People do short fasts and long fasts for many reasons. Some claim that it helps to reduce the risk of disease, to clean out toxins from the body. While other people do it for spiritual and religious reasons. I’ve had quite a lot of experience with short fasts of about one to three days, but never more than this. Is there any benefit going beyond this?
In 2007 I experimented with fasting by consuming most of my calories early in the day and creating a cut-off point where I wouldn’t eat beyond a certain time. So I would wake up by 7 am and consume all my calories for the day by 2 pm.
Although it’s going back a bit, I remember feeling a lot more alert, and I could fall asleep faster and sleep better. Aside from the noises in my stomach — which usually came on at the most inconvenient times — the long fasts each day were pretty easy for me too because at the time I had so much going on with college and work, I didn’t have much time to think about food.
I guess I’ve always found any kind of dietary pattern very easy to adapt to. Even when I was consuming a mere 1550 calories per day for several years, I didn’t find it too difficult.
After about 5 years I decided to increase my calorie intake so that I could increase my BMI a little and be safe; as I thought to have such a low BMI was too risky at that time. I did this experiment where I would stop eating early in the day for about a year and then returned to my normal pattern of eating.
Using fasting to maintain a low-calorie diet: In the last few years, I have settled into just fasting one day a week. This not only gives my body a rest, but it helps lower the average calorie intake across the week if I had eaten too much on any particular day.
In animal studies, it is the total calorie intake that matters when it comes to slow down aging; not when the calories were eaten. I find this method very effective and easy to do and makes it even easier to maintain a low-calorie diet.
Benefits of Fasting: As for the health benefits of fasting, yes, they do exist! But you do not have to fast for a crazy amount of time to get them. When a person fasts, their body releases certain hormones such as Ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and has many beneficial effects on the body such as:
- Increased motivation
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Protective against neurodegenerative diseases
- Enhances learning and memory
When you fast you also increase the production of a protein called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein is also increased when a person is on a calorie restricted diet or is exercising. The beneficial effects of BDNF are primarily:
- Enhanced learning and memory
- Protection against neurodegeneration diseases; Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Increased neurogenesis (creation of new neurons in the brain)
Back in 2012, there was an excellent documentary called Eat, Fast, and Live Longer. Michael Mosley investigated the research behind calorie restriction, fasting, and aging.
He traveled around the united states to speak to researchers who are at the cutting-edge of aging research to find out which is the best way to reduce the risk of disease and possibly slow down aging.
During the show, he spoke to Mark Mattson who is an expert in his field. He explained how beneficial fasting is for the brain and how well it delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in mice that are destined to get it at an early age.
To speed up the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers put Fructose in their drinking water. The mice on the high sugar diet without being fasted developed the disease earlier than the mice that were fasted!
Hear about the incredible results in the video below!
Prolonged fasting can be dangerous to one’s health, especially to the heart. In one study conducted on rats, they showed that every-other-day fasting caused diastolic dysfunction The heart became stiff and did not relax properly. They also showed reduced systolic pump function.
So the advice would be to be careful with prolonged fasts. One day is totally fine and will not hurt you. There is no need for 1-week fasts.
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7. Ahmet I1, Wan R, Mattson MP, Lakatta EG, Talan MI. Chronic alternate-day fasting results in reduced diastolic compliance and diminished systolic reserve in rats. J Card Fail. 2010 Oct;16(10):843-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cardfail.2010.05.007. Epub 2010 Jul 1.
Article reviewed and updated 09/2018