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Dr. Krista Varady Interview Part 2

April 15, 2010 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

In part two of my interview with Dr. Krista Varady of the University of Illinois, Chicago we address some of the finer points about alternate day fasting (ADF). The truth of the matter is that research into ADF is still in its infancy and Dr. Varady is the first person to admit it. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this form of eating is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics in the realms of anti-aging and preventive medicine. In essence, we’re getting a sneak preview into what may well be one focus of health care in the future.

JP: You authored a study in the June 2009 edition of the journal Metabolism which compared the relative effects of a high fat or low fat ADF diet – in an animal model. Can you please offer an analysis of what was discovered during that experiment?

Dr. Varady: It’s great that you’re interested in that because we’re trying to recreate that in humans now. That’s going to be another study I’m hoping to do in the next year. So basically the objective of the that study was to see if you’re doing an alternate day fasting approach, but you happen to have a really high fat background diet, will alternate day fasting still work to reduce heart disease risk? So what we found with the animals is that it didn’t really matter what the background diet was. If you had low fat or high fat you pretty much saw the same effects on disease risk indicators. (1)

JP: In the April 2009 issue of the journal Nutrition, you also examined the effects of varying levels of fat intake while on an ADF diet on cell proliferation. What did you find there?

Dr. Varady: I believe in that study we saw the same effect. Pretty much you could almost neglect the background diet. The macronutrient composition of the background diet didn’t seem to have an effect on heart disease risk indicators or cell proliferation which is a cancer risk indicator. (2)

JP: One my readers was wondering what type of result one could expect when combining a vigorous exercise routine and/or weight lifting with alternate day fasting. Are these strategies compatible?

Dr. Varady: The study we’ve just started right now is combining alternate day fasting with exercise to see if people lose more weight and to see changes in lean mass and in fat mass. Hopefully we’ll have an answer within the next year or so. I think, honestly, if people wanted to do this long term we would definitely have them on some type of multi-mineral and multi-vitamin supplement, just because they are calorie restricted and if they’re not eating high quality, nutrient dense foods, they do run the risk over several months to become nutrient deficient in terms of macronutrients – so protein and that type of thing. I think because you are calorie restricting you’re also protein restricting, unless you’re doing protein drinks on your feed day. I think it would be difficult to build muscle mass. I’m not sure if you’d lose it. I think that for people that are undergoing resistance training, it might not allow for them to build as much muscle as they would if they were taking protein supplements. That’s something we are testing out.

JP: It seems as though ADF provides a very broad array of health benefits. Do you have a theory about why this is possible?

Dr. Varady: In the human data the main thing you see is weight loss. Even if it’s done in normal weight people. The minute you start losing weight you all of a sudden see an improvement in the majority of these factors. A lot of the effects of alternate day fasting are mediated through weight loss. Losing weight is so tightly correlated with your blood pressure, your cholesterol levels and heart rate, etc.

Fasting May Reduce Age-Related Disease Risk Factors
Source: J Appl Physiol 103: 547-551, 2007 (link)

JP: I’m fascinated with the role that blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity play in various aspects of health. Does ADF have any significant impact on how the body manages blood sugar and insulin levels?

Dr. Varady: Beyond the weight loss, fasting might play a role in that. You’re not having food come into your body. Therefore you’re not having insulin released by your pancreas. So really you’re having this time where there shouldn’t be much insulin circulating around in your body, which is a good thing because insulin is lipogenic. So it basically causes your fat to be stored and not broken down. It also interacts with certain growth hormones – IGF (insulin-like growth factor) for one, which is related to growth hormone. And that can actually stimulate cell proliferation. So insulin does play a role potentially in cancer risk.

JP: Many people are interested in learning about natural ways of slowing down the aging process. Is ADF a good candidate in this arena?

Dr. Varady: If you have a diet that will slow the rate of cell turnover that’s actually slowing aging technically. I think there’s definitely going to be more data coming out regarding that. I guess after we do most of these weight loss and heart disease efficacy trials, I’d also be interested at looking at the aging process as well

In my Q&A with Dr. Varady one thing became abundantly clear. This is a scientist who is doing extremely important work and is doing so in a refreshingly ethical manner. During the course of our interview, I learned that various publishers were courting her to write a book about alternate day fasting. When will it be released? Probably not for a while. Dr. Varady believes that much more research is needed before anyone should be selling this idea. She is also quite forthcoming about the fact that ADF may only appeal to about 10% to 20% of dieters. In fact she personally tried the diet out for herself and admitted that it is was “tricky at the beginning” and that her personal preference is to control weight using daily calorie restriction. But ultimately what drives her is the glimmer of hope that the initial studies provide. In addition, she mentioned getting preliminary feedback from fellow physicians who have benefited from implementing ADF programs in their own lives. I’d say this is one researcher we should all follow with great interest and support in any way possible.

