The Age Reversal Diet: Keto, Intermittent Fasting, and Autophagy

Candy doesn't just rot your teeth and make you fat. It likely shortens your telomeres/life.

I love stuffing my face with carbohydrates.  In fact, I love it almost as much as I used to enjoy guzzling beer.  I genuinely mean all kinds of carbs too. Donuts, pasta, rice, bread, italian heroes, cheesesteaks, and pizza!  Oh, and sugar, the king of carbs, has an oh so special place in my heart; or my gut. The more highly processed and refined, the better.  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Reeses Pieces, Cadbury Cream Eggs, ice cream sundaes, fudge, marshmallows, and Milky Ways.  I pretty much love them all.  The sweeter, the better!  Yet, like the alcohol I have chosen to abandon, sugar consumption presents many of the same, equally serious, health consequences.  

I already knew going into this endeavor that sugar wasn’t good for you.  Most of us know it, even if we choose to ignore it.  Make no mistake; refined sugar will be the next smoking.  Decades may pass, but eventually, there will be class action lawsuits initiated by hordes of fat, sick people, warning labels on sugary products, and the media will finally have no choice but to report the facts, despite the displeasure of their corporate food customers.  I believed, however, that most naturally occuring carbs in general are “healthy.”  I thought there was no way I could eat too much brown rice, quinoa, fruit, or chickpeas.  So, it surprises me that I’ve come to the realization that the “best” diet for me in my efforts to lengthen my telomeres and improve my overall physical and mental capacities is the keto diet jacked up with intermittent fasting.  Let me tell you how I stumbled upon this discovery.

