Fasting: fad to forget, or health habit staple? With all the information coming out about fasting’s benefits recently, you have to wonder. Is fasting actually beneficial, and should you try it? Those are some of the questions we’ve answered in this article.
Fasting is a long-standing tradition in human history. People have been doing it for thousands of years as a ritual practice, and up until recently was actually quite common. Examples of traditional fasting practices include Ramadan in Islam and Lent in Orthodox Christianity.Fasting means abstaining from food or drink, typically with water being the only exception. Fasting is less about what you eat; instead, the focus is on when you eat. The amount of time varies depending on the type of fast.
There are actually quite a few types of fasting strategies. Some are based on caloric restriction, such as reducing daily caloric intake by around 40% for a limited period of time. Others prescribe a complete withdrawal from food for a few days once or several times a year. These are water-only fasts. All of these fasting practices offer significant health benefits that have been scientifically proven in animal and human studies (1, 5, 6, 7). That said, for many people, long fasts are difficult to implement. In most cases, they require doctors’ supervision. However, there is one type of fasting protocol that is safe, easy to follow and is proven to deliver significant health benefits. It is time-restricted eating, also known as intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is characterized by a regular pattern of eating based on our circadian rhythm (or body clock). Quite simply, it means not eating after dinner or too close to bedtime, and waiting a bit before the first meal in the morning, consuming all daily calories within an eight to twelve-hour window.There is a body of science confirming that simply not eating for 13 hours or more (for example from 8 PM to 9 AM or later, delivers tremendous health and longevity benefits. Scientists like Dr. Sachin Panda who study Intermittent Fasting advocate taking the non-eating window to 16 hours where these benefits become especially pronounced.Amazingly, these benefits hold even when the diet is not altered. Not that we advocate eating pizza every day, but for some of us who are having difficulty changing their diet, simply quitting late-night snacks can offer more scientifically proven benefits than trying (and likely failing) any new fad healthy diets.The Benefits of Intermittent FastingThere’s a reason why the rich and famous are obsessed with intermittent fasting right now. They want to live longer, look leaner, and improve their health. And don’t we all? The secret is out: the fasting health benefits are real and incredible.
It seems backward that not eating could help increase your muscle mass, but it’s true. That’s because fasting enhances human growth hormone (HGH) production. Enhanced HGH production leads to better protein synthesis, which is vital for building strong, healthy muscle tissue.
Would you try fasting if it meant you may live longer? Studies show that when it comes to anti-aging, fasting and caloric restriction provide an effective way to increase lifespan. Studies on mice have shown caloric restriction to increase lifespan by directly affecting the key biomarker for age, telomere length, by slowing the rate of their shortening, which defines the aging process. Scientists don’t yet fully understand how the relationship between fasting and longevity works in humans, but there seem to be multiple factors in play.
Fasting, including time-restricted eating, promotes autophagy, an intracellular process by which your body gets rid of damaged cells. Think of it as every cell in your body getting the chance to do some housekeeping. Autophagy is also important in protecting against inflammation and cancer. This process encourages the health of all cells while also promoting tumor cell dissemination. It is known as the body’s “survival mechanism” against cancer. For this reason, fasting has been suggested as part of a treatment plan in cancer therapy. The degree to which autophagy protects against cancer and promotes detoxification is scientifically proven and quite impressive.Dr. Ruth Patteson, Ph.D. who's a professor at the UCSD Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and leader of the Cancer Prevention program at Moores Cancer Center, UCSD, has been researching time-restricted eating. Her clinical study has shown a 40% reduction in breast cancer recurrence in women that were just simply fasting in the evening for 13 hours. You can read a transcript of her interview on Dr. Rhonda Patrick's podcast, which we highly recommend to those interested in digging in deeper.
Fasting has been shown to lower inflammation, which is the leading cause of many diseases from diabetes to cancer to Alzheimer's. Again, this has to do with autophagy (since damaged cells secrete inflammatory chemicals), as well as with lowering blood glucose level. Note that this effect is far more pronounced if the eating window is earlier in the day, aligned with our circadian rhythm. Don’t eat your biggest meal within two hours of sleeping when your body’s glucose metabolism is the lowest. So, if you are pre-diabetic, intermittent fasting could be especially impactful.
When your body goes into a fasting state, it initially raises your metabolic rate, making you use up calories at a higher rate than your body normally would. That is just one way fasting helps with weight loss.Another study also found that intermittent fasting specifically leads individuals to eat fewer calories overall per day. This too can also support weight loss. For those who are on a weight loss journey and are interested in implementing a strategy, fasting is a viable option.
Fasting has a lot of benefits, especially anti-aging. It can help with muscle building, which helps to increase strength and energy. It promotes cellular detoxification (autophagy), which assists in cleaning up your cells. Plus, it’s been shown to increase lifespan, helping you live longer. Fasting is also a useful tool in weight loss, which can improve your quality of life and promote an active lifestyle. All in all, fasting promotes a healthy, vivacious lifestyle at any age, making it way more meaningful than just a fad. When making changes as significant as fasting to your health routine, getting a professional opinion is always a good idea. Discuss with your healthcare provider to see if intermittent fasting might be beneficial for you.Sources: