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WaPo hypes diet that “reboots” the body and “reduces cancer risk”; offers no supporting evidence

Here’s how a five-day diet that mimics fasting may ‘reboot’ the body and reduce cancer risk

Our Review Summary

The story is about a USC study that links partial fasting for five days each month to a number of health benefits. But it fails to quantify those benefits in any way and fails to note that two of the researchers have potential conflicts of interest when promoting this line of research. The story receives 0 out of 5 stars — reflecting failure to earn a Satisfactory rating on any of the 7 applicable criteria.


Why This Matters

The benefits of fasting are well known, but so too are the risks. This study offers what may be a happy medium — a diet that is linked to health benefits, yet one that appears safe and, perhaps, may be easier to follow.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The story described what the diet would contain (and would not contain), but it did not say how much it would cost to follow the regimen composed of the foods that were given to the study participants. However, since participants were mostly eating what they would normally consume (and less on partial fasting days), we’re guessing that the cost implications are not significant. We’ll rate it Not Applicable.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Alas, the story says “the results are so promising that the University of Southern California researcher who helped develop the regimen is already talking about trying to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration so that it can be recommended for patients.”

But it fails to quantify those results — at all.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

There is no discussion of harms, beyond the story’s undocumented claim that the modified fast is safe. At a minimum, low-calorie diets can cause problems with fainting and poor concentration that could have been mentioned. And if the study that’s the basis for the story found no adverse effects at all, the story should have said so.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story’s description of the findings as “promising” is as detailed as it gets.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

The story says nothing about the incidence in the United States of obesity and the diseases linked to it. In fact, there’s so little context that we’re hesitant to rate this Satisfactory. “Not Applicable” seems more appropriate.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story fails to note that Longo and a second author have financial ties to L-Nutra, a company that develops foods for use in such diets. The study itself says Longo plans to donate all of his equity in the company to non-profit organizations; it does not say what the second author’s plans are.

It also fails to note that the University of Southern California has licensed intellectual property to L-Nutra and that, as part of the license agreement, the school may receive royalty payments from L-Nutra.

And it does not say that the clinical part of the study on which the story focused was funded by the USC Edna Jones chair fund.

The sole independent voice comes in the form of comments from a nutritional therapist that are lifted, inexplicably but with attribution, from a newspaper. Performing a real interview with a nutrition expert would likely have led to a deeper, more thorough report on this research.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions “extreme dieting” and its attendant dangers, but does not say what those dangers are. A brief discussion of other fasts/very low calorie diets would have been useful. Or, even better, the story could have discussed the role of known programs that result in weight loss that most physicians would recommend (e.g. behavioral counseling or Weight Watchers).

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story notes that the FDA has not approved the regimen, though it is not clear what exactly it would be asked to approve — since one does not need FDA approval to fast. This description is arguably confusing to readers, and the story contains no information about how one would actually learn more about the details of the fasting protocol. .

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story suggests that the modified fast described here is new. But the concept of intermittent fasting is not novel.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The quote below is lifted directly from this news release — but the story never identified where the quote came from.

‘It’s about reprogramming the body so it enters a slower aging mode, but also rejuvenating it through stem cell-based regeneration,’ Longo said. ‘It’s not a typical diet because it isn’t something you need to stay on.’

Total Score: 0 of 7 Satisfactory


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