The Power of Fasting

Fasting, as a religious practice, has been a part of human traditions for centuries. It is mentioned in all the holy books including the Bible, the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita.

In today’s increasingly materialistic and gluttonous world, fasting seems to be ridiculous. However several recent studies demonstrate the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Some of the well-known intermittent fast diets are:

  • The 5:2 Fast Diet, the commonest one, which recommends 5 days normal eating and 25% less calorie intake for 2 days. Following this plan, people showed improvements in hypertension, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity.
  • The periodic fasting, defined as 1 day of water-only fasting a week, showed reduced risk of diabetes in people with high risk of diabetes.
  • The longer periods of fasting of 2-4 days, formulated by the University of Southern California (USC) researchers, showed to “reboot” the immune system and improvement in cell damage caused by aging or chemotherapy.

After around 8 hours of a meal, body utilizes glucose, stored in liver and muscles, followed by the burning of fat and resulting in weight loss. At the same time the toxins trapped in fat tissue are dissolved and removed, as shown by the higher levels of blood endorphins (feel-good hormones) after a few days of fasting.

However many clinicians are against fasting. According to the UK’s National Health Service, intermittent fasting may result in, dehydration, stress, sleep-disruption, headache and heartburn. Moreover fasting may also steer people away from healthy eating recommendations and trigger eating disorders.

However there is a way to obtain the potential health benefits of fasting without actually having to fast.

Researchers from USC have formulated a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD), simulating the effect of fasting without food deprivation and related side effects. FMD consisted of high level of beneficial fats and low levels of protein and unhealthy fats. It stimulated fasting markers, like, low glucose levels and high levels of ketone bodies and triggered immune cell regeneration and extended the lifespan of mice.  People following FMD (5 days/month for 3 months), showed reduced risk factors associated with aging, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and cancer. Thus FMD could be effective in improving human life span.

Experts think that, FMD is arguably the first non-chronic pre-clinically and clinically tested anti-ageing and health span-promoting intervention shown to work. However a larger randomised trial is required to confirm the results.

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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