The benefits of fasting are well known, it has been shown consistently that it may prolong lifespan and ameliorate conditions related to ageing. Being a core part of religion fasting was known to improve health and it was unknown where these effects originated. Today with the support of science, understanding is increasing in respect to the underlying biological changes. Studies on mice have also repeatedly shown that fasting may increase their lifespan.
This new study by Wegman and colleagues at the University of Florida College of Medicine, has focused on the benefits of intermittent fasting. In the paper published in the journal rejuvenation research, participants had a day eating 175% of their usual calorie intake followed by a day eating 25% of their usual daily caloric intake. This meant on average that a male participant would eat 4550 calories on the first day and 650 calories the following day. This pattern was alternated so a fasting day always followed a feasting day for 3 weeks.
The participants ate on fasting days foods that the researchers described as “normal” such as potatoes and beef and were only allowed one meal on that day. On the feasting days participants ate foods that had a higher carbohydrate component. The participants found fasting easier than feasting as they found it challenging to keep up with the calorie intake of feasting. Over a period of 10 weeks, the researchers measured their health, by weighing the participants, measuring their sugar and cholesterol levels, measuring heart rate and blood pressure and analysed genes involved in protective cell responses. Michael Guo, commented, “We found that intermittent fasting caused a slight increase to SIRT3, a well known gene that promotes longevity and is involved in protective cell responses.”
Fasting may stimulate the expression of the SIRT3 gene; this gene produces sirtuins that are protective proteins that extend the life of cells. This may occur as a result of oxidants and the free radicals that age cells. This suggests that fasting may produce a beneficial protective response within cells and DNA. These findings may dispute whether the tendency of the population to use antioxidant supplements is in fact renewing their cells or leaving the cells more prone to deterioration because of the protective response to oxidants. The researchers repeated the study using vitamin supplements and found that the supplements counteracted the positive protective responses due to fasting. Wegman commented, “The hypothesis is that if the body is intermittently exposed to reduced levels of urgency, it may build a better response to it.”
With debate in the media about diabetes and dieting currently relevant this study may support individuals to shift their mentality in ways that alleviate these conditions. In relation to the current increasing prevalence of these conditions, the study by Wegman and colleagues found the benefits of decreased insulin levels, suggesting an anti-diabetes effect from intermittent fasting. The benefit of intermittent fasting the team found, was that individuals may find it efficient to follow this type of fasting than full time fasting which few individuals may tolerate. It was shown that a slight calorie restriction on a day or two of the week was enough to gain benefits.
The productive aspect of this study demonstrates that an individual may improve the quality of their health by activity that may have been considered detrimental by some individuals. It provides a perspective that may be more beneficial to the health of the population and with convincing evidence, provides an alternative therapy for improving health that is effective without including surgery or medication. Individuals may feel empowered to try intermittent fasting to gain the documented benefits and feel more in control of their lives.
In what ways may an individual improve the quality of their health without including surgery and medication?