Potential long-term consequences of fad diets on health, cancer, and longevity: lessons learned from model organism studies

Technol Cancer Res Treat. 2007 Jun;6(3):247-54. doi: 10.1177/153303460700600312.


While much of the third world starves, many in the first world are undergoing an obesity epidemic, and the related epidemics of type II diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases associated with obesity. The amount of economic wealth being directly related to a decline in health by obesity is ironic because rich countries contribute billions of dollars to improve the health of their citizens. Nevertheless, nutritional experiments in model organisms such as yeast, C. elegans, Drosophila, and mice confirm that "caloric restriction" (CR), which is defined generally as a 30-40% decrease in caloric intake, a famine-like condition for humans seen only in the poorest of countries, promotes good health and increases longevity in model organisms. Because caloric restriction, and dieting in general, requires a great deal of will power to deal with the feelings of deprivation, many fad diets, such as the Atkins, South Beach, and Protein Power, have been developed which allow people to lose weight purportedly without the severe feelings of deprivation. However, the long-term effects of such fad diets are not known and few experiments have been performed in the laboratory to investigate possible side affects and adverse consequences. In this paper, we review studies with fad-like dietary conditions in humans and model organisms, and we propose a "Dietary Ames Test" to rapidly screen fad diets, dietary supplements, and drugs for potential long-term health consequences in model organisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet Fads*
  • Drosophila* / genetics
  • Drosophila* / growth & development
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Longevity*
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*