Health Benefits of Fasting

David Trammel's picture

The Wall Street Journal has a good article on the health benefits of fasting, or more specifically "time restricted eating". That is eating just within a eight hour period each day and very little food during the other fourteen.

The Fasting Cure Is No Fad

"But fasting shouldn’t be dismissed as just another fad. At the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, I’ve employed what’s called intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, to help patients with an array of chronic conditions. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatism and bowel diseases, as well as pain syndromes such as migraines and osteoarthritis.

There are different ways to go about it, but I advise patients to omit either dinner or breakfast, so that they don’t ingest any food for at least 14 hours at a stretch. That makes lunch the most important meal of the day. It also reduces the time spent each day processing food and lengthens the period devoted to cleansing and restoring the body’s cells, both of which have positive health effects.

Adopting this technique is not as difficult as it may seem. If you sleep from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., you’ve already fasted for eight hours. Now you only need another six. It’s healthy to avoid eating late in the evening to let your body burn energy from food rather than store it, so if you eat dinner by 7 p.m., that’s another four hours. For breakfast, you can limit yourself to coffee or tea (maybe with a small piece of fruit) and make lunch your first proper meal. By that time, you’re clearly beyond the 14 hours and don’t need to restrain yourself: You can eat until you are full.

There is a logic to it. When we eat, our body releases insulin. That disrupts the process of autophagy (from the Greek, meaning “self-devouring”), by which cells deconstruct old, damaged components in order to release energy and build new molecules. Autophagy helps to counteract the aging of cells and builds immunity. Fasts stimulate autophagy and allow the full molecular process to take place, as a team led by Frank Madeo at the University of Graz in Austria found in 2017.

Fasting might even be effective in preventing the recurrence of cancer, as suggested by initial results of an epidemiological study conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Diego, published in 2016 in the journal JAMA Oncology. Among 2,400 women with early-stage breast cancer who provided information on their eating rhythm, roughly 400 suffered from new tumors within seven years. But women who fasted for 13 hours nightly had 26% less risk of recurrence than the control group. One possible reason was suggested in data summarized last year from a decade of animal experiments by Valter Longo and a team at the University of Southern California: Cancer cells are less able than normal cells to survive a lack of sugar.

David Trammel's picture

Eating in a 6-hour window and fasting for 18 hours might help you live longer

I would note that the recommended 16-18 hours of fasting can include the hours you sleep. If you catch the recommended 8 hours of sleep then you really are only talking about 8-10 hours of little food.

Also a good article to look over as the New Year approaches:
12 small resolutions to clean up your diet in 2020

1. Prioritize protein
2. Eat more plants
3. Start a meal with soup or salad
4. Focus on fiber
5. Stay hydrated
6. Experiment with new recipes
7. Slash sugars
8. Try intermittent fasting
9. Keep a food journal
10. Be more mindful when eating
11. Avoid food triggers
12. Seek support

lathechuck's picture

I have read, and it makes perfect sense, that fasting gives the stomach lining time to recover from the prior phase of acid-doused digestion. I'm not talking about a 24-hour fast, or even a 14-hour fast, but just finishing dinner by 7 pm, and not eating breakfast before 7 am the next morning. Despite what a certain fast-food restaurant has tried to tell us, we do not need a "4th meal" before going to bed.

I am not a breakfast person, so typically fast from about 8pm at night to 1pm the next day. I always felt like there was something wrong with this as there is so much blather about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. I was so pleased to discover the term 'intermittent fasting' as now i can justify my preferred eating pattern.. and despite the hype about it being a way to lose weight, I'm going to put it out there that this eating plan is not enough by itself to lose weight. I still do have to eat less in the hours I do eat if i want to lose weight, although I imagine skipping dinner instead of breakfast might do it, as most people eat a small breakfast and large meal at night.