Fasting: The Path to Optimal Health

June 10, 2013

Fasting: The Path to Optimal Health 

 Reference:  Brown, British Jr of Diabetes and Vascular Disease, April 2013 

 No food!   “Help!  I’m gonna die if I can’t get food.”  We all feel a bit of panic when we think about not eating for a meal or two.  But there remains abundant evidence that calorie restriction in many animal models has the effect of prolonging life as much as 30%.  It’s also pretty well known that if you are overweight that your chance of dying from some sort of diabetes/cardiovascular disease is close to 80%.  Changing our “lifestyle”, what we eat and when we eat is also known to be far more effective than taking a pill – on the order of 3-4 times.

This means it’s up to us to devise a strategy to lose weight and change our risk for diabetes.   Unfortunately, the very nature of being overweight means your metabolism is likely more efficient than those who aren’t overweight. Why is fasting so good?  Is this a new idea?  Well no, it’s not a new idea.  If you look around you will find every religious tradition has some history of fasting.  Muslims take it very seriously with Ramadan, not eating from dawn to sunset for a month.  No change in calories, just a period of no eating.  Catholics restrict meat on Friday (Well, used to!)  But go back a bit further.  

If you were a hunter-gatherer, you ate if you hunted.  If the hunt was poor you went hungry.  If you didn’t gather, you didn’t eat.  Fasting has very likely been part of our lifestyle for millennia.  Most likely, prolonged walking and searching culminated in eating at the end of the day over 2-3 hours the result of the "hunt".   

With the advent of Pick-n-Save and the modern grocery store, hunting has been dumbed down to opening the fridge.  Fasting has been part of our environment since time began.  Our organism is designed to miss a meal once in a while.  In fact, it appears that we are better off when we do.  Not missing a meal is the problem. 

 What does fasting do?  Once you get to about 14 hours of no food, you start kicking in growth hormone.  Growth hormone is your ultimate repair and growth hormone.  Now, many of us eat wheat and dairy as part of our regular diet and those two food categories contains exorphins that are opioid-type compounds that cause a bit of withdrawal when we don’t eat them.  That will explain a bit of your discomfort the first two or three times, but after that, it gets easy.  Growth hormone repairs your damage and makes you more youthful.  It reshapes your body, and helps you lose weight. What’s the best way to intermittently fast?  

The first step is to skip supper one day. That makes a 16-18 hour period from lunch to breakfast.  That’s easy. Then, try 600 calorie days once or twice a week.  Have two protein shakes on those fasting days and drink lots of water.  Then, jump in and try every other day fasting – that’s the best because you can eat anything you want on your eating days and be trim, fit and full of energy the rest of the time.  I know two people doing that right now who have some of the best biological markers of wellness going.  Can’t be a coincidence.  It fits with the data. 

 WWW.What will work for me?  I’m putting my toe in.  I’ve skipped a couple of suppers now.  It’s not that hard.  I’m not doing it for weight loss.  Just to see how I feel.  I made it just fine.  Sure saves time on washing dishes.  And sure enough, I slept much better the nights I did it and woke up feeling quite alert and rigorous.  My growth hormone must have kicked in. Try it.

 Pop Quiz

1.  Fasting is dangerous and not normal human behavior.  T or F                       Answer:  False.  It's very likely the norm - hunter-gatherers who don't hunt, don't eat. 

 2.  No one does it!  T or F                            Answer:  False.  Just about every religious tradition has had fasting as part of its tradition.  In our Christian dominant culture, the Bible describes Jesus having multiple fasts, intentionally.  Muslims do it every year in Ramadan. 

 3.  Fasting is bad for you.  T or F                    Answer:   Decidedly false.  Short, intermittent fasts are actually optimally good for you.  The evidence is abundant that missing a meal here and there kicks in good metabolic changes. 

 4.   Fasting is the only way to lose weight.  T or F                    Answer:  False. You can go for bariatric surgery or low carbohydrate eating. 

 5.  If you are overweight, your risk of dying from the complications of diabetes or its complications approach 80%.  T or F                        Answer:  True.  And all that will go away if you get yourself slender. 

 6.  If you skip supper and go 14 hours without eating, you will get the release of insulin.   T or F  Answer:  False.  You get the activation of your anti-aging cascades, and ketones (which we didn't cover this week), your ultimate repair hormone.  Insulin gets released when you pork out on carbohydrates after a good workout.  Try it.

The Column written by Dr. John E.  Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI.