Fast Day Menu

Fast and You’ll Live Longer – If You’re a Mouse

Have you wondered why or even noticed that journals like Science and Nature are sometimes called tabloid science journals? A great illustration is playing out from a manuscript just published online in Cell Metabolism. It’s generating some sensational headlines like:

Fasting May Reboot the Body and Reduce Cancer Risk
Diet That Mimics Fasting May Slow Aging
Periodic Fasting Could Help Slow Aging
This Five-Day Diet Is Scientifically Proven to “Reprogram” Your Body
Diet Could Slow Aging, Reduce Fat, and Improve Brain Function

These fantastic claims all come from studies in about 75 mice and 38 humans. We say “about” because the paper is not crystal clear on this point. The humans were followed for 40 days.

Just to be clear, fasting may indeed have health benefits — or not — but these hyperbolic claims are not backed by strong evidence. A systematic review presented in March at the Experimental Biology meeting concluded:

Current research evidence to estimate the impact of ICR [intermittent calorie restriction] is limited. Findings are indicative, sample sizes small and further research justified.

For otherwise reputable news sources to publish such sensational headlines is understandable because of the way the data were published. Based on limited studies, the authors concluded that their “pilot clinical trial” provides “support for the use of FMDs to promote healthspan.”

To the discerning reader, we offer a few clues for detecting sciencey hype. One is publication in a tabloid science journal that issues sensational press releases. Another is broad health claims based mostly on animal data. Another is the use of buzzwords like “healthspan.”

Sweet corn casserole! Cut it out!

Click here to read a sample story from this study in the LA Times, here to read the study, and here to read more about tabloid science.

Fast Day Menu, painting by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin / WikiArt

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2 Responses to “Fast and You’ll Live Longer – If You’re a Mouse”

  1. June 27, 2015 at 7:37 am, Morgan Downey said:

    Ted, the story in the Washington Post said the USC researchers were considering seeking approval of the diet from the FDA! Good luck with that since the FDA does not approve diets.

  2. June 27, 2015 at 8:02 am, Ted said:

    That would be entertaining on many dimensions! Pity the poor fool who pays the bills for that exercise in futility.