Avoid refined sugar to lengthen life and health spans.
Avoid refined sugar to lengthen life and health spans.
A Strange Discovery
You may remember when I cycled a century.  During that most memorable ride and while training for it, I strangely observed that I didn’t need food.  I would sometimes cycle for several hours without stopping to refuel.  “Wow,” I thought to myself, “ I don’t have to stop to eat.  I can just keep on going.”  I found it so bizarre, yet simultaneously encouraging.  I figured I was doing something that must be fundamentally changing the way my metabolism functions.  Was it the intermittent fasting? The Wim Hof method?  Cold showers?  Breath work?  I didn’t know.  But I did know that I was somehow different than before.
Fat Adaptation
Some of you may recall that I had my DNA partially sequenced before I began this kooky mission.  The results suggested I would be best suited for a mediterranean diet.  The staples of my version of a mediterranean diet included eating olive oil (a healthy fat), brown rice, quinoa, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, salmon, shrimp, tuna, chicken, and turkey.  My diet was entirely clean;  free from preservatives,  artificial colors, and laboratory created chemicals.  If something had any ingredients I didn’t recognize, I wasn’t eating it, no matter how tasty.  I exclusively drank water.  My carbs primarily came from the brown rice and/or quinoa I ate with most meals.  I occasionally at a relatively “high” amount of carbs when I gorged on fruit or drank a smoothie heavy on the fruit.  My fat consumption was probably higher than ever, considering most meals were cooked with olive oil.  I suppose the amount of brown rice and quinoa I consumed didn’t matter because I exercised so much and relatively speaking, my carb intake was still quite low.  Nevertheless, I believe intermittent fasting inadvertently, and unknown to me at the time, thrust me into a mild state of ketosis.  I am convinced that because I didn’t eat for 36 hours straight every Tuesday and Thursday, I taught my body to become at least partially fat adapted.  That explains why I didn’t have to eat during those long training sessions.  It further demonstrates why I dropped so much weight and body fat so quickly.  I had become a fat burning machine.  I did not need carbohydrates for fuel.  I carried around all the fuel I needed in the form of body fat that I had unintentionally trained my body to burn for energy.
Getting Fat Again
Fast forward to when I cycled 200 miles. You may recall that I bonked (ran out of fuel resulting in a central nervous system shutdown) at around 80 or 90 miles.  What a terrible experience!  It likely happened because I was only partially fat adapted.  It may also have had something to do with what I ate that morning (a fruit smoothie) and what I ate the night before.  Fast forward again to Christmas. I discovered two addictive treats that I wish I had never been introduced to.  First I discovered wasabi chickpeas.  I found them to be the most delicious healthy snack ever, which also fit in very well with my mediterranean diet.  Chickpeas are actually beans, not peas.   They are high in fiber and have a considerable amount of protein.  I wasn’t, at the time, concerned about carbs and consequently would devour them by the pound.  I soon found myself buying them in quantities of 5 lb bags.  Some farmer somewhere had addicted me to these crunchy little balls of fire.  The other treat I discovered was goji berries, also known as Wolfberries and Tibetan Berries.  These bright red, chewy things quickly became my very favorite snack.  According to Dr. Axe, eating goji berries provides high levels of antioxidants and nutrients, improves immune function and fights cancer, promotes healthy skin, protects eye health, helps stabilize blood sugar, detoxifies the liver, keeps your energy and mood up, and boosts fertility.1   My taste buds have clearly changed and so while my sister laughed hysterically at my new found addiction, which taste better than Milk Duds to me, she thinks they taste like “bird food.”  I was dismayed that two pound bags were the largest quantity I could find.  Apparently, I’m not the only person in love with goji berries.  Madonna, Liz Hurley, and Mischa Barton are a few of the superstars  who are also apparently fans and reportedly consume them to stay slim and slow down the aging process.2   Goji berries and wasabi chickpeas teamed up to kick my re-inflating butt way out of ketosis, resulting in a quick 7-8 pounds of weight gain.  I subconsciously knew what the culprits were but I wasn’t 100% sure and was reluctant to admit it because I was addicted to these new found healthy treats.
Changing My Mind on Keto
After I started putting weight back on, I began frantically posting questions on message boards, specifically Reddit and Calorie Restriction, Optimal Nutrition (CRON).  The CRON forums are fascinating because they are primarily about life extension.  So I posted the question of “How do you avoid bonking in extended training sessions lasting more than 3 hours.”  The answers I got were interesting.  In fact, I inspired furious debate.  I love that because it’s the only way to gain deeper knowledge and get better at whatever we’re doing.  While I may strongly disagree with you, I always try hard to keep an open mind.  I am stunned by some of the changes of opinion I’ve experienced during this endeavor, including my views on a keto diet.One forum respondent in particular made some compelling arguments, though I was skeptical. He argued that I should be eating a full ketogenic diet.  I resisted the idea because what I knew of keto diets made me think they were unhealthy and when I successfully used Atkins in the past, I felt very weak.  I did not think I would be able to train hard on a very low carb diet.  Most importantly, nobody else I knew of that was a high performing individual practiced a keto lifestyle; or so I thought.  This forum poster also argued that I was never fully fat adapted because if I had been I would not have bonked.  He recommended a book called The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney.  I ordered it and read it very quickly.  It is a great book and truly an eye opener.  I then listened to a podcast called The Ketogenic Athlete, during which I learned that Zach Bitters, the man who holds the world record for fastest 100 mile marathon, practices a strict keto diet while training and competing.3Next I listened to the audiobook Keto Clarity: The Definitive Guide to the Benefits of a Low Carb, High Fat Diet by Jimmy Moore.  This best selling comprehensive book entirely covers every imaginable consideration relating to the keto diet.  Contrary to popular belief, a keto diet is not just low carb, more importantly, it is a diet very high in fat.  Over 60-75% of keto calories come from fat healthy fats, 15-30% comes from protein, and 5-10% comes from carbohydrates.  Doesn’t that sound insane?  When I’ve attempted to tighten up and lose some fast fat in recent years, I often go low carb because that worked so well for me in my 20’s, allowing me to get my bodyfat as low as the mid single digits.  In recent years, however, I’ve not had nearly the same success.  I chalked it up to “getting older.”  What I didn’t realize was I was simply doing it wrong.  To easily get into ketosis, one must primarily eat fat, not protein.  So, now I eat protein in moderation and add a half stick of melted butter or a few ounces of coconut or olive oil to most meals.  I know, it sounds totally counterintuitive.By the time I finished Keto Clarity I was totally sold on a adopting a keto diet complimented by intermittent fasting.  The reason I believe keto is the best diet for age reversal is because blood sugar stays relatively low and stable.  Intermittent fasting accomplishes the same thing to an even greater degree.  I believe the hormones insulin and cortisol have a lot to do with aging. The best way to slow it down my view, is to reduce one’s exposure to both hormones as much as possible.  Consider metformin, the diabetes drug, that is now wildly popular for its anti-aging effects.  What does Metformin do?  It control blood sugar levels.  So do fasting and keto, though both do it better and naturally.  I recently started using a blood sugar control supplement that mixes cinnamon with chromium picolinate. I expect the supplement to make it easier for me to get into and stay in ketosis.

