Key To Living Past 100, Start Eating Much Less Food

Dr. Valter Longo, also a gerontology professor and head of the U.S.C. Longevity Institute, believes the key to living past 100 is to start eating much less food.

Key To Living Past 100, Start Eating Much Less Food 1

The band’s majority adhered to the live-fast-die-young philosophy. But following gigs at the Whiskey a Go Go, Roxy, and other West Coast clubs, the band’s guitarist, Valter Longo, an Italian Ph.D. student who was obsessed with longevity, struggled with a lifetime addiction to longevity drugs and alcohol.

Currently, decades after Dr. Longo left his grunge-era band, DOT, to pursue a profession in biochemistry, the Italian professor stands at the center of Italy’s preoccupation with food and aging, donning a lab coat and floppy rocker hair.

“Italy is just incredible for studying aging,” the youthful 56-year-old Dr. Longo remarked at the lab he oversees at a cancer institute in Milan, where he is scheduled to present at an aging conference later this month. Italy boasts one of the oldest populations in the world, with several areas home to centenarians who entice scientists looking for the source of eternal youth. “It’s nirvana.”

According to a study spanning from 2011 to 2019 involving individuals aged 40 to 99, lifestyle changes such as exercise and deep sleep can contribute to a longer life.

Dr. Longo, also a gerontology professor and head of the U.S.C. Longevity Institute, has consistently promoted extended and healthier living by embracing Lite Italian cuisine. This aligns with various emerging theories aimed at achieving perpetual wellness, a domain still in its developmental phase.

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Apart from uncovering genes involved in aging, Dr. Longo has devised a dietary regimen comprising plant-based foods, nuts, supplements, and kale crackers. This regimen, mimicking fasting, purportedly enables cells to eliminate detrimental components and rejuvenate, all while avoiding the adverse effects of genuine starvation. Dr. Longo has obtained patents for and commercialized his ProLon diet kits, authored popular books like “The Longevity Diet,” and earned recognition as a prominent advocate of fasting, labeled as a “Fasting Evangelist” by Time magazine.

Recently, he unveiled findings from a new study derived from clinical trials involving hundreds of elderly individuals, including residents of the Calabria town associated with his family lineage. According to Dr. Longo, the study indicates that intermittent implementation of his fasting-like approach could potentially reduce biological age and fend off age-related ailments.

His Milan-based private foundation customizes diets for cancer patients while also offering consulting services to Italian businesses and educational institutions. They advocate for the adoption of a Mediterranean diet, which ironically is unfamiliar to many Italians in the present day.

With an easygoing California demeanor and an Italian accent, Dr. Longo stated, “Almost nobody in Italy eats the Mediterranean diet.” He went on to say that a lot of Italian kids, particularly in the south of the nation, are fat and bloated from eating what he refers to as the “poisonous five Ps”: pizza, pasta, protein, potatoes, and pane (or bread).

Recently, Dr. Romina Cervigni, the foundation’s resident nutritionist, sat among photographs on the wall featuring Dr. Longo strumming a guitar among centenarians, and bookshelves displaying his multilingual, recipe-filled longevity diet books.

She pointed to pictures of a bowl of ancient legumes like chickpeas and a Calabrian green bean pod that Dr. Longo valued on the wall and added, “It’s very similar to the original Mediterranean diet, not the present one.” “His favorite.”

Dr. Longo, who has divided his time between California and Italy for the past decade, once occupied a niche field. However, recent years have seen Silicon Valley billionaires funding secretive labs in pursuit of eternal youth. Wellness articles dominate newspaper front pages, and advertisements promoting Fountain-of-Youth workout and diet regimens inundate the social media feeds of the less fit middle-aged population.

Despite the growing popularity of concepts like longevity, intermittent fasting, and biological age—where one’s age is determined by the state of one’s cells—governments like Italy worry about the challenges posed by aging populations draining resources from the younger generation.

