HEALTH

Af­ter a life­time of bat­tling a range of dis­eases, Jenni Rus­sell found a cure for it all – fast­ing.

Friday - - Contents - Ex­tend the ad­van­tages of great health through fast­ing to skin­care. Turn to page 60 for tips

It is 4am on my sec­ond night at a Ger­man fast­ing clinic and I am ly­ing awake in my bed, jit­tery with hunger. There is noth­ing in my stom­ach. I’ve had break­fast: herbal tea with a tiny dish of honey. I’ve had lunch: thin, fat­less veg­etable broth, served with a tea­spoon of pars­ley. I’ve had sup­per: an­other veg­etable broth. In be­tween, I have drunk sparkling wa­ter, still wa­ter and four vari­a­tions of herbal tea. That’s the daily menu – for to­day, to­mor­row, and the seven sub­se­quent, empty, hun­gry days to come.

Why would any­one vol­un­tar­ily put them­selves through this, much less pay

sev­eral thou­sand pounds for it? The clinic, Buchinger Wil­helmi on the shores of Lake Con­stance, has so many clients want­ing to come – from burnt-out bil­lion­aires and celeb kids to solemn Ger­man civil ser­vants – I have to wait six weeks be­fore they can find me a place. Sev­enty per cent come to lose weight. Tak­ing in fewer than 300 calo­ries a day guar­an­tees that. The re­main­der have, like me, come for a dif­fer­ent rea­son. They’re here be­cause they’ve heard some­thing re­mark­able – fast­ing may cure dis­eases that mod­ern medicine doesn’t know how to han­dle.

Its devo­tees claim it can halt dis­ease, re­verse au­toim­mune dis­or­ders, kill can­cer cells and re­ju­ve­nate the body. Can it be true? Fif­teen months ago I wouldn’t have be­lieved it. That was un­til the NHS in the UK told me that they could no longer af­ford to spend £25,000 (around Dh140,700) a year on a drug that was keep­ing me out of hospi­tal.

Ihave had a se­ri­ous au­toim­mune dis­ease for al­most 20 years and it has made my life mad­den­ingly, ex­haust­ingly un­pre­dictable. I have never been able to tell when I am go­ing to be ill, or for how long. Some­times I’ve been well for months, work­ing, danc­ing and go­ing to par­ties, and at other times I’ve been so sick, I’ve had to be hos­pi­talised, or spend months ly­ing list­lessly in bed.

It makes full-time, of­fice-based work im­pos­si­ble. I left a job I loved as a BBC pro­gramme editor when my con­sul­tant warned me that I was so frail, if I didn’t stop work be­fore the next re­lapse, I might die. It’s cost me time with my chil­dren and my friends. The drugs I had to take for it crashed my adrenal sys­tem. And when I had breast can­cer six years ago, the side ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy made it all worse.

My doc­tors weren’t likely to win the fight to keep me on my ex­pen­sive medicine, so the NHS’s guil­lo­tine left me search­ing for al­ter­na­tives. No­body had found a new drug. But there was some jaw-drop­ping re­search that had just been pub­lished. Pro­fes­sor Val­ter Longo, a lead­ing geron­tol­o­gist from the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia who has been study­ing fast­ing for 25 years, had dis­cov­ered that if mice were made to fast for three days, their bone mar­row started to pro­duce new stem cells. Oc­ca­sional three­day fasts over six months left the mice with com­pletely re­ju­ve­nated im­mune sys­tems. If the same pat­tern were shown to ex­ist in hu­mans, it would mean that any­one whose im­mune sys­tem was ageing or faulty might be able to re­set it.

I started my first fast al­most by ac­ci­dent, dur­ing a bout of sea­sick­ness. It lasted al­most three days. Like the mice, I drank noth­ing but wa­ter; un­like them, some of mine was hot and had tea bags in it. I gave it up be­cause I was bad-tem­pered and rav­en­ous and didn’t re­ally be­lieve it would work.

A day later, I found that al­most all my symp­toms had gone. A sec­ond fast six weeks later elim­i­nated all of them. I was so as­tounded by the re­sults that for the first cou­ple of months I didn’t tell any­one how ef­fec­tive it had been. I was afraid that at any mo­ment it would all go into re­verse.