Carb Addiction

Remember how I mentioned my addiction to goji berries and wasabi chickpeas?  I used the word “addiction.”  I was not exaggerating.  Carbohydrate addiction is real and happens to be scientifically proven fact.  A study completed in 2017 concluded:“In animal studies, sugar has been found to produce more symptoms than is required to be considered an addictive substance. Animal data has shown significant overlap between the consumption of added sugars and drug-like effects, including bingeing, craving, tolerance, withdrawal, cross-sensitisation, cross-tolerance, cross-dependence, reward and opioid effects. Sugar addiction seems to be dependence to the natural endogenous opioids that get released upon sugar intake. In both animals and humans, the evidence in the literature shows substantial parallels and overlap between drugs of abuse and sugar, from the standpoint of brain neurochemistry as well as behaviour.”4
I’m not even eating highly processed foods laden with laboratory engineered sugars.  Those of you who are, hardly stand a chance of getting your fat ass slim.  This is just the way the food manufacturers want it to be: you semi-comatose on your couch shoveling their products down your gullet while watching Netflix.  They’ll even trick you into thinking the manufactured food you are eating is healthy by removing the fat with one hand and labeling it “fat free” while dumping cups of sugar in with the other hand.  It wasn’t long ago that I was that fat guy on the couch.  I learned not to be a sucker. I sincerely hope you do too.
Autophagy is an important concept for reversing one's age.
Autophagy is an important concept for reversing one’s age.
Intermittent Fasting, Autophagy, and Aging
Want to know the quickest way to detox and lose weight?  No, it’s not the latest cleanse.  No, not juicing.  It’s really quite simple.  Just eat yourself.That’s essentially what happens when you practice intermittent fasting (IF).  IF causes autophagy, which literally translated means “self eating.”  It is the body’s way of cleaning up cellular debris consisting of dead, diseased, or old, worn out cells.  Colin Champ, M.D, a radiation oncologist, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and author of Misguided Medicine explains,  “Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.”5  A study titled Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes found,
“Overconsumption of food with such eating patterns often leads to metabolic morbidities (insulin resistance, excessive accumulation of visceral fat, etc.), particularly when associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Because animals, including humans, evolved in environments where food was relatively scarce, they developed numerous adaptations that enabled them to function at a high level, both physically and cognitively, when in a food-deprived/fasted state. Intermittent fasting (IF) encompasses eating patterns in which individuals go extended time periods (e.g., 16-48h) with little or no energy intake, with intervening periods of normal food intake, on a recurring basis.  In laboratory rats and mice IF and PF (periodic fasting) have profound beneficial effects on many different indices of health and, importantly, can counteract disease processes and improve functional outcome in experimental models of a wide range of age-related disorders including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease Parkinson’s disease and stroke.”6

A recurring theme of ReversingMyAge.com is that is important to frequently make yourself uncomfortable to live a long and happy life.  Intermittent fasting is surely one such way to make yourself really uncomfortable while reaping extraordinary rewards.  Autophagy induced by intermittent fasting is one of the keys to slowing the aging process and combating many of our most common chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  If autophagy were a drug, it would be worth billions.  Yet, practicing IF and keto is better.  They’re free.  

