Can Periodic Fasting Improve Aging?
In an endless quest to improve the aging process, fasting has been suggested by some as an effective means to do so.
Periodic fasting refers to taking time out of your regular eating pattern to fast (not take in food) for a few days to a week. During that time, most people will drink water or juices but will allow their gut to clear out of solid waste before starting to eat again. This is done every month or however often the person feels like fasting.
However, does periodic fasting improve the aging process?
Very few studies like this have been done in humans but they have been done in animal models. In one study on mice, it has been shown that episodic fasting has been found to protect the animal against diseases relating to the aging process.
Since the cellular makeup of mice is similar to humans, it has been suggested that this type of fasting may be helpful in human subjects as well.
The Process of Fasting
Fasting can be very difficult to do. In the most extreme form of fasting, no food is taken in whatsoever with the exception of water in order to prevent dehydration. In less extreme forms of fasting, clear liquids like juices or Gatorade is allowed in order to provide some calories along with hydration.
Some fasting diets include vegetable juices made by juicing vegetables together with water in a juicer.
The idea behind fasting is to rid the body of toxins that build up in the gut as a part of the normal eating process. Bad bacteria are flushed out of the system and the liver is given a rest from eating the processed foods that make up a big part of the American diet.
Fasting is also done to lose weight although the weight loss doesn’t usually last once the person begins to eat again.
Results of the Study
In the study suggested above, published in the journal “Cell Metabolism,” mice were given no food for a period of time and then were allowed to eat a regular diet between periods of fasting. The researchers measured various biomarkers that predict an increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
They discovered that the biomarker levels in fasting animals dropped dramatically when compared to animals who did not fast and maintained eating their normal diets.
Diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are believed to be some of the diseases related to aging. Some of them have protein-based biomarkers that indicate the incidence of these diseases. In those animals who fasted, the levels of biomarkers were reduced. This can have a significant impact on these diseases as they relate to the aging process.
The fasting diet was also done in human studies. The fasting diet was made up of calorie restriction lasting five days in a row during a given month. The participants did not fast completely but were given energy bars, vegetable soups, tea, and drinks along with a supplement that added up to 1,090 calories on the first day and only 725 calories of food on the other four days of the fast. During the rest of the time, the participants were allowed to eat a normal diet.
This type of fasting diet was done in animals (namely mice) and showed increased health among the mice who participated in a fasting diet. The mice who fasted suffered from decreased loss of bone, a longer lifespan, and not as many cancers.
The researchers felt that the same thing could take place in humans who fasted in a similar way to the animals. The fasting does not have to be continuous but can be done on a periodic basis throughout one’s life in order to combat the effects of aging.
Clinical trials in larger groups of people are being planned. The biggest question in these types of studies and in real life is whether or not the humans can sustain such a diet. Fasting, as mentioned, will cause a temporary loss in weight but permanent weight loss is not believed to be sustainable unless the individual makes changes in their diet that they can stick with as a part of a normal and ongoing diet plan.