The potential effects of fasting

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“The ancient Romans, for example, believed that eating more than one large meal, per day, was unhealthy.”

This from the study, “Fasting as a Therapy in Neurological Disease” from the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health.

The study is referring to the perceived importance of fasting in the biological evolution of our species. It goes on to say that throughout history most cultures around the world have incorporated regular fasting into their societal practices. Over these many years, fasting could be considered a very natural contributor to our increased longevity as a species.

Outside of ancient Rome, a more modern-day description of fasting could be: a voluntary abstinence from food – possibly liquids – for specified, recurring periods of time. During balanced intervals, we have a window of several hours a day in which to eat and then we fast for the rest – often termed ‘Intermittent Fasting’.

This fasting period can range approximately 10-15 hours a day, depending on the individual’s state of health, nutritional needs and the recommendations of their dietary or wellness practitioner.

The study depicts a lifestyle characterized by three (or more) meals per day, in conjunction with a fairly sedentary lifestyle. The suggestion is that this type of dietary habit, combined with days of diminished physical activity, may have the potential to adversely impact our health. The potential benefits of taking a periodic break from this – through intermittent fasting – could be significant.

Such benefits, according to this and similar studies, are not necessarily found in saying goodbye to our traditional three-meal lifestyle, long term. The key is the intermittency of the behavior.

In the abstract, “Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications” the effects of periodic fasting have been a reduction in inflammation; increased energy and metabolism; as well as a boost in cellular protection.

“…Fasting extends longevity in part by reprogramming metabolic and stress resistance pathways. In humans, it helps reduce obesity, hypertension, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.”

The abstract also says, “fasting has the potential to delay aging and help prevent and treat diseases while minimizing the side effects caused by chronic dietary interventions.”

Essentially, intermittent fasting appears to place stress on our cells causing an immune response. This response begins to repair cells, producing a positive metabolic change. Specifically, a reduction in triglycerides, weight, blood pressure and blood glucose.

The Harvard Chan School of Public Health has published similar information, alongside this observation:

“An understandable concern of this ‘diet’ is that followers will overeat on non-fasting days to compensate for calories lost during fasting. However, studies have not shown this to be true when compared with other weight loss methods.”

Intermittent fasting has benefits beyond its potential as a weight-management tool. Currently shown to boost and improve neuron activity, plasticity and resilience – with the potential to counteract an array of neurological disorders.

From “Fasting as a Therapy in Neurological Disease” benefits include, “improved cognition, stalling age-related cognitive decline, [usually] slowing neurodegeneration, reducing brain damage and enhancing functional recovery after stroke. Mitigating the pathological and clinical features of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.”

The study says there is evidence that fasting can affect established tumors and tumor response to chemotherapy, as well.

During times of nutritional scarcity, our system strives to conserve resources and repair damage. As we cross our multicellular fingers, we may be activating pre-cursors for longevity.

In the case of some yeast cells – when they enter a period deprived of nutrients – stress tolerance and life span increases.

When complex multicellular organisms – we are talking frogs, lungfish and snakes – are exposed to nutrient scarcity their cognitive levels elevate and their ability to seek food is increased.

Lions, switched from their heavier daily feeding regime and temporarily placed on a schedule of approximately three meals per week, have shown a reduction in anxious behaviors – such as pacing – and an increase in beneficial adaptive and hunting-related behaviors.

We humans have our own equivalent to anxious-hunter behaviour. With a dietitian-tailored outline, intermittent fasting may provide some enduring overall benefits.