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Can Fasting Help You Live Longer?

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Can fasting help you live longer?

The short answer is that it is unknown whether or not fasting helps you live longer. 

But there is no question that fasting has many health benefits. 

Much of this research goes back several decades. 

For example, in 2003, a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted that caloric restriction extends the life span and reduces the likelihood of chronic diseases in many animals, such as rats, mice, fish, and even worms. 

Yet other studies in monkeys have shown that reducing caloric intake does not extend their life span. 

So the authors rightly note that preventing people from eating is unethical, and hence cannot be studied in a controlled manner. 

However...part of the problem is that "fasting" is an ambiguous term.

What is fasting? Not eating for three days? Two days? Eating every other day? Something else?

Perhaps, more importantly, what exactly is happening during the fast which provides the health benefit?

One popular theory is that mild fasting causes "stress" in the body. 

Now stress is usually a bad thing, but in this case, stress refers to the body's response to less food. 

That response comes in the form of a heightened immune system, increased levels of brain peptides which protect brain neurons, and other factors in our body which protect and preserve normal function. 

Fasting also ramps up a process called "autophagy" in which our immune system recognizes and disposes of proteins and organelles which are damaged. 

This could be the reason why some patients benefit from fasting when suffering from diseases such as epilepsy, asthma, and other conditions. 

The other major benefit is increased insulin sensitivity. 

Decreased insulin sensitivity occurs when we consume too much sugar, fat, and other unhealthy food ingredients. 

By reducing or eliminating these items from our diet, our body produces less insulin (thereby sparing the pancreas from working too hard), and the cells which need insulin become more sensitive the insulin that is present in our blood stream.

The net result, the reversal of any pre-diabetic symptoms, or the outright prevention of diabetes even taking hold. 

What is clear is that the idea of eating three times a day is a model which follows our modern way of working. That is, breakfast before work, lunch at work, then dinner in the evening. 

Our ancestors probably had to fast simply due to a lack of reliable food supply, and gorged on food when it was abundant. 

Fasting Is Not Big Business

Let's face it. Nobody makes money from fasting. 

If anything, companies make money when we eat!

Restaurants, television networks, supermarkets...all want us to eat...and eat...and eat. 

Nobody is going to make money from skipping breakfast. yet it is ironic that skipping breakfast could lead to longer life, meaning that breakfast sniper will be around longer to spend money on other things!

How Do I Get Started?

We have a few suggestions if you want to start fasting. 

First, it's important to start slowly. One approach we like is the "5:2 Diet."

Incidentally, we HATE the use of the word diet when it comes to fasting. "Diet" implies we're doing this for weight loss. 

While weight loss will be a natural consequence of this, and it is easy to measure, we have to think long term about our fasting. 

Anyway, the 5:2 approach is to eat normally for five days a week (say, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday), but eat 25-20% fewer calories on two days of the week (say Tuesdays and Thursdays). 

After 2-3 weeks of this, expand the 25-30% lower calories to additional days of the week. 

You may have to adjust this if you exercise routinely, as consumption of nutrients is an important factor in recovering from running, cycling, or other vigorous exercise. So plan your exercise and meals accordingly. 

Eventually, you can start experimenting with skipping meals entirely, or having very light meals compared to what you have today, i.e., an apple and a cup of tea for breakfast. 

Tell Us About It

Do you currently fast? Share your experiences with us!

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