To Live Beyond 100, Eat Much Less: Insights from Italian Experts on Aging

Most of the band members subscribed to a lifestyle of young and fast living. But while partaking in the alcohol and drugs endemic to the ’90s grunge scene after shows at the Whiskey a Go Go, the Roxy and other West Coast clubs, the band’s guitarist Valter Longo, an Italian-obsessed Ph.D. for nutrition student, he struggled with a lifelong addiction to longevity.

Now, decades after Dr. Long after leaving his grunge-era band, DOT, for a career in biochemistry, the Italian professor finds himself with his bobbed hair and lab coat at the nexus of Italian obsessions with food and aging.

For studying aging, Italy is amazing, said Dr. Longo, 56, in the lab he runs at a cancer institute in Milan, where he will speak at a conference on aging later this year. month. Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world, including several pockets of centenarians that attract researchers in search of the fountain of youth. His nirvana.

Dr. Longo, who is also a professor of gerontology and director of the Longevity Institute at USC in California, has long advocated a longer and better life through eating Lite Italian, one of the global explosion of Road to Perpetual theories Wellville on how to stay young in a field still in its teens.

In addition to identifying the genes that regulate aging, he’s created a plant-based, nut-based diet with supplements and kale crackers that mimics fasting to, he says, allow cells to clear out harmful baggage and rejuvenate, without the inconvenience of starving. He has patented and sold his ProLon diet kits; published best-selling books (The Longevity Diet); and Time magazine calls him an influential fasting evangelist.

Last month, he published a new study based on clinical trials of hundreds of elderly people, including in the Calabrian city where his family comes from, which he said suggests that the periodic cycles of his own approach to false fasting could reduce biological age and prevent associated diseases. with aging.

His private foundation, also based in Milan, makes diets for cancer patients, but also advises Italian companies and schools, promoting a Mediterranean diet that is actually foreign to most Italians today.

Almost no one in Italy eats the Mediterranean diet, said Dr. Longo, who has a Californian air and an Italian accent. He added that many Italian children, especially in the south of the country, are obese, bloated with what he calls the poisonous five Ps pizza, pasta, protein, potatoes and panel (or bread).

At the foundation recently, resident nutritionist Dr. Romina Cervigni sat among pictures on the wall of Dr. Longo playing guitar with centenarians, and shelves of his longevity diet books, translated into many languages and full of recipes.

It’s very similar to the original Mediterranean diet, not today’s, he said, pointing to photographs on the wall of a bowl of ancient chickpea-like legumes, and a pod of Calabrian green beans prized by Dr. Longo. His favorite

Dr. Longo, who has split his time between California and Italy for the past decade, once occupied a niche field. But in recent years, Silicon Valley billionaires who hope to be forever young have funded secret labs. Wellness articles have taken over the front pages of newspapers, and Fountains-of-Youth diet and exercise ads featuring incredibly fit middle-aged people are found on the social networks of middle-aged people who don’t have a good shape

But while concepts like longevity, intermittent fasting, and biological age, you’re only as old as your cells feel! They’ve gained momentum, with governments like Italy’s worrying about a crunchier future in which booming elderly populations drain the resources of dwindling young people.

Yet many scientists, nutritionists and longevity fanatics around the world continue to look longingly to Italy, searching its deep pockets of centenarians for a secret ingredient to long life.

They probably continued to breed among cousins ​​and relatives, offered Dr. Longo, referring to the sometimes strained relationships in small Italian mountain towns. At some point, we suspect it spawned the super-longevity genome.

The genetic drawbacks of incest, He hypothesized, it slowly died out because these mutations killed their carriers before they could reproduce, or because the town noticed a monstrous disease like early-onset Alzheimer’s in a particular family line and moved away. You’re in a small town, they probably label you.

Dr. Longo wonders whether Italy’s centenarians had been protected from later disease by a period of starvation and an old-fashioned Mediterranean diet early in life, during the abject wartime poverty of rural Italy. Then a surge in protein and fat and modern medicine after Italy’s post-war economic miracle protected them from frailty as they aged and kept them alive.

It could be, he said, a historic coincidence that you will never see again.

The mysteries of aging gripped Dr. Long young

He grew up in the northeastern port of Genoa, but every summer he visited his grandparents in Molochio, Calabria, a town known for its centenarians. When he was 5 years old, he stayed in a room when his grandfather, in his 70s, died.

Probably something very preventable, Dr. Longo said.

At 16, he moved to Chicago to live with relatives and couldn’t help but notice that his middle-aged aunts and uncles who fed the Chicago diet of hot dogs and sugary drinks suffered from diabetes and cardiovascular disease than his relatives in Calabria they didn’t have.

It was like the 80s, he said, just like the nightmare diet.

While in Chicago, he often went downtown to plug his guitar into any blues club that would let him play. He enrolled in the renowned jazz guitar program at the University of North Texas.

Even worse, he said. Tex-Mex

He eventually faced the music program when he refused to lead the marching band, so he focused on his other passion.

Aging, he said, was in my head.

He eventually earned his PhD in biochemistry at UCLA and did his postdoctoral training in the neurobiology of aging at USC. He overcame early skepticism about the field to publish it in major journals and became a zealous evangelist of his diet’s age-reversing effects. About 10 years ago, wanting to be closer to his elderly parents in Genoa, he took a second job at the IFOM oncology institute in Milan.

He found a source of inspiration in the diet rich in pescatarians around Genoa and in all the legumes of Calabria.

Genes and nutrition, he said of Italy as an aging laboratory, is incredible.

But he also found the modern Italian diet of sausages, layers of lasagna and fried vegetables that the world was starving and a source of disease. And, like other Italian aging researchers looking for the cause of aging in inflammation or hoping to eliminate senescent cells with targeted drugs, he said Italy’s lack of investment in research was a shame.

Italian women have such an incredible history and wealth of information about aging, she said. But he spends practically nothing.

Back in his lab, where his colleagues prepared the diet broth mixture that mimicked fasting for mice, he passed a photograph on a shelf depicting a broken wall and reading, they were slowly crumbling. He talked about how he and others had identified an important regulator of aging in yeast and how he investigated whether the same pathway worked in all organisms. He said his research benefited from his past life of musical improvisation, because it opened his mind to unexpected possibilities, including using his diet to starve cells affected by cancer and other diseases .

Dr. Longo said he thinks his mission is to extend youth and health, not simply put more years on the clock, a goal he said could lead to a scary world, one that only the rich could afford of living for centuries, which could push the limits. when having children

A more likely short-term scenario, he said, was the split between two populations. The first would live as we do now and reach 80 years or more thanks to medical advances. But Italians would be burdened with long years and, given the falling birthrate, potentially lonely burdened with horrible diseases. The other population would follow fasting diets and scientific advances and live to 100 and maybe 110 in relatively good health.

A practitioner of what he preaches, Dr. Longo fancied himself in the latter category.

I want to live to 120, 130. It really makes you paranoid now because everyone says, Yeah, of course you have to at least get to 100, he said. You don’t realize how hard it is to get to 100.

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