It didn’t. I have fasted for three or four days ev­ery cou­ple of months over the past year and have stayed well. I have stopped tak­ing my cock­tail of drugs. It has been, quite lit­er­ally, mirac­u­lous. None of the medicines I have taken has given me this level of health.

But fast­ing alone is hard, and in the past few weeks, as the mem­ory of be­ing ill re­cedes, I have kept find­ing ex­cuses to give up on Day 1. There’s al­ways the temp­ta­tion to eat cheese­cake or or­der a take­away. So when a friend told me about a fast­ing clinic where all choices are re­moved, and where ex­pe­ri­enced staff know ex­actly what to do when you feel dis­cour­aged or de­jected, I knew I ought to go.

The Buchinger clinic was set up 60 years ago by a man who had re­cov­ered from in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing arthri­tis in his 30s by eat­ing noth­ing for 20 days. Otto Buchinger be­came a fer­vent be­liever in holis­tic, natur­o­pathic medicine. Now, the two Buchinger clin­ics – there’s a sec­ond one in Mar­bella, Spain – treat 5,000 clients a year, most of them fast­ing for be­tween five and 20 days at a time.

Dr Françoise Wil­helmi de Toledo, the wife of Buchinger’s grand­son and the clinic’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, is a glow­ingly beau­ti­ful woman in her late 60s who is a devo­tee of an­nual fast­ing. She says the first three days are the hard­est, as the body ad­justs to us­ing its own fat as fuel. Af­ter that, fasters should have plenty of en­ergy; they are us­ing their own. Many re­port that fast­ing makes them feel eu­phoric, cre­ative and ex­cep­tion­ally alert. I perk up. Per­haps I’ll dash off a novel while I’m here.

She, like ev­ery­one else in the fast­ing world, is tremen­dously ex­cited by Prof Longo’s re­search. A week ear­lier he was at the clinic to take part in a con­fer­ence. ‘We have al­ways known that fast­ing works, be­cause we see the re­sults here,’ she says. Fast­ing for sev­eral days at a time leads to im­me­di­ate drops in high blood pres­sure, choles­terol, in­sulin lev­els and in­flam­ma­tion. ‘What Longo is dis­cov­er­ing is why.’

Buchinger’s phi­los­o­phy is that it is a clinic mas­querad­ing as a ho­tel. Peo­ple de­prived of the plea­sures of eat­ing must have oth­ers to com­pen­sate: beau­ti­ful views over the lake, pretty land­scaped gar­dens full of flow­ers, an el­e­gant heated out­door pool, guided walks in the woods, saunas, yoga, art classes, med­i­ta­tion, con­certs, mas­sage. But the back­drop to every­thing is med­i­cal at­ten­tion and a high level of nur­tur­ing.

Ev­ery­one sees a doc­tor twice a week and takes a blood test on ar­rival to an­a­lyse their state of health and have treat­ments pre­scribed. You see a nurse each morn­ing to have weight, blood pres­sure and well-be­ing checked, and while you are fast­ing, a nurse tucks you into bed with a liver com­press ev­ery af­ter­noon for a rest and leaves a hot wa­ter bot­tle in your bed each night. The nurses are on call 24 hours a day and clients are en­cour­aged to ring their bells at any time, whether be­cause they are cold and need tea, or are faint and hun­gry and need help. It’s like re­gress­ing to a child­hood most of us never had, with a suc­ces­sion of so­lic­i­tous nan­nies per­ma­nently to hand.

The doc­tor I meet, Dr Norbert Lis­chka, is a jolly, ra­di­antly healthy and slen­der man in his 60s. He says there is noth­ing odd about fast­ing. It is what hu­mans were de­signed to do – switch from feast to famine. What is un­nat­u­ral is to eat con­stantly from Jan­uary 1 to De­cem­ber 31. We are sur­rounded by plenty and our bod­ies can­not cope with the on­slaught. It is like driv­ing a car with the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal con­stantly down.

