Recent Research on Fasting: Fasting is a very old ritual to boost health that is found in religions all over the world and is rooted in natural ancestral cycles of feast and famine. Before we had grocery stores, restaurants, and even food delivery services- there were often times with very little to no food. Following times of famine, there was an abundance of food (following a successful harvest, forage, or hunt). Even animal wisdom harnesses the power of fasting- like dogs, that will intuitively stop eating when they are sick. More and more studies are emerging on the incredible benefits of fasting, not only for health but also suggesting a boost in longevity.
Fasting diets have nothing to do with WHAT or HOW MUCH you eat, but WHEN you eat. Intermittent fasting (or IF) is the art of restricted time eating, so instead of counting calories or restricting what types of foods you eat- the entire “diet” relies on when you do and don’t eat.
Recent Research on Fasting
Have Your Cake And Eat It Too: Boost Health and Longevity Not By Changing What You Eat, But When You Eat.
Intermittent Fasting Research
Although Intermittent Fasting to boost health has gained popularity in more recent years, its wisdom dates back to our ancestors from the stone age. Apart from periods of feast and famine, our ancestors’ lives were also heavily dictated by the sun’s rising and setting; activities like eating naturally happened during the day. Our exposure to light, food, and movement are the main tenets that inform and program our circadian rhythm. This internal rhythm influences everything from sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions.1 Intermittent fasting plays a role in giving the body an adequate period of rest from digestion, enabling it to heal and thrive.
Research on Fasting is Extensive
Many of the studies regarding fasting to boost health and longevity have been done on animals. However, these studies suggest promising effects on metabolic functions, health, and lifespan for humans. Although there are many variables, Rafael de Cabo, a scientist at the National Institute on Aging and the study’s lead author, explains that;
“in the absence of calorie restriction, and independent of diet composition, fasting mice do better than non-fasting”.2
Boost Health! The ever-increasing research regarding fasting suggests some incredible health and longevity benefits, including:
- A boost in stem cells
- Boost in ketones
- Hormone optimization
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Reset the microbiome
- Reset of the DNA (gene code)
- Decrease in inflammation
- A decrease in oxidative stress
- Reduced instances of chronic disease and obesity
- Protection against unusual deterioration of cognitive function
- Fat loss
- Cancer prevention
- Promotion of better sleep
- More satiety/ reduced hunger
Although benefits are often examined as individual points, they are very much intertwined to promote overall longevity. One of the main ways IF leads to longevity is “multi-system regeneration,” which fasting researcher Dr. Valter Longo explains occurs during the presence of ketones in the blood. The autophagy process that happens during a fasting period breaks down weak and damaged cells, which are then replaced with new stem cells after food is reintroduced.
“You get rid of the junk during starvation — and once you have food, you can rebuild… The damaged cells are replaced with new cells, working cells — and now the system starts working properly.”
Research on Fasting: Health and Longevity
All these benefits suggest a direct link between fasting and longevity, although conducting a clinical longevity study in humans is unfeasible at the moment, for it would cost “a hundred million dollars or more,” according to Longo. “But if you look at the data from our trial … it would be hard to see how they would not live longer.”
Dr. Valter Longo and Dr. Satchin Panda’s study demonstrated that a 12-hour feeding window reduced blood cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, body weight, body fat, inflammation, and dysbiosis, and increased energy expenditure, motor control, endurance, sleep, and cardiac function.3 Their study examined the intricate relationship between time-restricted feeding (IF), and circadian health. It ultimately concluded that limiting your eating window to a minimum of 12 hours reduces biological age, which is irrelevant to any dietary changes! Indeed, their study suggests that you can have your cake and eat it too… so long as you do so within your eating window.
Research on Fasting: How To Do It
There are many different fasting styles ranging from multiple days water-only fasts, to bone broth fasts, to alternate-day fasting… but intermittent fasting is conceptually incredibly simple: engage in a particular restricted eating window, preferably rooted in 2 meals (and no snacking). This might seem not too far off from your current habits, but studies show the average American eats 17-21 times a day! This is detrimental to our health and longevity.
Classic Intermittent Fasting: The Eating Window
The key is, aforementioned, restricting your eating window. Science suggests a very minimum of 12 hours to see any benefits, so if you have no experience fasting- start there. If you eat your first meal at 8 am, no food (or beverage other than plain water) after 8 pm.4 From there, extend the fasting window to ideally (at least) 16 hours. Whether you decide to skip breakfast or dinner is completely personal; find what works best for your schedule and which option is more sustainable over the long run. A 2018 study comparing a 12-hour feeding window to an 8-hour feeding window demonstrated that although both groups lost weight, those in the 8-hour feeding window group dramatically lowered insulin levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and significantly lowered blood pressure in only five weeks.5
Research on Fasting: One Meal a Day
“One meal a day” (or OMAD) is an extreme version of intermittent fasting. An individual shortens their eating window to essentially the duration of one single meal. The benefits of this technique essentially amplify all the aforementioned benefits of a 16/8 IF protocol. OMAD gives the body even more time in this resting (vs. digesting) state. OMAD is not for everyone- nor should it be the goal. Consuming one meal a day can be more taxing on the adrenal system. OMAD could even induce more detoxification than an individual can handle at once. Like any type of good stress (exercise, sauna, cold therapy), the adrenals and overall system must be strong enough to withstand the short-term stressor. Ease into intermittent fasting at your own pace, and always listen to your body.
- Longo, Valter D., and Satchidananda Panda. “Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 23, no. 6, 2016, pp. 1048–1059., doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001.
- Mitchell, Sarah J., et al. “Daily Fasting Improves Health and Survival in Male Mice Independent of Diet Composition and Calories.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 29, no. 1, Jan. 2019, doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2018.08.011
- NIH. “Circadian Rhythms.” National Institute of General Medical Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2017, www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/Pages/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.aspx
- Sutton, Elizabeth F., et al. “Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 27, no. 6, 2018, doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2018.04.010.
- Wei, Min, et al. “Fasting-Mimicking Diet and Markers/Risk Factors for Aging, Diabetes, Cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease.” Science Translational Medicine, vol. 9, no. 377, 2017, doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aai8700.