Fasting to improve your health

Fasting is a practice rooted in many religions for millennia. It is often perceived as a means of purifying the body and mind. But what about its health benefits? In recent years, science has been examining the virtues of this practice.

Food is a big part of our day. For three meals a day, snacks are often added to chase hunger. It seems normal, since eating is essential to live. More and more researchers are finding that food deprivation, in a controlled way, can be beneficial.

According to biochemist Valter Longo, one of the world’s leading celebrities on fasting, our body is made to fast for long periods of time. “It’s been part of our story for as long as food is part of our story. That’s true for all organizations, “says the one who runs the Institute on Longevity at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

If you go back several billion years in evolution, there is not an organism – from bacteria to simple eukaryotes – that has not fasted for long periods.

Valter Longo, biochemist at the University of Southern California

Our body can survive for weeks without food. Normally, he uses his reserves of carbohydrates, that is to say of sugars, as main source of energy. Beyond 24 hours, these reserves are exhausted and it is then the reserves of lipids, that is to say of fats, which become the principal source of fuel.

Fasting to lose weight

The popular approach to losing weight is to reduce your daily calorie intake and exercise more. However, this method has limitations, says cardiologist Martin Juneau, director of prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute.

“When you eat less, your metabolism goes down. Our basic metabolism is what burns most of our calories. If it goes down, it’s hard to lose weight, “he says. Fasting, however, has the opposite effect. “When you fast completely, the metabolism increases, so that’s the big difference,” adds the cardiologist.

Dr. Juneau, who is very interested in fasting research, cites other health benefits. “Fasting is very effective in lowering the level of insulin,” he explains, “which is interesting for so-called insulin resistance, which is at the root of many metabolic problems, including metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes.”

Some fasting people practice it for several consecutive days, drinking only water. However, another type of intermittent fasting is also gaining popularity. “What we see a lot in the scientific literature right now is intermittent fasting, alternating days of normal feeding with days very much reduced in calories or full fasting.”

It is absolutely useless to use fasting, whether it is intermittent or complete, if it is for once or twice or to lose a few pounds we will obviously resume a few months later if we stop.

Dr. Martin Juneau, Director of Prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute
Fasting to rejuvenate cells

According to Valter Longo, fasting is one of the keys to living longer in health. The biochemist, who presents his research in his recent book The Longevity Diet , explains that starvation causes cells to regenerate.

“[During a fasting], our body destroys its components in a coordinated way; for example, part of the muscles, part of the liver, part of the immune system, and so on, he says. It also destroys part of each cell. This is called autophagy. Then he uses it as a source of energy. When you eat again, it’s all rebuilt. ”

During a fast, the body tends to destroy damaged cells before healthy cells, says the researcher.

A diet that imitates fasting

Strict fasting, where only water is drunk, is very difficult to follow and has health risks.

Fasting with water should not be done outside of a clinic, as there may be side effects such as hypotension and hypoglycemia. People can faint.

Valter Longo, biochemist at the University of Southern California
It is to avoid these side effects that Valter Longo has developed an approach he calls fast-mimicking diet or “diet imitating fasting”. This low-calorie diet plan is designed to immerse the body in a physiological state similar to fasting, while providing essential nutrients.

“We have developed a diet that mimics fasting and is low in protein, low in sugars and high in fat,” he says. It contains 66 different ingredients, each of which has been developed to make the body believe that it is fasting, when in fact you are eating. There are fewer calories than normal, between 800 and 1100 calories a day.”

Valter Longo conducted a study of about one hundred participants who followed this diet one week a month. After three months, they had lost an average of three pounds, reduced their cholesterol and blood pressure, and improved their blood glucose.

Since then, this diet imitating fasting has been marketed under the name of Prolon and in the United States, many doctors recommend it to their patients.

Mitigate the effects of chemotherapy

Through his research, Valter Longo has shown that fasting diet can help withstand the side effects of chemotherapy. After conducting studies on mice undergoing cancer treatments, the researcher found that fasting rodents were healthier after the treatments than those who ate normally.

Fasting also makes cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy. When the body is deprived of carbohydrates, healthy cells manage to use lipids as an alternative source of energy. As for cancer cells, they do not have this capacity and are thus weakened.

“I use the analogy of a person running in the desert,” says Valter Longo. She will eventually die. But if she stops to look for shade and water, she can survive. This is the response of normal cells during fasting. They stop and they wait. The cancer cells refuse to do that and they continue. ”

In mice, it works remarkably well, protecting them from the side effects of chemotherapy and making it more effective. By combining cancer drugs with the diet imitating fasting, we observe a survival without recurrence even in cases of metastases.

Valter Longo, biochemist at the University of Southern California

In humans, clinical studies have shown that fasting can lessen the side effects of chemotherapy, but they have not yet shown an effect on tumors.

The ketogenic diet: an alternative to fasting

Fasting also has an effect on the brain. When deprived of food, our body produces molecules called “ketones” from its fat reserves. Ketones then become the body’s main source of energy in the absence of glucose.

Because fasting ketones to the brain, fasting has the effect of stopping convulsions in people with epilepsy, a phenomenon that was already observed in ancient times.

In the 1920s, the American doctor Russell Wilder developed a diet called “ketogenic” which reproduces the effects of fasting to treat epilepsy. This diet is very rich in lipids and very low in carbohydrates pushes the body to produce ketones.

Under this diet, 90% of the daily diet must come from fat, such as dairy products, oil, mayonnaise, nuts and avocado, for example. Foods containing carbohydrates – such as fruits, grains and legumes – should be limited to a few grams per day.

At the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center in Montreal, the neuropediatrician Anne Lortie prescribes this diet to her epileptic patients when the drugs do not take effect. It indicates that in addition to reducing seizures in 60% of patients, the ketogenic diet improves the cognitive abilities of some of them.

Erik Horn

Erik Horn has been a senior editor at Med News Ledger for three years. Fluent in French and proficient in Spanish and Arabic, he focuses on diseases and conditions He’s a born-and-raised Torontonian and spends most of his weekends in search of strong coffee and stronger Wi-Fi. There are several ways to contact Erik here.

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