Fast­ing lets the body pause and re­pair it­self. Af­ter 12 hours or so of ceas­ing to eat our cells go into a state called au­tophagy, where they start scav­eng­ing for tu­mours, viruses and dis­eased or dam­aged cells to use as fuel. It is the body’s chance to rid it­self of any­thing it doesn’t need. Fat cells are de­pleted and any tox­ins they have

Sev­enty per cent of guests come to LOSE weight – 300 calo­ries a day GUAR­AN­TEES that. The rest are here be­cause they’ve heard FAST­ING may CURE DIS­EASES mod­ern medicine doesn’t know how to han­dle

stored are re­leased into the blood­stream. I tell him I want to try fast­ing for as long as pos­si­ble; if three days is good, surely nine days would be bet­ter. I’d like it to go to work on my im­mune sys­tem, and since fast­ing is also thought to kill can­cer cells, I’d like it to starve out any of mine that might have evaded chemo years be­fore. That will be fol­lowed by a day of break­ing the fast and three days of grad­u­ally refeed­ing to raise the me­tab­o­lism and ac­cus­tom the sys­tem to food. Af­ter the fast, as the body re­builds, the the­ory is that its tis­sues will be stronger and health­ier than be­fore.

I as­sume that the fast­ing will be easy, since I’ve done it be­fore, and this is helped along by some ac­tual food. I weigh 62kg the day I ar­rive. Day 1 is fine, and the thin, 100-calo­rie soups are some­thing to look for­ward to.

On Day 2, with some scep­ti­cism, I try the clinic’s ex­er­cise regime. When I have fasted alone I have done noth­ing but sleep, read or watch box sets. Here, gen­tle ac­tiv­ity is rec­om­mended to keep the mus­cles and lymph sys­tem mov­ing.

I get up at 5.30am to join 50 oth­ers for the daily 75-minute walk through mead­ows and woods as the sun rises. Our group in­cludes doc­tors, an ex-Bud­dhist monk, a mother of seven from Sur­rey and pow­er­ful, stylish women from the United Na­tions and World Bank. Some peo­ple are star­tlingly fat; some are strik­ingly long and lean.

A short busi­ness­man with a huge paunch comes twice a year for a fort­night to lose the same stone. With­out Buchinger to keep him in check, he says, he would be fat and dead. A slen­der Dutch econ­o­mist is there be­cause she de­vel­oped crip­pling rheuma­toid arthri­tis within days of hav­ing a sec­ond baby six years ear­lier. Fast­ing once a year for eight days, along­side avoid­ing the five foods she re­acts to, is enough to keep the symp­toms at bay. For her, weight loss is a tire­some, tem­po­rary side ef­fect. ‘When I leave,’ she says, ‘I am scary thin.’

I come back to my room ex­hausted but on a high from the com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral beauty and ex­er­cise. I tell the nurse I feel limp and when she takes my blood pres­sure she isn’t sur­prised; it’s fallen to 80/60 from 110/80 the day be­fore. I am now 60kg. I must in­crease my wa­ter in­take to five litres a day and take a cou­ple of ta­ble­spoons of salty, wa­tery gruel with my tea and honey to bring the blood pres­sure up. I eat the gruel and re­alise there’s a rea­son why no one but Dick­en­sian or­phans has ever asked for more. I go back to bed and have the lunchtime soup in my room, too tired to join the salon.

Af­ter lunch I drag my­self up the short slope to the med­i­cal cen­tre for an ap­point­ment, ut­terly drained. The room starts to darken while I am on my chair; I col­lapse on to the floor. Anx­ious nurses sur­round me in­stantly, tak­ing my blood pres­sure and prick­ing my fin­ger for a blood sugar test. Both are too low, so I am es­corted back to my room, stum­bling, and brought an ap­ple juice. It is in­tox­i­cat­ingly de­li­cious, and I drink it a tea­spoon at a time over two hours. I haven’t the en­ergy to get out of bed again that day, or even read. At 9pm, when the night nurse brings a hot wa­ter bot­tle, she says firmly that I must eat a yo­gurt. It is only 90 calo­ries, and as long as I stay un­der 400 calo­ries a day, I won’t negate the ef­fects of a fast.

On Day 3 I bound out of bed at 5.40am, join the walk to a cas­tle, go to the gym and a yoga class, have six vials of blood taken for the tests, and think: this is the turn­ing point that other fasters keep telling me about. I am go­ing to feel mar­vel­lous from now on.

But Day 4 is mis­er­able. The dawn walk, along steep stony paths, is a grim ex­er­cise in will power. I walk in si­lence. My blood pres­sure has fallen back. I don’t leave my room again ex­cept to walk 30 me­tres for two va­ri­eties of bliss­ful, so­porific mas­sage. I don’t have the en­ergy to talk to other guests.

