Tag: University of Southern California

Postscript to Long Life post

More information about fasting, not about being female!

In yesterday’s post on Learning from Dogs, I wrote that there are two important aspects of living a longer life.  The first one was be a female and the second one was about fasting.  I propose to expand a little on that second aspect because of the number of people who found the topic so interesting.

Valter D. Longo and students.

In yesterday’s post there was reference to the work that Professor Valter D. Longo of the University of Southern California (USC) has been undertaking.  As the USC web reference explains, Valter Longo is the Director of the Longevity Institute, a Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences and the Edna Jones Chair of Biogerontology, so if anyone understands how humans tick, it’s likely to be this man!  As his research overview states,

He is interested in understanding the mechanisms of aging in organisms ranging from yeast to humans. The focus is on the conserved nutrient signaling pathways that can be modulated to protect against age-dependent oxidative damage and delay or prevent diseases of aging including cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.

(Any questions, ask Prof. Longo not me!)

BBC Presenter Michael Mosley with Dr Krista Varady

The other learned person referred to in yesterday’s post was Dr. Krista Varady.  This is what was written,

Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago carried out an eight-week trial comparing two groups of overweight patients on ADF. (ADF = Alternative Day Fasting)

Over on the Healthy Fellow blogsite, there’s an interview with Dr. Varady.  The web link of that interview is here and crossing over and reading the full interview is much recommended.  Here’s a taste, pardon the pun, of that interview:

JP: Can you help explain the distinctions between alternate day fasting and caloric restriction?

Dr. Varady: Caloric restriction is basically daily calorie restriction where an individual would restrict themselves by about 15% to 40% of their energy needs daily. So basically every single day you’re undergoing the same amount of restriction, whereas alternate day fasting involves a fast day wherein the individual would only eat 25% of their energy needs. So about 500 calories or so and that’s alternated with something called a “feed day” where the individual would eat ad libitum – so as much as they want. However in our studies we show that people end up losing weight because they can’t fully make up for the lack of food on the fast day on the feed day.

Let me add a personal perspective on this.  On the morning of the first day after our two-day fast, my weight was 162.5 lbs (73.71 kg), on the morning of the second day after our fasting days my weight was 161.8 lbs (73.39 kgs) and on the morning of the third day after our fasting, my weight was 161.6 lbs (73.30 kgs).  Ergo even though we were back to eating normally for three days after our two days of fasting, I continued to lose 0.9 lbs (0.4 kgs).

So if you have any concerns over cardiovascular health or want to explore a realistic way of losing excess weight, then do read the interview.  Part One of that interview is here and Part two here.

As is said, we are what we eat and I shall close this postscript with a link to an article on the Mother Nature Network website that was published a little over a year ago: 18 foods that fight common ailments – Try healthy eats that help fight diabetes, heart disease, migraines and more.

So may we all live forever!

Living the long life

Two remarkable aspects of human longevity.

OK, a change to the theme of the last few days, to a topic that must cross the minds of practically every single human being at some point; what is our lifespan going to be?  Who doesn’t want to live a long and healthy life, and I don’t wish to be insensitive to those who labour under mental and physical troubles, of course.

So a recent couple of fascinating stories have given an insight into just how to live that longer and healthier life.

The first one is easy – be a woman!

Actress Michelle Ryan as the Bionic Woman was destined to live even longer!

OK, a bit of an issue if you are a man like me but did you realise, because I didn’t, that being the female of many species offers a significant advantage.  This came from a BBC item published on the 2nd August, from which I quote,

Scientists believe they have discovered a clue to why women tend to live longer than men – by studying fruit flies.

Writing in Current Biology, they focus on mutations in mitochondrial DNA – the power source of cells.

Mitochondria are inherited only from mothers, never from fathers, so there is no way to weed out mutations that damage a male’s prospects.

Then came an extraordinary fact [my italics below],

By the age of 85, there are approximately six women for every four men in the UK, and by 100 the ratio is more than two to one.

And females outlive males in many other species.

If you are of the scientific bent and/or a woman! you can read a fuller account of the research findings on the Science Daily website.  As well as that link you can also read the  Monash University press release on those research findings.

As a fella’ I think I’m moving on!

The second one is almost as easy – Fasting

Again, this news came from the BBC website, the news about the power of fasting.  In an article promoting the showing of a BBC Horizon programme, Michael Mosley wrote this,

Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could achieve a number of health benefits, as well as potentially helping the overweight, as Michael Mosley discovered.