Note: Please check out the โ€œComments & Updatesโ€ section of this blog โ€“ at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Diabetes, Interviews, Nutrition

11 Comments & Updates to “Dr. Krista Varady Interview Part 2”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Good Morning, JP!

    great news, its very very interesting and im excited looking forward new research results. maybe the effects of CR and ADF are similar, so everybody can choose which method suits better. For me would work both, dependent of season and daily “challenges”.

    Stay healthy! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Nina K.

  2. Nina K. Says:

    add an “for” after forward ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. JP Says:

    Good day, Nina! ๐Ÿ™‚

    One day I plan to experiment with alternate day fasting. I don’t need to lose weight but I’d like to see how my body and mind would react to such an eating plan.

    Who says nutrition can’t be fun?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Be well!


  4. Ashley Says:

    I read your articles about ADF and found them very interesting. I am a supporter of fasting myself, and find it to be beneficial for my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

    I’m curious-what do you think about people who use ADF being allowed to eat whatever they want? I know Dr. Vanardy mentioned that there was not a difference in weight loss, but I would not think it a good idea to encourage anyone to “eat whatever they want”. They would still lose weight,yes, but I would think it safe to say too much is known about the quality and nutrient density of foods and the interactions they have in our bodies for it not to be encouraged to eat foods that will increase the body’s healing capabilities. One may lose weight eating 25% of their caloric needs in oreo’s, pasteurized milk, and pizza, but their body-I think- would be worse off for it. What are your thoughts?

  5. Ashley Says:

    My apologies, I read Dr. Varady’s name as vanardy. This was the name of a client back in the day. I automatically associated what I read with the name I already knew. Interesting how the brain does that! Again, my apologies Dr. Varady!

  6. JP Says:

    Thank you, Ashley.

    I think eating a nutrient dense diet becomes even more important if you’re also restricting calories – in any form. If I adopted an ADF program, I’d emphasize the same elements I currently do in my daily diet – healthy, whole food sources of protein, fat, fiber, nutrients and phytochemicals. The only difference might be a shift to a slightly higher protein intake in the hope of preserving lean body mass.

    Be well!


  7. Candice Says:

    In your post of coffee with milk you mentioned a study ‘High Caffeine Intake May Lower Bone Density in Certain Genotypes’ – I’ve been wondering whether the efficacy of fasting for weight loss may differ between Genotypes.

  8. JP Says:


    I suspect it does. In time we’ll probably know to what extent that occurs. In the meantime, I’m a firm believer in playing the odds – until I have a reason not to. For instance, I’ve lost an additional 15 lbs due to alternate day fasting. I didn’t know for certain that I’d find the same (weight loss) success as the participants in the pilot ADF study. I only knew that it worked for most of the people that tried it in a controlled manner. So I gave it a shot based on the best evidence I had available. A calculated experiment that turned out. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Be well!


  9. Andre Harris Says:

    I’m interested in the idea of giving your body a rest from protein to allow it to heal itself. Surely it is worth trying a low protein diet on the fasting days (not sugar and heavy carbs but fruits and veggies) I’m experimenting with that myself, then I’ll up my protein intake on normal days. I’m interested in how this mirrors the exercise and rest cycles of body builders. The body doesn’t need to just build it needs to repair itself. Today I ate a salad of cucumber and tomato with lots of cooked peas and long green beans with some mayonnaise and curry powder and I also had an apple and a little popcorn oil free in the evening (I should really have chosen something healthier than the popcorn I know). I’m not eating any eggs, dairy fish or meat. The week before I did a Ramadan style fast every day where I didn’t eat anything until 6pm and then I could eat what I like but I found that too hard, it was difficult to work properly and so I spent half the day in neutral. Having a good lunch meant that it wasn’t too long to wait in the morning and I was full all afternoon. Up to that point it was just like skipping breakfast. In the evening I felt a bit hungry but not excessively so. I found that if I ate 100 calories of my 450 calories as a snack in the evening it helped stave off cravings. The just is still out on whether we should eat all our food in one meal. I suspect that the best effects do come with full fasting, but I think for now I’ll be eating a small snack in the evening, otherwise the temptation is to go to bed early.I might try something like miso soup (aout 20 calories) eventually just so I have something to taste in the evening.

  10. JP Says:

    Updated 06/05/16:


    Cell Rep. 2016 May 25.

    A Diet Mimicking Fasting Promotes Regeneration and Reduces Autoimmunity and Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms.

    Dietary interventions have not been effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). Here, we show that periodic 3-day cycles of a fasting mimicking diet (FMD) are effective in ameliorating demyelination and symptoms in a murine experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) model. The FMD reduced clinical severity in all mice and completely reversed symptoms in 20% of animals. These improvements were associated with increased corticosterone levels and regulatory T (Treg) cell numbers and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, TH1 and TH17 cells, and antigen-presenting cells (APCs). Moreover, the FMD promoted oligodendrocyte precursor cell regeneration and remyelination in axons in both EAE and cuprizone MS models, supporting its effects on both suppression of autoimmunity and remyelination. We also report preliminary data suggesting that an FMD or a chronic ketogenic diet are safe, feasible, and potentially effective in the treatment of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) patients.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Andre!

    Be well!


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