The morn­ing of Day 5 is no bet­ter. I get up for the walk, but my back aches, my legs are weary and my skin is deadly white. My fel­low fasters seem odi­ously cheer­ful. One is see­ing her eczema van­ish, an­other has lost the crip­pling pains in her knee. I don’t feel hun­gry, just weak. I wish ev­ery­one didn’t keep promis­ing en­ergy and eu­pho­ria, be­cause I have nei­ther.

I see my doc­tor for some test re­sults. I have very low lev­els of vi­ta­min D and a high risk fac­tor for can­cer and im­mune dis­eases. He rec­om­mends in­fu­sions for sev­eral other vi­ta­mins whose lev­els aren’t op­ti­mal. But af­ter a year of fast­ing, my in­flam­ma­tion lev­els, which have been per­ilously high for 20 years as my im­mune sys­tem mal­func­tioned, are healthily low, and my choles­terol count, which should be less than five, is a highly de­sir­able one.

I ask him why I am so fee­ble and he says thin peo­ple of­ten find fast­ing much tougher than fat­ter ones. They have less to live on. He pre­scribes a yo­gurt ev­ery morn­ing, start­ing im­me­di­ately. I am des­per­ate to taste some­thing other than honey, herbs or broth. Back in my room, I hunt through all my bags in the hope of find­ing a for­got­ten choco­late or nut. I’m thrilled to dis­cover two pump­kin seeds in their shells. I break them open and drop them into the yo­ghurt, savour­ing each ex­quis­ite, tiny bite.

Ihave a sud­den burst of en­ergy and go to yoga, the sauna and gym. The next day I flat­line again, with leaden limbs. I am 58kg. My shaky fin­gers aren’t strong enough to break the catch on the sham­poo bot­tle. Ut­terly de­jected, I spend most of the day in bed wait­ing for time to pass. The night nurse tests for blood sugar; mine is now lu­di­crously low. My body isn’t gen­er­at­ing the glu­cose I need from my own fat. It’s why my brain and mus­cles have turned to sludge. She gives me glu­cose tablets to be taken a quar­ter at a time.

Days 7, 8 and 9 are more bear­able even though I only take one glu­cose tablet a day. At last I look pink and my skin is glow­ing. I have lost al­most 6kg, though much of that will be wa­ter weight. But my head is still foggy. The staff are kind and ca­pa­ble, the masseurs out­stand­ing and the ac­tiv­i­ties dis­tract­ing, but my body is find­ing this bru­tally hard. My stom­ach is aching

I am DES­PER­ATE to taste some­thing other than honey, herbs or broth. I hunt through all my bags in the HOPE of find­ing a for­got­ten choco­late or nut and dis­cover TWO PUMP­KIN SEEDS in their shells

with empti­ness and I long to start eat­ing again. Many fasters re­port feel­ing so good on fasts that they can’t bear to stop. Not me. I couldn’t bear to do an­other day.

I wake on Day 10 deliri­ously happy and ex­cited; we’re to break our fasts at lunchtime. A friend and I walk down to the vil­lage in the morn­ing and when we see free nuts and dried fruit in a health shop, we take a sin­gle wal­nut and a sin­gle large, flat raisin and share them on the way back, half each. We can’t be­lieve that we once had a life where we ate nuts by the hand­ful.

Break­ing the fast is dis­ap­point­ing. We want real, fill­ing, savoury food – I long for fish, beet­root and eggs – but get only ap­ple purée, fol­lowed in the af­ter­noon by an ap­ple and four nuts. Sup­per is soup with frag­ments of ac­tual veg­eta­bles. I go to bed starv­ing. It’s only the next morn­ing, af­ter break­fast­ing on spelt por­ridge, that I get up from the ta­ble feel­ing full and en­er­getic. It is my birth­day, so I cel­e­brate it with a treat: 10 sun­flower seeds.

I leave three days later, 6kg lighter than I ar­rived. More im­por­tantly, since I didn’t come to lose weight, I look well. But I don’t know what has hap­pened to my body be­neath the sur­face, and the clinic doesn’t know either. They don’t rou­tinely test guests on de­par­ture or do fol­low-up re­search. They just as­sume from what they wit­ness that it must be good. Are they right? And is this level of de­pri­va­tion worth­while?