I’d always thought of fasting as something unpleasant, with no obvious long term benefits. So when I was asked to make a documentary that would involve me going without food, I was not keen as I was sure I would not enjoy it.

But the Horizon editor assured me there was great new science and that I might see some dramatic improvements to my body. So, of course, I said, “yes”.

I am not strong-willed enough to diet over the long term, but I am extremely interested in the reasons why eating less might lead to increased life span, particularly as scientists think it may be possible to get the benefits without the pain.

For obvious reasons I can’t republish the full BBC article but I encourage you to read it here.  And stay with me for some more research links that are most interesting.

But I will just include this part from the BBC item,

The IGF-1 hormone (insulin-like growth factor) is one of the drivers which keep our bodies in go-go mode, with cells driven to reproduce. This is fine when you are growing, but not so good later in life.

There is now evidence suggesting that IGF-1 levels can be lowered by what you eat. Studies on calorie restrictors suggest that eating less helps, but it is not enough.

As well as cutting calories you have to cut your protein intake. Not entirely – that would be a very bad idea. It’s about sticking to recommended guidelines, something most of us fail to do.

The reason seems to be that when our bodies no longer have access to food they switch from “growth mode” to “repair mode”.

As levels of the IGF-1 hormone drop, a number of repair genes appear to get switched on according to ongoing research by Professor Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.

Intermittent fasting

One area of current research into diet is Alternate Day fasting (ADF), involving eating what you want one day, then a very restricted diet (fewer than 600 calories) the next, and most surprisingly, it does not seem to matter that much what you eat on non-fast days.

Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago carried out an eight-week trial comparing two groups of overweight patients on ADF.

“If you were sticking to your fast days, then in terms of cardiovascular disease risk, it didn’t seem to matter if you were eating a high-fat or low-fat diet on your feed (non-fast) days,” she said.

Michael Mosley explains how he couldn’t manage Alternate Day Fasting and found it was just too impractical.

Instead I did an easier version, the so-called 5:2 diet. As the name implies you eat normally 5 days a week, then two days a week you eat 500 calories if you are a woman, or 600 calories, if you are a man.

The BBC Horizon programme  was screened on the 6th August but is available on the BBC iPlayer for UK viewers.  Here’s how it was promoted on the BBC website,

Michael Mosley has set himself a truly ambitious goal: he wants to live longer, stay younger and lose weight in the bargain. And he wants to make as few changes to his life as possible along the way. He discovers the powerful new science behind the ancient idea of fasting, and he thinks he’s found a way of doing it that still allows him to enjoy his food. Michael tests out the science of fasting on himself – with life-changing results.

This programme clip will also attract your attention, trust me!

and if you would prefer a more inspiring antidote then here’s another clip from the programme,

Tomorrow, I’m going to link to the scientists behind these new findings because this is very significant research that could revolutionize the future health for millions.

Finally, I’m here to tell you that Jean and I have ‘signed up’ to the 5:2 pattern and had our fast days last Thursday and Friday.  They were much easier than I expected and, frankly, will be fun to maintain.  Leave a comment if you would like details of the food and calorific values of what Jean served those two days.

Thinking outside the box

Strange theory reveals secrets of the universe, the logic of sycamore leaves and why even smart people struggle with new ideas.

A guest post from Pete Aleshire, Editor, Payson Roundup.


The Payson Roundup is our local newspaper here in Payson, AZ.  I first saw this article by Pete a couple of weeks ago and was just utterly engrossed by it.  Not just the tantalising peek into a physics I know so little about but the beautiful prose.  The latter is not surprising because as well as being editor of the paper, Pete also teaches the creative writing course at our local college.  Jean and I had the benefit of attending the course, I guess about a year ago, and therefore can speak from experience.

So settle down and enjoy.


I finally got Drake Larson together with both sycamore leaves and Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. Moreover, I have been entrusted with a formula that may win me an invitation to Oslo if Drake gets a Nobel Prize.

But even if that don’t work out, I did get to eavesdrop on Drake and Evans. Quite the event, from my bemused point of view, since it shed light on dangerous delights of outside-the-box thinking and the Nature of the Universe.

But wait. You look confused.

Let me back up — and start somewhere closer to the beginning. Be patient with me — by the time we’re done, you’ll realize why God’s a math nerd, one surprising secret of Dark Energy, why farmers become original thinkers and what sycamore leaves tell us about the universe.

But first, I have to explain about Drake.

