What Are the Health Benefits of Fasting?
A recent article in JAMA— "Can a Diet that Mimics Fasting Turn Back the Clock? " — really got me thinking. Can you add years to your life by restricting your calories?
The concept is not new. Researchers have known for at least 80 years that if you reduce your calories by 20 to 50 percent -- without skimping on nutrition – you may be able to dramatically increase your lifespan. It’s been shown in yeast, fish, worms, monkeys and now, perhaps, people.
Caloric restriction diets aren't easy. Who likes being hungry all the time? But there may be a way around constant hunger. And it’s intermittent fasting.
Fasting is really nothing more than combining your daily caloric restrictions into one stretch. Yes, it’s more severe than limiting your calories each day, but it can be easier. And you don’t need to fast for a long time before you see results.
The first study that showed benefits of fasting on weight, cholesterol and blood pressure was published in 2011. Researchers asked a group of women to cut their daily calories by 25 percent, two days a week and eat normally five days a week. The results were impressive and dawned the 5:2 fasting plan. But if you think about it, this equals eight days of “fasting” in a typical month.
If this still sounds difficult, don’t worry. I have more suggestions.
A study conducted by Valter Longo, PhD, professor of gerontology and biological studies, University of Southern, also found success using a “fasting mimicking protocol.” Dr. Longo had subjects restrict their normal caloric intake by 60 percent for five days during the month, three months in a row. This means subjects ate normally for 25 days and “fasted” for five days.
Results showed subjects lost weight and lowered their blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar, IGF-1 (a cancer marker of cancer and risk for aging) and C reactive protein (an inflammation marker and risk for heart disease). Generally, fasting (or significantly restricting calories) for five days seems to help repair or replace damaged cells. And after all, normal aging is simply damaged cells that go unrepaired.
You can try Dr. Longo’s plan. Five-day meal plans are available on ProLon. Dr. Longo consults for ProLon but donates his consult fees to charity.
The plan is pricey, but convenient – all the food you need to eat for five days is boxed and shipped to you. And the food is plant based, low in protein and carbs, and rich in healthy fats. On your first day you’ll eat 1,100 calories. Days two through five you’ll cut your calories to 750.
Make sure you consult your physician before trying a fasting diet plan; it’s not for everyone. You can become quite sick if you fast with a blood sugar problem like diabetes or hypoglycemia. And some medications don’t lend themselves well to fasting.
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