The per­son who thinks he has the an­swers is Prof Longo, the man with the mice who’s see­ing dra­matic re­sults from his re­search. He dis­cov­ered the power of fast­ing in the Nineties, when he starved yeast cells of sugar, re­plac­ing their food source with wa­ter. In­stead of dy­ing, they lived longer and be­came stronger. The re­sults were so coun­ter­in­tu­itive that at first rep­utable jour­nals re­fused to pub­lish them. But the same turned out to be true of bac­te­ria and mice.

‘The abil­ity to switch into hy­per­pro­tec­tive strong mode [while starv­ing] is bil­lions of years old,’ he tells me. ‘This is a mech­a­nism that’s as old as or­gan­isms them­selves.’

In the past 10 years, Prof Longo has dis­cov­ered that fast­ing can be as ef­fec­tive as chemo­ther­apy cy­cles in can­cer­ous mice. Can­cer cells are far more vul­ner­a­ble to star­va­tion than nor­mal ones. Com­bin­ing the two, so that mice are fasted for three days be­fore chemo and a day af­ter­wards, mul­ti­plies the ef­fect. Or­di­nary cells re­act to star­va­tion by re­duc­ing the ac­tiv­ity of cer­tain ge­netic path­ways. Can­cer cells can’t do that. Dur­ing fast­ing, they be­come more sen­si­tive to chemo poi­sons, while the healthy, fasted cells are largely pro­tected from those ef­fects. In tri­als of sev­eral breast can­cer drugs, ev­ery mouse given chemo alone died, while mice fasted be­fore and af­ter chemo sur­vived.

With the stem cell and can­cer break­throughs be­hind him, the pro­fes­sor is now a man in a fer­ment of ex­cite­ment about fast­ing’s po­ten­tial. In co­op­er­a­tion with uni­ver­si­ties in Europe, the US and the UK, in­clud­ing the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Min­nesota, and Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, he is run­ning mice and hu­man tri­als of sev­eral dif­fer­ent dis­eases. He thinks we are on the verge of un­der­stand­ing fast­ing’s im­mense po­ten­tial to re­gen­er­ate or­gans and re­verse dis­ease. His lab­o­ra­tory has fund­ing for can­cer and di­a­betes re­search; he’d like to do much more to in­ves­ti­gate Alzheimer’s, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases, au­toim­mune con­di­tions and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Prof Longo be­lieves fast­ing could help bil­lions. But, he says, pre­cisely be­cause it can be so po­tent and ef­fec­tive, it should be used with great care – and only when the ev­i­dence jus­ti­fies it. It can be deadly if done badly and the ma­jor­ity of fasters find it very tax­ing, phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. The last thing any­one should be do­ing is to launch into fast­ing on their own, as I did, or with­out the clin­i­cal data to back it up. He’s been fol­low­ing hu­man fasters since 2007.

‘Peo­ple think fast­ing is no big deal, but in fact it’s the most pow­er­ful med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion you can make,’ he says. Al­most ev­ery­one could have prob­lems fast­ing with­out ex­pert su­per­vi­sion, he adds. Obese women who un­dergo cer­tain types of fast can de­velop gall­stones. I blacked out on a hot day; what if I had been on one of my lone fasts and driv­ing at the time? Or what if a di­a­betic fasted while on met­formin or in­sulin? They wouldn’t pro­duce the glu­cose needed for the brain to func­tion, be­cause met­formin is a glu­cose-pro­duc­tion in­hibitor.

It would be equally dis­as­trous to fast dur­ing chemo with­out fol­low­ing the tested pro­to­cols pre­cisely. The fast must be main­tained for 24 hours af­ter the chemo is given, be­cause the mo­ment a fast ends, the body be­gins to re­gen­er­ate us­ing what­ever fuel is in the sys­tem. Stop­ping pre­ma­turely means the sys­tem would be re­build­ing just as chemo poi­sons were cir­cu­lat­ing in the blood, gen­er­at­ing a high level of mu­ta­tions.