We grew up together, getting into (and mostly out of) various varieties of trouble. Very early on, I realized that he was much (much) smarter than me. This initially really irritated me, as I was previously inclined to vanity about my intelligence. Turns out, I love learning stuff other people have discovered, but Drake only gets truly excited when he has hold of a completely new idea that no one else can quite grasp. This prepared me, as it turns out, for meeting Kenny Evans — but that’s getting ahead of the story.

Drake and I grew up doing math homework together, before I wandered off into a career in newspapers. He got his degree in mathematics, turned down a job with the RAND Corporation and took up growing table grapes.

But he never quit picking at the lock of the universe.

Years ago when I was the science writer for the Oakland Tribune, he came to me all excited about a set of formulas he had. I did my best to follow the two pages of calculations, but all I can tell you is that they described instabilities of any sphere with uniform density. He predicted that when the Voyager spacecraft reached Jupiter, it would report inexplicable turbulence at a certain depth in the atmosphere. I ran his numbers past various top-level physicists and mathematicians who couldn’t find a flaw in his formulas — but concluded that it had to be wrong since it led to a violation of the keystone laws of conservation of mass and energy.

But I took note some months later when the Voyager spacecraft reported mysterious levels of turbulence deep within the atmosphere of Jupiter.

The years passed. Drake kept growing grapes, flowers, dates and vegetables — and working on his calculations. He wrote a book, “The Cults of Relativity,” in which he described a few of his theories, delighted in the conundrums of mathematics and pondered the curious resistance of even smart people to unconventional ideas.

We got together again recently. I took him down to Fossil Creek, all overhung with sycamores with the rustle of floppy, five-pointed leaves. Drake was his old self on our Fossil Creek tour as he tried to show me math’s beauty around us, although I was but a blind man clutching the tail of his mathematical elephant.

He had now connected his formulas to dark energy, a still hypothetical form of energy invoked by desperate cosmologists to explain the startling observation that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating. To explain this seeming impossibility, they invented “dark energy” — which they figure pervades the universe and at certain densities creates a repulsive force stronger than the attractive force of gravity.

Anyhow, here’s the point: Drake was in awe that his mathematical wanderings offered a way to calculate dark energy’s cap within earth — it happened to be an “inside is now outside” inversion of Isaac Newton’s simplest integral. No. Please. Don’t ask me to explain that. But earth’s dark energy cannot exceed 17 pounds per square inch at a depth of about 1,500 miles. He’s been working with University of Southern California computer crunching guru professor Barry Boehm, and the University of California at Riverside geophysics professor Shawn Biehler on its implications. Among other things, it could explain the perplexing observation that major earthquakes increase the earth’s rotation rate.

No one knows how to measure such a quantity at present. Someday they will. If it turns out that 17 pounds per square inch is a relevant benchmark for earth’s dark energy, then this column will maybe win Drake the Nobel — and I’ll get to dress up and attend the ceremony.

So Drake and I spent the day wandering along the banks of Fossil Creek as he kept trying to come up with metaphors so I could grasp math’s secret within the beauty of Fossil Creek’s sycamore leaves. The well-designed sycamore leaves adhere to the Fibonacci sequence, a mysterious progression of numbers that crops up throughout nature — from the spiral of a nautilus shell to the layout of the ruins of Chaco Canyon.

So I figured I’d just write this — and get earth’s 17 PSI cap for dark energy out there in the time/date/ stamped world.

Oh, yeah: And about Kenny Evans.

So that night, I took Drake to the Payson council meeting. Turns out, Drake’s family was growing grapes in the Coachella Valley at the same time Evans was farming 10,000 acres in Yuma. They both managed to survive that tempestuous time when the United Farm Workers union organized agriculture workers.

I introduced them and listened as they recalled events and figured out whom they knew in common.

It was then that I decided to blame Drake for my faith in Evans’ ridiculous conviction that a university will build a campus here in this itty bitty tourist town — complete with a research center and convention hotel. No sensible small-town mayor would risk public ridicule while spending thousands of hours on such an outside-the-box notion … unless he’d learned to gamble on dreams and hard work during all those years as a farmer.

Evans’ notion is almost as silly as a farmer who calculates the amount of dark energy emanating from earth, while credentialed experts scratch their collective heads.

Still, I’m thinking maybe I’ll get a nice suit jacket — something I can wear to both the university’s groundbreaking and the ceremonies in Oslo.

Hey, never hurts to be prepared.


A big thank-you for the permission to republish this on Learning from Dogs. I have no doubt that many LfD readers enjoyed it as much as I did!  Stay with me for tomorrow when the theme of thinking, innovation and craziness is explored a touch more.