 

Problems with Keto
A guy in a Reddit forum made a strong argument against my age reversal diet.  He wrote, “There are zero long-lived populations that eat a keto diet. The longest-lived groups eat low protein, low fat, super high carb.”  He’s right. But as we, the readers of ReversingMyAge.com have learned, association does not equal causation.  No populations anywhere have consistently practiced IF and keto long enough (generations) to study it.  Nevertheless, I concede there are certainly some drawbacks to keto.  

First and foremost, it’s a really tough diet to follow.  Really tough.  Not only does it require sustained militant discipline, it also may require some tinkering to get all the components (fat, protein, carb amounts) just right, as every individual is different.  Intermittent fasting, though, couldn’t be more simple.  Just don’t eat during a predetermined time frame.  

Critics of keto always claim, “It’s all or mostly water weight.”  Well, duhhhh, we are all made up of mostly of water.  Thus, if I lose ten pounds, about six of them must be water to maintain equilibrium.  Though it’s true keto diets may make one lose slightly more water weight than other diets, which may be the reason people often feel fatigued on this diet, I have a solution.  I drink about a gallon of water a day and take a magnesium, sodium, and potassium supplement to ensure proper hydration, especially the night before and during multi hour training sessions.

I’ve even read one expert, a certified nutritionist and public health consultant, proclaim, “a keto diet should only be considered in extreme cases.  It can do more harm than good.  It can damage the heart, which is also a muscle.”7  What???  Seriously?  Who in their right mind would practice keto knowing that?  The problem with her unsourced statement is that it is simply untrue.  This presents a great example of a trick many “experts” play on therapies they don’t like.  We saw the same thing with vitamins when “experts” messed around with dose.  This expert is applying the potential effects of diabetic ketoacidosis to a keto diet.  Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition resulting from dangerously high levels of ketones and blood sugar that makes one’s blood too acidic and can interfere with normal function of one’s liver and kidneys.8  Ketosis, on the other hand, is simply a state in which there are ketones present.  Not only is ketosis safe, it is healthy.  One gets into ketosis by fasting and/or consuming a high carb diet.  Unless you have a medical condition like Type 1 Diabetes, your chances of entering ketoacidosis are slim to none.

Though those who object to keto diets have some strong points, I maintain that overall, a keto diet coupled with intermittent fasting is the best diet for age reversal.  Why?  Because they reduce blood sugar levels, reduce insulin production and resistance, and promote autophagy.  Both ketosis and fasting are examples of hormesis, a concept ReversingMyAge.com readers are familiar with.  Getting the dose of fasting and the dose of ketosis just right is the challenge.  Larger, scientific studies are badly needed to answer questions of dose.  I intend to cycle ketosis, meaning spend a few months in ketosis, followed by a few months out, during which time I will return to my mediterranean diet.  Fasting, on the other hand, is something I am certain is good for you and has no need for cycling, though I will continually tinker with my dose of fasting.  For the moment, I will continue to fast twice a week.  If I seek to gain weight, I may reduce the length of my fast from 36 hours to 24 or less.  I will also likely do longer fasts in the future.  

Nanobots curing disease may not be coming soon.
Nanobots curing disease may not be coming soon.
What the future holds
The future is now.  You will certainly share this perspective if you start reading the news section of ReversingMyAge.com.  You’ll soon see that amazing things with respect to our bodies and aging aren’t just on the horizon; they’re happening right now. I envision a future in which precision nanobots heal broken bones, damaged organs, and eradicate disease.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there comes a time in which we don’t even need to use our digestive system. Eating may become a thing one does for pleasure on weekends.  We may get all our nutrients from compressed air injections or just press a button and breathe them in.  Need a new liver?  No problem.  We’ll print one for you.  Oh, you need a new heart?  That’s more complicated.  We’ll have to grow you a new one in a lab from your own pluripotent stem cells.  The possibilities are as limitless as they are amazing.The key is to live long enough healthily enough to take advantage of these technological and medical advances that are currently in the pipeline. In my efforts to do that I will be practicing keto and intermittent fasting.  If I successfully lengthen my telomeres, all you’ll have to do is follow my protocol and you’ll likely live and be healthy for an extra decade or two.  This may enable you too to take advantage of the next age reversal therapies in the works, giving you yet another quarter century.  And so on…
Citations:
1  Babcock, J. (2018, January 06). Goji Berries: Antioxidant & Anti-inflammatory Superfruit. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from https://draxe.com/goji-berry-benefits/
2  Heald, C. (2006, September 05). UK | Magazine | Berry good for you? Retrieved January 26, 2018, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/5315202.stm
3  Williamson, B. (2017, September 06). You searched for episode 57. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from https://theketogenicathlete.com/?s=episode%2B57
4  DiNicolantonio, J. J., O’Keefe, J. H., & Wilson, W. L. (2017). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2017.
5  The Science-Backed Way to Cleanse Your Body. (2017, September 11). Retrieved January 27, 2018, from https://greatist.com/live/autophagy-fasting-exercise
6  Mattson, M. P., Longo, V. D., & Harvie, M. (2017). Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing research reviews, 39, 46-58.
7  Keto Diet Dangers You Should Know About. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/keto-diet-is-gaining-popularity-but-is-it-safe-121914#5
8  Ketosis vs. Ketoacidosis: What’s the Difference? (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/ketosis-vs-ketoacidosis

