Periodic Fasting May Help Us Live Longer

A large number of you with children may remember the common battle many families have over the dinner table: concerned parents trying to coax their children into finishing their food. While we know that young bodies need nourishment in order to grow, new studies in health and longevity are emerging, showing us that eating less as we age may actually result in us living longer.

Periodic Fasting May Help Us Live Longer

Intermittent Fasting for Health and Longevity

On a basic level, human physiology fluctuates between two modes: the fasted and the fed state. Soon after eating, our physiology flips its switch to the fed state — usually in response to hormones that respond to rising blood glucose levels from food.

On a basic level, human physiology fluctuates between two modes: the fasted and the fed state.

When we’re fed, our body’s resources are invested into building, creating new cells in our blood, bone, muscles, brain and even fat. A few hours after a meal, when glucose levels begin to dwindle, the body enters a state of fasting, in which old cells are retired, broken down and recycled into their parts. It’s during this time that the body “cleans house”.

We spent much of our evolutionary history hunting and gathering food and experiencing periods of scarcity. It’s likely then that our bodies adapted to thrive and, perhaps even depend, on periodic fasts for optimal functioning.

We now live in a society that enjoys food abundance: with 24-hour convenience stores and fast food restaurants at our disposal, we can eat anything we want, whenever we want. This excess of food is connected with the rise in chronic conditions, such as obesity and metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

The Fasting Mimicking Diet

Ancient healing systems have long recognized the benefits of fasting for purifying and healing the body. Today, research is accumulating that confirms this, suggesting that fasting may help us treat diseases like multiple sclerosis and cancer, reduce the risk of chronic metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, dementia and cardiovascular disease and help us live longer.

Ancient healing systems have long recognized the benefits of fasting for purifying and healing the body.

Dr. Valter Longo is a professor and director of the USC Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. In his work on aging, fasting and longevity, he has discovered that fasting-like diets can help with lowering the risk factors for certain diseases and slow down the aging process. Recognizing the difficulty in going days without food, Dr. Longo developed a “Fasting-Mimicking Diet” a 5-day dietary protocol, involving the consumption of small snacks that provide about 750-1,000 kilocalories per day — that essentially tricks the body into thinking it’s fasting.

Healthy humans who underwent cycles of Dr. Longo’s Fasting-Mimicking Diet had lower risk factors that were associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, such as lowered blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels. These markers remained improved, even after the subjects returned to a normal diet.

Time-Restricted Feeding

Our over-fed culture associates the word “diet” with restriction, often with the goal of weight loss in mind. However, as a naturopathic doctor, there are various therapeutic diets that I recommend to my patients in order to help them achieve specific health goals.

These may include weight loss, if indicated, but also encompass the goals of reducing inflammation, identifying food sensitivities, improving nutrient status, preventing and treating certain health conditions and, of course, increasing quantity and quality of life.

While a Fasting Mimicking Diet may seem like a daunting therapy to take on, a simpler fasting strategy that I often recommend to my patients is something called Time-Restricted Feeding, where food intake is limited to 8-12 hours throughout the day — essentially, I tell my patients to avoid snacking after dinner. When humans restrict their food intake to 12 hours in the day and avoid late-night snacking, they experience weight loss (even without trying), increased day-time energy and improved sleep. Researchers thinks that this is because the circadian rhythms that control our sleep-wake cycle also control the hormones associated with appetite, digestion, blood sugar control and even the stress response.

When we give our bodies ample time away from food each day (in this case 12 hours during the evening and night), our bodies can invest in rebuilding and repairing, resulting in an improvement in health and an increase in longevity.

While research in to fasting may be too new for widespread recommendations to be made, older adults interested in living long, healthy lives can talk to their medical or naturopathic doctors about using Fasting Mimicking Diets or Time-Restricted Feeding in order to improve their overall health and manage certain chronic conditions.

About the Writer

Talia Marcheggiani

Dr. Talia is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Canada. She has a special focus in mental health, hormone health and community medicine.

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