Prof Longo is care­ful about rec­om­mend­ing fasts longer than a week, such as those at Buchinger. He says the clinic does ad­mirable work and has a great safety record, but adds that re­li­able stud­ies sim­ply haven’t been done. Anec­dote and as­sump­tion are no sub­sti­tute for re­search. He points out that 200-calo­rie fasts cre­ate an ex­treme lack of vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and pro­teins and cause mus­cles and or­gans to shrink. A 63-year-old man could lose 15 per cent of his body weight on a three-week fast, push­ing his heart, liver and mus­cles into se­vere at­ro­phy be­fore they are re­gen­er­ated. ‘What hap­pens in an older per­son when or­gans are re­built so rapidly from such a low point?’ Prof Longo asks. In mice, nearly half the white blood cells dis­ap­pear af­ter just three days. ‘In hu­mans, we just don’t know.’

The pro­fes­sor be­lieves he has an an­swer to th­ese prob­lems. He has de­vised a way of giv­ing peo­ple all the ben­e­fits of fast­ing, with its re­gen­er­a­tive, anti-ageing and anti-dis­ease ef­fects, with­out the phys­i­cal stress. Af­ter decades of bio­chem­i­cal re­search and eight years of ex­per­i­ments on hu­mans, he has de­vel­oped a fast-mim­ick­ing diet (FMD).

It is a five-day pro­gramme of bars, shakes and soups, all made from real food. Its pub­lished re­sults show that it low­ers the lev­els of the pro­tein in­sulin-like growth fac­tor 1 (IGF-1) in the blood, which is a ma­jor biomarker for can­cer and ageing. It low­ers blood sugar, which re­duces

Al­most ev­ery­one could have PROB­LEMS fast­ing with­out su­per­vi­sion. I BLACKED OUT on a hot day; what if I had been on a FAST and DRIV­ING at the time? Or, what if a DI­A­BETIC fasted while on in­sulin?

the risk of di­a­betes, as well as blood in­flam­ma­tion lev­els. Prof Longo de­scribes it as ‘truly re­ju­ve­nat­ing’. Tri­als con­ducted over a year show that reg­u­lar use of the FMD – per­haps twice a year for healthy peo­ple, once a month for the se­ri­ously sick or the obese – has a dra­matic ef­fect on health. Testers find it palat­able and pos­si­ble. He was ex­pect­ing a dropout rate of 50 per cent, but only 5 per cent didn’t com­plete it.

Prof Longo says the FMD will be pre­ven­ta­tive and cu­ra­tive, stalling the hid­den de­gen­er­a­tion of our bod­ies. Most mid­dle-aged peo­ple be­lieve they’re healthy. Yet the ma­jor­ity of us in the West al­ready have choles­terol, blood pres­sure and IGF-1 lev­els that will cause prob­lems in 10-15 years un­less they come down. The FMD, used along­side mod­ern medicine and in­te­grated into the med­i­cal sys­tem, might do just that.

The pro­fes­sor is now wait­ing for fi­nal ap­proval from the US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion and hopes that the FMD will go on world­wide sale soon. It will cost around £165 a time, in­clud­ing a con­sul­ta­tion with a su­per­vis­ing clinic. Prof Longo will not make a penny from it. All his shares in L-Nu­tra, the com­pany sell­ing the FMD, will go to a foundation ded­i­cated to fund­ing cre­ative re­search. And of all the crit­i­cisms raised by doubters, the one that most en­rages Prof Longo is the sug­ges­tion that fast­ing is an un­so­phis­ti­cated in­ter­ven­tion.

It is, he says, quite the op­po­site. His re­search is map­ping ex­actly how it works at a cel­lu­lar level to elim­i­nate bad cells and gen­er­ate new, healthy ones. So much of mod­ern medicine is un­be­liev­ably crude in com­par­i­son. Many drugs deal with symp­toms and not causes. It is, he says, the equiv­a­lent of open­ing a car bon­net af­ter hear­ing a knock­ing sound, ram­ming sticks through the en­gine un­til the noise stops, and call­ing that a cure.

He’s in­tensely frus­trated by the dif­fi­cul­ties in get­ting fast­ing re­search either fully funded or ac­cepted. If fast­ing were a drug, the po­ten­tial re­wards would be in the bil­lions, so phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies would have huge bud­gets to in­ves­ti­gate and pro­mote it. He has noth­ing like that be­hind him, be­cause no one stands to make a for­tune from what he’s try­ing.

‘So many doc­tors say they won’t touch this,’ he says. ‘They don’t want to know it or read it. It’s not what was taught in med school. But this is the new med school! This is what I teach the next gen­er­a­tion of doc­tors!

