Studies have demonstrated that reducing typical calorie consumption, usually by 30 to 40 percent, extends life span by a third or more in many animals, including fruit flies, nematodes and rodents. But the jury remains out, when it comes to calorie restriction in primates and individuals.
Although some studies have suggested that primates that eat less live longer, research concluded that restriction does not extend average life span in some species of monkeys. A section of the data confirms the idea that limiting food intake reduces the dangers of diseases common in older age and lengthens the period of life spent in good health, even if the research concludes that restriction does not help people live longer.
If only one could claim those advantages without being hungry all the time. In recent years researchers have concentrated on a strategy known as intermittent fasting as a promising option to continuous calorie restriction.
Intermittent fasting, including everything from regular multi-day fasts to skipping a meal or 2 on particular days of the week, may encourage a number of the identical health benefits that uninterrupted calorie restriction promises. The idea of intermittent fasting is palatable to people since somebody does not need to renounce the joys of eating. Studies suggest that rodents live as long as rats eating foods every moment consuming fewer calories overall than they would normally.
In a 2003 mouse analysis controlled by Mark Mattson, head of the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience lab, mice that fasted regularly were healthier by some measures than mice subjected to constant calorie limitation; they had reduced levels of glucose and insulin in their blood, by way of instance, which signified increased sensitivity to insulin and a reduced risk of diabetes.
The First Fasts
Religions have long claimed that fasting is good for the soul, but its bodily benefits weren’t widely known until the early 1900s, when doctors began recommending it to treat different disorders, such as diabetes, obesity and epilepsy.
Associated research on calorie restriction took off in the 1930’s, following Cornell University nutritionist Clive McCay found that rats exposed to stringent daily dieting in an early age lived longer and were less likely to develop cancer and other ailments as they elderly, compared with animals that ate at will. Research on calorie restriction and periodic fasting intersected in 1945, when University of Chicago scientists reported that alternate-day feeding extended the life span of rats as much as exercising in McCay experiments. Additionally, intermittent fasting “appears to delay the development of the disorders that cause death,” that the Chicago researchers wrote.
Within the upcoming decades study into anti-aging diets took a backseat to more powerful clinical advances, like the continued development of antibiotics and coronary artery bypass operation. However, researchers also have resisted the idea that intermittent fasting lowers the risks of degenerative brain diseases in later life. Mattson and his colleagues have shown that fasting protects neurons from several types of harmful stress, at least in rodents. Among the earliest studies demonstrated that alternate-day feeding made the rats’ brains as they age, that induce damage akin to the kind cells endure. In follow-up rodent research, his team discovered that fasting slows cognitive decline in mice genetically engineered to mimic the signs of Alzheimer’s, suppresses motor deficits in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease and protects against stroke damage. The 55-year-old researcher, who has a Ph.D. in biology although not a medical degree, has written or co-authored over 700 posts.
Mattson believes that intermittent fasting functions in part as a kind of moderate stress that continually revs up mobile defenses against molecular damage. For instance, occasional fasting increases the degrees of “chaperone proteins,” which forbid the incorrect assembly of other molecules at the cell. Additionally, fasting mice have greater degrees of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that prevents nervous nerves from dying. Low levels of BDNF are linked to Alzheimer’s, although it is still unclear whether these findings reflect cause and effect. Fasting also ramps up a sort of system in cells which eliminates damaged molecules, autophagy, including ones that have been tied to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
One of intermittent fasting’s major effects seems to be raising the body’s responsiveness to insulin, the hormone which regulates blood glucose. Sensitivity to insulin accompanies and obesity has been associated with diabetes and heart failure; people and long-lived animals tend to have unusually low insulinbecause their cells are more sensitive to the endocrine and therefore require less of it. A recent study in the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., revealed that mice that feasted on fatty foods for 2 hours each day and subsequently fasted for the remainder of each day did not become obese or show dangerously high insulin levels.
The idea that periodic fasting may offer some of the same health benefits as continuous calorie restriction–and allows for a few feasting while shedding down–has persuaded an increasing number of people to attempt it, says Steve Mount, a University of Maryland genetics professor who has moderated a Yahoo discussion group on intermittent fasting for more than seven decades. Intermittent fasting “isn’t a panacea–it’s always hard to lose weight,” adds Mount, who has fasted three days per week since 2004. “But the concept [that it activates the identical signaling pathways in cells as calorie restriction] makes sense.”
Further Research Still Needed
Despite the increasing excitement for intermittent fasting, scientists have conducted several powerful clinical trials, and its long term effects in people remain unclear. Still, a 1956 Spanish study sheds some light, states Louisiana-based physician James B. Johnson, who co-authored a 2006 evaluation of the research’s results. In the study, 60 men and women fasted and feasted on alternate days for 3 years. The 60 participants spent at the infirmary, and six died. Meanwhile, the 60 nonfasting seniors racked up 219 days that were infirmary, and 13 died.
In 2007 Johnson, Mattson and their colleagues published a clinical research demonstrating a quick, significant alleviation of asthma symptoms and various indications of inflammation in nine overweight asthmatics who near-fasted another day for 2 weeks.
Detracting from these promising results, however, the literature on intermittent fasting also includes several red flags. A 2011 study in rats suggests that long-term intermittent fasting raises tissue levels and blood sugar of compounds that may damage cells. In a 2010 study stiff heart tissue, which subsequently hastens the ability of the organ to pump blood was developed by occasionally fasting rats.
And a few weight-loss experts are skeptical about fasting, mentioning its hunger pangs and the possible hazards of compensatory gorging. Truly, the latest primate study on calorie restriction–the one that failed to extend life span–underscores the need for caution when altering the way people eat.
However, from an evolutionary perspective, three meals a day is a peculiar modern invention. Volatility in our ancestors’ food supplies brought on fasting–not to mention starvation and malnutrition. Yet Mattson considers that pressures that are such selected for genes that brain areas involved in learning and memory, which increased the likelihood of finding food and surviving. Intermittent fasting may be both smartening and a wise way, if he’s correct.
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By Dr. Alex Jimenez
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