005


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