Can Fasting Help Boost Longevity?
Intermittent fasting is all the rage at the moment, and research indicates that it may help with some medical conditions and overall well-being. Encouraging evidence has emerged that the practice may be beneficial for weight as well as reducing risks of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
However, not all medical experts are fans of intermittent fasting. If you’re interested in trying it for your overall well-being and longevity, what do you need to know to get started safely?
What is intermittent fasting?
You may have heard a variety of definitions of intermittent fasting. That’s because a variety of ways exist to engage in it. In general, intermittent fasting is a diet plan that designates periods of eating and fasting. Fasts can be daily — such as eating for eight hours and fasting for 16 — or can last for longer periods. For instance, some people use a method known as 5:2, which involves eating normally for five days of the week and eschewing food for two non-consecutive days.
Fasting — for religious reasons, medical benefits and weight loss — is not a new concept, but research in the past few years has shed more light on the mechanics of how fasting affects the body.
A variety of health benefits
Intermittent fasting can provide benefits for our brains and bodies in a number of ways, experts say.
Recent studies have found that caloric restriction, along with fasting, may play a positive role in extending lifespan. A growing body of research indicates that intermittent fasting may help with numerous markers for chronic diseases, including cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin resistance. Fasting for intermittent periods — in conjunction with chemotherapy — also may slow the progression of some types of cancers. It may also help mitochondria work better to process energy, which may contribute to healthy aging and longevity.
The practice of intermittent fasting has been demonstrated as effective for fat loss. By draining the body of glucose reserves, fasting forces the body to switch over to burning fat.
In addition, intermittent fasting may help slow the brain aging process — resulting in better cognition and brain health. It may lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and it may help improve memory and lower the risk of depression.
Proceed with caution
Some experts feel that fasting — particularly the extended variety that involves taking in no nutrients for days in a row — can be risky, and that even shorter fasts may not be necessary. It may be that simply reducing calories, and not the act of fasting itself, provides the benefits. Earlier studies have indicated that caloric restriction is linked to a longer lifespan, along with reduction of risk for disease.
Regardless, many people have added fasting to their repertoire of strategies to improve health and well-being. If you decide to try intermittent fasting, be sure to check with your doctor first. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, can increase the risk of adverse events associated with fasting.
Once you get the all-clear from your doctor, consider starting your foray into intermittent fasting slowly — such as with a 12-hour fast. Once you’re comfortable and you feel that you can keep hunger at bay, you can begin extending your fasting window to one that feels right for you.