Nevertheless, scientists, nutritionists, and enthusiasts of longevity worldwide still look to Italy, with its abundance of centenarians, hoping to uncover the secret to a long life.

Probably they kept breeding between cousins and relatives,” Dr. Longo offered, referring to the sometimes close relations in little Italian hill towns. “At some point, we suspect it sort of generated the super-longevity genome.”

Dr. Longo speculated that the harmful effects of genetic inbreeding diminished over time, as detrimental mutations were either fatal or avoided due to the town’s awareness of hereditary diseases like early-onset Alzheimer’s. He suggested that the close-knit nature of small towns led to a form of social monitoring.

Furthermore, Dr. Longo pondered whether Italy’s centenarians were shielded from age-related illnesses by enduring periods of scarcity and adhering to traditional Mediterranean diets during their youth, a time marked by rural poverty. He proposed that subsequent improvements in nutrition and healthcare during Italy’s postwar economic boom helped sustain their vitality in old age.

It could, he said, be a “historical coincidence that you’ll never see again.”

Dr. Longo’s fascination with aging began early in life. While growing up in the northeastern port of Genoa, he spent summers visiting his grandparents in Molochio, Calabria, renowned for its centenarians. At the age of 5, he witnessed his grandfather’s passing in his 70s.

“Probably something very much preventable,” Dr. Longo said.

At 16, he relocated to Chicago, where he observed his middle-aged relatives succumbing to health issues linked to the “Chicago diet” rich in sausages and sugary drinks, contrasting with their healthier counterparts in Calabria.

“This was like the ’80s,” he said, “just like the nightmare diet.”

During his time in Chicago, he frequented downtown blues clubs, plugging in his guitar wherever allowed, while also enrolling in the prestigious jazz guitar program at the University of North Texas.

“Even worse,” he said. “Tex-Mex.”

He encountered trouble within the music program due to his refusal to lead the marching band, prompting a shift in focus to his alternative passion.

“Aging,” he said, “it was in my head.”

Eventually, he attained a Ph.D. in biochemistry from U.C.L.A., followed by postdoctoral training in the neurobiology of aging at U.S.C. Overcoming initial skepticism, he became a fervent advocate for his diet’s age-reversing benefits, publishing in esteemed journals. Seeking proximity to his aging parents, he assumed a second position at the IFOM Oncology Institute in Milan about a decade ago.

He drew inspiration from the pescatarian-leaning diet prevalent in Genoa and the abundance of legumes in Calabria.

“Genes and nutrition,” he said of Italy as an aging lab, “it’s just unbelievable.”

However, he was dismayed by the modern Italian diet’s reliance on cured meats, lasagna, and fried foods, which he viewed as detrimental to health. Similar to fellow Italian researchers exploring aging’s roots in inflammation or exploring senescent cell elimination, he criticized Italy’s inadequate research investment.

“Italy’s got such incredible history and a wealth of information about aging,” he said. “But spends virtually nothing.”

Returning to his lab, where colleagues prepared a fasting-mimicking diet for mice, he noticed a photo on a shelf captioned “We’re slowly falling apart,” symbolizing aging’s challenges. He discussed his identification of a key aging regulator in yeast and its potential application across organisms. Drawing from his musical background, he explored unconventional avenues, including using his diet to combat cancer and other diseases.

Dr. Longo views his mission as enhancing both youth and health, cautioning against merely adding years without vitality, fearing a future where longevity is reserved for the wealthy, potentially prompting limits on reproduction.

He foresees two divergent populations: one, like the current norm, experiencing extended lifespans due to medical progress, while Italians endure prolonged, disease-stricken lives amid declining birth rates. The other group, embracing fasting diets and scientific advancements, enjoys healthier, longer lives, exemplifying the category where he places himself.

“I want to live to 120, 130. It really makes you paranoid now because everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, of course you got at least to get to 100,’” he said. “You don’t realize how hard it is to get to 100.”

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