In 1971, when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote in the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, an article entitled, “How To Eat to Live: One Meal A Day,” many doctors and researchers brushed it off as mere religious dogma.
Decades later, research bears witness to what eventually became the book series, “How to Eat to Live.”
According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison released statement, a pioneering long-term study of the links between diet and aging in monkeys will continue through 2011 with the help of a new $7.9 million grant from the National Institues of Health (NIH). The study, which was first initiated at the National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989, examines the effects of a reduced-calorie diet on the aging process and health of 76 rhesus monkeys.
It is one of only two long-term studies of its kind, and during the course of 16 years has shown that a nutritious but reduced-calorie diet has multiple benefits for health and aging.
At this point in the study, the disparities between the monkeys on a diet reduced in calories by 30 percent and those allowed to eat as much as they wish are clearly evident.
“Most importantly, we’re starting to see the separation of the survival curves,” explained Richard Weindruch, the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health professor who has led the research since 1994.
In the press statement, Dr. Weindruch noted that 90 percent of the animals that began the study on a reduced diet are still alive, while only 70 percent of the animals allowed to eat freely have survived to this stage.
Of those animals who have died, most have succumbed to the same age-related conditions that kill many humans, with colon cancer claiming the most, and diabetes and heart disease also taking a high toll. Says Dr. Weindruch, “Whether these trends will continue, time will tell.”
Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, a family physician at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, has connected the research with the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
“The benefits of fasting reach far beyond what most of us have imagined. It is the fountain of youth, protecting us from the poisonous effects of food. Going without something you need also helps build the will to stop partaking of things you don’t need, such as alcohol, cigarettes and fornication,” she told The Final Call. “The Messenger said fasting is a greater cure of our ills, both mental and physical, than all of the drugs of the earth combined into one bottle or a billion bottles. One meal a day will keep us alive for a long time, over 100 years,” she continued.
“We’ve all heard the unfortunate news of Gerald Levert’s premature death. He had a fatal heart attack at the age of 40. Now ask yourself, do you take Allah’s warning to you as a joke or do you want to live? Do you know how many times a week I sit in front of people telling them they have to lose weight, have to stop smoking, have to eat right if they want to live,” she shared. “You are going to die because you cannot shut down traffic at that hole between your nose and chin.”
The idea that fewer calories can extend lifespan and improve health has a long experimental history. The notion has been tested in animal models ranging from spiders and mice to, more recently, fledgling studies in humans.
But the rhesus macaques in the Wisconsin study, according to Dr. Weindruch, offers perhaps the best window into a phenomenon that is the only proven dietary way to extend lifespan.
Rhesus macaques have much in common with humans, including a similar genetic makeup and susceptibility to many of the diseases and conditions that affect human health.
The study revealed that animals on a restricted diet exhibit 70 percent less body fat, and the fat tissue itself, Dr. Weindruch noted, is very different from the fat tissue in the control animals, those allowed to eat freely.
His group has also observed that the animals that eat less have less insulin in their bloodstreams and less insulin resistance, which are opposite to increases seen in these hallmarks of Type 2 diabetes.
“So far, we’ve had complete protection from Type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Weindruch explained. “Normally, 30 percent of the animals in a research colony will exhibit Type 2 diabetes.”
According to Dr. Shabazz, the best way to begin to combat the harmful effects of fat and extend life is to start eating one meal a day, noting a study of overweight people showed that eating one meal per day significantly improved heart function, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
She explained that “intermittent fasting” also reduces inflammation in the body, which promotes plaque buildup in the blood vessels. She goes so far as to say that, “Even if you have a heart attack, you are more likely to survive and recover when you eat one meal a day.”