Comments

  1. John Loehr

    El Jefe,

    Thank you for the excellent question. I currently abstain from eating both Goji Berries and Wasabi Chickpeas, though I often find myself thinking about them, because they raise my blood sugar levels enough to keep me out of ketosis. I am not concerned about missing out on the benefits of Goji Berries, specifically antioxidants, because I megadose vitamins. I have a quarter of a 5 lb bag of Wasabi Chickpeas stashed in a kitchen cabinet and most of a 2 lb bag of Goji Berries. Whenever I am tempted to sneak a handful (who would know), I remind myself how disappointed I will be in myself the next time I draw blood from my fingertip to measure my ketones. I further remind myself how miserable I will be if I have to lug around an extra 10 lbs of fat during my next endurance event. Just try running a mile with a ten pound weight in a backpack.

    Nevertheless, I maintain that Goji berries are a very healthy fruit treat, loaded with antioxidants and I look forward to eating them in moderation again in the future. While very healthy, they may not be the best thing to reach for if your objective is to live as long and as healthily as possible. I recognize that I appear to be contradicting myself. That’s because your question reveals a paradox. In fact, much of what I am doing to lengthen my telomeres is paradoxical. Is it really “healthy” to practice keto? Is fasting twice a week for 36 hours “healthy”? Is holding your breath (restricting oxygen) for extended periods of time “healthy”? Is megadosing vitamins “healthy”? Is running or cycling or swimming or scrambling great distances for many hours at a time “healthy”? Most “experts” would resoundingly proclaim, “Hell No!” to all of the above.

    And yet, if those very same “experts” were asked, “What causes Type 2 Diabetes.” They would likely reply, “Genetics, lifestyle issues, and insulin resistance caused by chronically high blood sugar levels.” Many might even also agree with me that high blood sugar leads to inflammation and inflamm-aging. WebMD actually states:

    “Glucose can behave like a slow acting poison. Almost any part of your body can be harmed by too much sugar. Damaged blood vessels cause problems such as: Kidney disease or kidney failure, requiring dialysis, Strokes, Heart attacks, Vision loss or blindness, Weakened immune system, with a greater risk of infections, Erectile dysfunction, Nerve damage, also called neuropathy, that causes tingling, pain, or less sensation in your feet, legs, and hands, Poor circulation to the legs and feet, Slow wound-healing and the potential for amputation in rare cases.”1

    Many “experts” will undoubtedly label me an “unhealthy” fool and criticize me for practicing keto and fasting, while simultaneously handing out prescriptions for metformin as fast as they can. Metformin is a popular diabetes drug that helps diabetics control blood sugar levels. Do you see the glaring inconsistency?

    In my view, we are going to have to redefine “healthy” and/or develop new language to address the paradoxical relationship been “health” and “fitness” and reverse aging.

    Thanks Again,

    John

    Citation:
    1 High Blood Sugar, Diabetes, and Your Body. (n.d.). Retrieved February 06, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/how-sugar-affects-diabetes#2

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