Intermittent fasting and delayed aging

Caloric restriction (CR) is well researched and well known to extend life span, retard age-related health decline (senescence) and decrease the development of chronic degenerative diseases in a large number of species.

by Dr. Mark Force — 

Those with characteristically long life spans tend to eat in moderation and fast periodically. These forms of caloric restriction have been studied extensively in lab animals, and the results are very convincing. Lab animals on caloric-restricted diets or those on regimens of fasting or intermittent fasting (IF) lived longer and exhibited fewer degenerative diseases as they aged.

Caloric restriction (CR) is well researched and well known to extend life span, retard age-related health decline (senescence) and decrease the development of chronic degenerative diseases in a large number of species. IF has been shown to have similar effects as CR, even without overall reduction in caloric intake.

It appears that we are genetically adapted to cycles of feast/famine and physical activity/rest, which modulate metabolic processes. Without these cycles, we become prone to metabolic derangements, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The benefits of IF are available even when initiated later in life. As few as eight weeks of IF improved antioxidant levels through the same pathway that resveratrol enhances. Intermittent fasting also increased mitochondrial superoxide dismutase (SOD), a primary cellular antioxidant. IF also appears to protect against environmental and metabolic toxins.

IF lowers serum glucose, increases insulin sensitivity, increases HDL levels, improves the cholesterol/HDL ratio (a heart disease risk factor), lowers homocysteine levels (a marker for systemic inflammation and stroke or heart attack risk), prevents hypoglycemia and reduces diabetes. It also improves protein metabolism, controls blood pressure, and protects the heart and cardiovascular system.

Amazingly, IF for just one day a week suppressed carcinogenesis in mice; this effect was even present when started late in life in mice genetically predisposed.

IF was found to result in control of inflammation and pain through down-regulation of NF-kappaB, a primary moderator of these processes.

Fasting has been associated with increased brain availability of serotonin, endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids, all of which have been associated with improved control of pain. Mice subjected to intermittent fasting display markedly reduced responses to thermal and visceral pain.

Diminished cycling of hormones in relation to the time of day and lower growth hormone (GH) and IGF1 levels with increased age have been associated with degenerative changes of aging. IF has been shown to increase GH and IGF1, with one study showing a four-fold increase in GH. Some of the benefits of IF may be realized through improved IGF1 signaling/receptor mechanisms.

Researchers have postulated that IF can protect against neuro-degenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases through neurotrophic factors and antioxidant enzymes. IF protects against age-related cognitive decline and protects the brain from metabolic stress and injury.

Even brain function is improved through IF, as evidenced by improved memory, learning and consolidation processes through long-term changes in synaptic efficiency and plasticity, and improved regulation of organs through the autonomic nervous system.

A weekly fast of 24 to 36 hours is an ideal health maintenance measure, as are periodic fasts (usually once a season) from three days to a week. (Weekly fasting makes a huge difference in my health when I have the discipline to do it. The result is more energy, strength, endurance and mental clarity.) The 24-hour fast is from dinner to the next dinner. If you want to fast for 36 hours, do so from dinner on one day through the next day and until breakfast on the third day.

Best results in the long run are when you fast on water only or water with fresh lemon; this is also supported by the research. Fasting is not appropriate while pregnant or nursing.

If you have difficulty fasting on water only, usually due to a drop in your blood sugar, you can add a little honey or maple syrup to the lemon, or you can use fruit and/or vegetable juices and/or herbal teas. Juices should be freshly made, but if this is not possible, then glass-bottled, unpasteurized, unfiltered is a good second choice. Freshly made juices are much different than bottled and are much more effective.

Exercise, along with IF, significantly increases the benefits, as does exposing your body to cold temperatures while fasting.


Dr. Mark Force is a chiropractic physician at The Elements of Health in north Scottsdale, Ariz. He practices functional and natural health care, and is the author of Choosing Health: Dr. Force’s Functional Selfcare Workbook. or 80-563-4256.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 6, Dec 2010/Jan 2011.

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