HOW INTERMITTENT FASTING SLOWS AGING
This article is an excerpt from P. D. Mangan’s book on intermittent fasting , he is the proprietor of Rogue Health and Fitness, a site dedicated to helping people lose fat, gain muscle, attain and maintain excellent health and energy levels, and to live their maximum lifespan free of illness and the debilities of age.
So how does intermittent fasting slow aging?
Calorie restriction, as we’ve seen, has remarkable health benefits, and intermittent fasting improves on those benefits in a number of ways, mainly by being far more practical and avoiding the downsides of possibly inadequate nutrition. Since calorie restriction slows aging and increases lifespan, is it possible that fasting could do the same? Yes, it is not only possible, but highly probable. One way in which CR slows aging is through increasing the levels of the basic cellular self-cleaning process, which is known as autophagy. In autophagy, which is from the Greek for “self-eating”, cells produce specialized structures that “eat” parts of themselves, and the parts that are selected for eating are cellular “junk” – misfolded proteins, old mitochondria, and other cellular organelles that have passed their expiration date. The accumulation of cellular junk is a hallmark of aging, as is the declining ability of cells to induce autophagy and rid themselves of junk. Youthful organisms have the full ability to induce autophagy and free themselves of junk, thus maintaining youthful structure and function. As they age, organisms including humans decline in the ability to induce autophagy. The result is aging cells and declining function. Autophagy is strongly induced by lack of food. In young animals, such as humans, the natural rhythm of fasting overnight – because you can’t eat while you’re asleep – strongly promotes autophagy, such that its maximum rate occurs early in the morning, before eating. In older animals, this natural rhythm is greatly reduced. Fasting can help restore youthful levels of autophagy. The longer the fast, the more strongly autophagy will be induced. Animals that have been genetically altered to increase their levels of autophagy live longer than normal animals. By inducing autophagy, intermittent fasting slows aging and protects against disease. Fasting can even induce autophagy in neurons, in the brain, and therefore protects against the development of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other forms of dementia and cognitive decline. Therefore fasting fights against one of the chief fears that people have of aging: mental decline, along with the nursing home and total helplessness.
Aging greatly increases the risk of cancer, and intermittent fasting has the potential to lower that risk. Fasting decreases blood glucose levels, and this is highly significant for cancer because cancer cells use glucose as their main energy supply. When people eat constantly, especially when they eat lots of refined carbohydrates, they give tumor cells plenty to feed on. Intermittent fasting can cut cancer’s food supply while allowing other cells to have energy access. Thomas Seyfried, a scientist who has done much work on cancer, notes that a ketogenic diet has the potential to treat brain cancer. In the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are radically restricted, and as a consequence, ketone bodies are produced by the liver from fat in order to provide an alternative cellular fuel in place of glucose. Where fasting comes in here is that it also has the ability to produce ketone bodies, and thus may help prevent and treat cancer, basically by starving it into submission. Another way that intermittent fasting combats aging is through its action on stem cells. These cells represent a reservoir, or back-up, of cells that can differentiate into new tissue cells, for example, muscle or bone cells. In aging, the number and strength of stem cells declines, and therefore tissues can’t be properly renewed as they can in younger people. Autophagy, the cellular junk-clearing mechanism, maintains stem cells. As intermittent fasting strongly increases autophagy, it will also strongly maintain the quantity and quality of stem cells, keeping the organism biologically younger.
Mark Mattson, a scientist who studies aging, practices intermittent fasting himself, since he knows that it’s a healthy practice that retards aging. He claims not to have had breakfast for the past 35 years, and he confines his entire daily eating window to 6 hours. Mattson stated, “Once you get used to it, it’s not a big deal. I’m not hungry at all in the morning, and this is other people’s experience as well. It’s just a matter of getting adapted to it.”
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