Before You Buy...
I've seen a lot of posts pop up lately on my social media accounts for the Prolon Fast Mimicking Diet. It is being advertised by many Naturopathic Doctors, Medical Doctors, and other functional practitioners (think Registered Dieticians, Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, and more).
The Prolon Fast was created by researchers at The University of Southern California's Longevity Institute and the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute. It has been funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and has 20 years of research to help support its validity in its ability to help with metabolic balance, autophagy, and 'kick-starting weight loss.'
I don’t doubt that there is some positive research behind its ability to improve metabolic health. Anytime someone fasts for an extended period blood glucose will be lowered and a person will likely transition into ketosis to use stored body fat for energy. As a short-term tool fasting has been shown repeatedly to improve metabolic health. Looking closer at the product and reading about some experiences, however, I have concerns. Here are my two cents.
Prolon is available online for just about anyone to purchase. There is no minimum age or weight requirement. Anyone with a credit card (say a 16-year-old) could potentially purchase the product and complete the fast – and no teenager needs to be completing this fast. As far as weight requirements, while reading on the website, I could not locate a recommended minimum weight range for the participants to be if they are going to experience a 5-day fast. A 115 lb 5’6” woman is going to have a very different experience with the fast than a 220lb 5’6” woman. No one “needs” to complete a fast for metabolic health, especially normal-weight people. Of course, it is suggested multiple times in the FAQ section that you consult with your provider if you have a medical condition. But, this brings up a whole other complex issue of many medical providers being undereducated in nutrition.
When I went to school to become an ND I took 14 credits of nutrition – more than 180 hours studying how nutrition impacts humans and disease processes on top of 6 credits of biochemistry. A traditional medical school is lucky if they get a single credit (10 hours) of nutrition. While it is possible an individual medical provider can take extra steps to learn more, it is not common. And while medical schools are beginning to see the benefits of providing more nutrition education, it still is not the standard.
When I was in school I tried many different ‘medical’ diets. I thought, “if I’m going to recommend this to a patient, I need to understand what I am asking them to do.” I’ve tried the Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet, gluten-free diet, low FODMAPs diet, Ketogenic diet, paleo diet, whole 30 diets, and the elemental diet. None of them were for an extended time (except gluten-free – I’m still 95% gluten-free) because if you do not have a condition that justifies a drastic change to your diet, then it is not necessary and shouldn’t be done. Any time you are cutting out specific foods or food groups you have to be concerned with where you are going to make up the nutrition you are missing out on.
At the end of the 5 days, there is little guidance on transitioning back to eating. Per photos that people have posted online, it is suggested you "start with liquid foods, such as soups and fruit juices, followed by light meals, including rice, pasta, and small portions of meat, and fish and/or beans. Your regular healthy diet may be resumed on Day 7." We’ve already talked about the lack of nutrition education for medical providers in the United States. Consulting with them would not be my first pick for getting help with a transition diet. Secondly, it is assumed that the person will go back to a ‘regular healthy diet’ on day 7. If they had a regular healthy diet they do not need to be completing a metabolic fast. If they go back to the diet they were eating, it seems like the 5 days were for nothing and they probably didn’t learn anything about healthy balanced nutrition through the process.
There are much better ways to work on metabolic health without subjecting yourself to a 5 day fast. It is possible you could get support from a ‘group’ fast (like a provider-run group) or on the Prolon website groups page so that you can participate with other people, however, other people (including social media influencers) are not a substitute for qualified medical providers.
Fasting can be a powerful tool when done appropriately, for specific populations, and under the guidance of a medical provider. An alternative to Prolon could be to see your regular medical provider for a referral to and Registered Dietician. You could join a gym and consult with their health coaches. Look to your local library to see if they have any education programs – a lot of them offer classes for free. A lot of schools/ programs offer free or low-cost coaching for people who are training.
Need some more ideas on how to get healthy that don’t involve a 5 day fast? Feel free to reach out to me via the contact link.