What’s All The Chatter About Fasting?

Fasting — the act of intentionally refraining from eating — has been a common activity in select groups of people for centuries. You’ll find ritual fasting practices in religious traditions from Christianity and Buddhism to Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and many others. In modern times, fasting is showing up in a variety of health philosophies as a way to cleanse the body and mind and, yes, to lose a few extra pounds.

A recent university study has uncovered possibly another benefit to calorie restriction: a longer life span with fewer age-related diseases.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied two groups of rhesus monkeys over a two-year period. One group ate a standard diet; the other a similar diet but with 30 percent fewer calories. The focus of the study was the liver, the bodily organ that processes nutrients and is known to play a key role in metabolic health.

We are now at the beginning of a very exciting journey to discover how calorie restriction works on the molecular level.

- Rozalyn Anderson, Ph.D.

The results of the study titled “Caloric Restriction Engages Hepatic RNA Processing Mechanism in Rhesus Monkeys” were published in March 2018 in the journal Cell Metabolism. More than 20,000 molecules in the liver tissue of the subject animals were cataloged and analyzed through numerous complex scientific techniques to understand how and why the restriction of calories affects the aging process.

Studies show calorie restriction may delay aging and the onset of age-related disease.

In simple terms, the livers of the calorie-restricted monkeys experienced a significant reprogramming in the way proteins, carbohydrates and lipids were channeled and processed. Associate Professor of Medicine Rozalyn Anderson, Ph.D., a contributor to the study, noted that a reduced-calorie diet has long been known to increase the life span of monkeys in clinical trials, but the new study is the first to show why this is the case.

Speaking with MDLinx.com, Anderson said, “We are now at the beginning of a very exciting journey to discover how calorie restriction works on the molecular level.”

What was amazing to Anderson and others on the research team was how a reduction in calories brought into play RNA processing and other unexpected control mechanisms. Anderson said the study demonstrated “profound metabolic effects in a whole host of age-associated diseases that are otherwise unrelated. We think that the metabolic response to [a reduced-calorie diet] is at the very heart of its ability to delay aging and the onset of age-related disease.”

Fasting Applications

Along with potentially increasing life span and warding off age-related illnesses, there are other reasons people engage in the practice of fasting. Those who fast as part of their religion say the act helps cleanse and purify their minds, allowing them to focus on more lofty ideals. From a purely physical standpoint, periods of nonconsumption of food allow food that’s already in the digestive tract to be completely digested and metabolized before more is added and a sluggish, repetitive cycle is begun.

It takes energy to digest food, and that energy has to come from somewhere. You’ve probably experienced a feeling of exhaustion after eating a very large meal. This is because many body systems use up energy in processing that volume of food. Periodic fasting preserves much of that energy, allowing it to be used for important mental and physical tasks.

And, of course, there’s the weight-loss application. Fewer calories mean less leftover energy to turn to fat. As long as the time spent fasting isn’t excessive, this practice can be a great addition to a weight-loss program.

It takes energy to digest food, and that energy has to come from somewhere. Periodic fasting preserves much of that energy.

Fasting Methods

Not all fasting methods mean zero food for long periods of time. Here are a few ways people enjoy the benefits of fasting:

Dry fasting. This fast excludes all food and water for short periods. Longer periods of total food restriction can be accomplished if water is included.

Water fasting. Here, only water is consumed during the fast.

Liquid fasting. A liquid fast means only liquids are consumed. Depending on the nature of this fast, liquids can include juices, broths and other substances in liquid form.

Partial fasting. In this approach, specific foods are avoided during the fasting period. One might go on a weeklong no-meat fast or exclude all carbohydrate foods for a given period of time.

Before beginning any serious fast, it’s best to consult your primary care provider. If you’re good to go, be prepared to experience a variety of interesting benefits as you give your metabolism a little (and probably much-needed) rest. And if the rhesus monkey study results really pan out, you might find that one who engages in fasting today can live to fast many other days way down the line.

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