‘I be­lieve this will soon be part of the stan­dard of care. We’re in a war against so many dis­eases and if we had a bit more fund­ing – maybe £10 mil­lion – we could be mak­ing big break­throughs in 18 months, two years. Pa­tients need the re­sults now.’

We do. I am glad I didn’t wait for any­one in the health sys­tem to give me of­fi­cial en­cour­age­ment to fast; I’d have spent yet an­other year be­ing ill.

What have I learnt, 14 months into my own fast­ing ex­per­i­ment? First, that for some of us it’s bet­ter than any of the al­ter­na­tives medicine has to of­fer. If you’re very rich, very anx­ious, very fat or very sick, it might well be worth go­ing to Buchinger once a year. If I could af­ford its hefty prices, I’d want to go again, though this time I’d only fast for five or six days.

Three weeks af­ter leav­ing I still feel health­ier and I’m still more than 2kg lighter. I have al­ways been a rest­less, ab­sent-minded grazer, but now I’m less in­clined to eat choco­late or sugar, much keener on veg­eta­bles and nuts, and I’ve learnt to en­joy the feel­ing of empti­ness be­tween meals. Clin­ics such as Buchinger Wil­helmi, though, will never be an op­tion for most of us, in terms of either time or money. The FMD sounds like the best pos­si­ble bal­ance be­tween ef­fec­tive­ness and de­pri­va­tion, which is why I am des­per­ately hop­ing that it will be ap­proved. I could con­tinue to work while on 750 calo­ries a day, which I could never do on clas­sic fasts.

What can we do for our­selves, though, to get the ben­e­fits of fast­ing if the FMD doesn’t get li­censed, or if money is tight?

I’ll carry on do­ing my own three- or four-day fasts ev­ery eight weeks or so, sched­uled at times when I don’t have to write, cook or go out, but now I know they needn’t be so harsh. For the first year’s fasts, know­ing no bet­ter, I fol­lowed the mouse pro­to­cols and ate no calo­ries at all. In fu­ture I’ll have 300-400 calo­ries a day of high­qual­ity liq­uids, mostly veg­etable or miso soups, and when I feel faint, I’ll know it’s either a prob­lem with blood pres­sure or blood sugar, so I’ll have wa­ter and glu­cose tablets. I also know now that I was an id­iot not to check with my GP be­fore I be­gan.

But in­vent­ing my own fasts in the face of med­i­cal scep­ti­cism will be a third-rate op­tion when the tan­ta­lis­ing pos­si­bil­ity re­mains that fast­ing could be an ef­fec­tive an­swer to so many ills that plague us. And I share Prof Longo’s in­tense ex­as­per­a­tion. He isn’t claim­ing that fast­ing is an an­swer to every­thing. He just wants its pos­si­bil­i­ties and lim­its to be ex­plored, so that where it does work, health ser­vices can be con­fi­dent about tak­ing it up.

I think of my own doc­tors, who smile pa­tiently at me when I say fast­ing’s been an ap­par­ent cure in my case, and ex­plain that they can’t rec­om­mend it to any­one un­til they see clin­i­cal proof. I think of all the months and years I’ve wasted on the tedium of be­ing ill and the mil­lions of peo­ple who could be sim­i­larly lib­er­ated to have more joy­ful, longer lives if Prof Longo is right. I think of the bil­lions that gov­ern­ments will save if peo­ple can choose to fast in­stead of re­ly­ing on haz­ardous, ex­pen­sive drugs. And I hope that the health and med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments will take their fin­gers out of their ears and give this rad­i­cal sci­en­tist the hear­ing and resources he’s ask­ing for.

Pro­fes­sor Longo is FRUS­TRATED by the dif­fi­cul­ties in get­ting fast­ing re­search funded. If fast­ing were a DRUG, the re­wards would be in the BIL­LIONS, but no one stands to make a FOR­TUNE from what he’s try­ing

Hu­mans are de­signed to switch from feast to famine, Dr Norbert Lis­chka (left) told Jenni Rus­sell (cen­tre)

My doc­tor says I’m fee­ble be­cause thin peo­ple have less fat to live on while fast­ing

Prof Longo’s fast-mim­ick­ing diet may be the an­swer suf­fer­ers are look­ing for

Sev­eral vari­a­tions of herbal tea are part of the low-calo­rie diet pre­scribed at Buchinger

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