Could the fountain of youth be found on your dinner plate? We all understand the effect that our diets can have on our longevity, but what about how often we eat? Could that also hold the secret to living longer? It appears so as research and studies have indicated that intermittent fasting may trigger changes in the body that could potentially slow down aging.
Mark Mattson, Ph.D. is a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In an article, Mattson writes that intermittent fasting could be part of a healthy lifestyle, especially because it may help to reduce the risk for chronic diseases.
How Does Fasting Help You Live Longer?
1. It delays vascular aging
Vascular health refers to the health of your circulatory system (arteries, veins, and lymph vessels). Any disruption in your vascular health, such as premature aging, can increase your risk for heart disease (1).
Luckily, a study published in Molecular Cell found that fasting, or restricting calorie intake, can produce a molecule that helps to delay vascular aging.
2. It helps to repair cells
Your body needs cells to survive but unfortunately, external factors can cause damage to cells, increasing our risk for illness and disease. However, it appears that fasting may help to not only protect cells but may even help to regenerate them.
According to research from MIT, the scientists found that fasting dramatically improved the stem cells’ ability to regenerate, in both aged and young mice.
3. Combats inflammation
Chronic inflammation is at the core of many chronic diseases, so it’s important to manage inflammation in the body and one of the ways to do this is by fasting.
According to a study published in Cell, fasting not only reduced inflammation but also improved chronic inflammatory diseases without affecting the immune system’s response to acute infections.
4. Protects against oxidative stress
Oxidative stress, caused by the nasty free radicals, is responsible for premature aging, as well as increases your risk for chronic diseases. There are many ways to prevent oxidative stress and combat free radicals, one of which includes fasting.
A study published in the journal Antioxidants discovered that after a ten-day fast, the oxidative stress levels in 109 adults had decreased. If that wasn’t enough, the findings also found that blood antioxidative capacity had increased.
5. Helps with obesity
While COVID-19 has taken away all of our focus, it’s important to point out that obesity is a serious health crisis that needs as much attention. In regards to mortality, obesity has been found to cause a 6- to 12-fold increase in the all-cause mortality rate.
Changing up your diet is an effective way to manage obesity, and it appears that so will fasting. According to a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, daily fasting was found to be an effective tool in reducing weight in obese individuals – all without calorie counting.
6. May help manage diabetes
Another condition that fasting may help manage is diabetes – at least according to a review published in Clinical Diabetes and Endocrinology. The study found that intermittent fasting helped lower fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and levels of leptin, as well as insulin resistance.
Now, while it seems that fasting could be a great management technique for diabetes, the authors of the study do urge for caution:
“Because studies are demonstrating a decreased need for insulin in patients who follow intermittent fasting protocols, blood glucose levels, and medication titration should be observed closely by the physician. Physicians should help patients make appropriate adjustments to their medications, especially on days of fasting.”
7. Increased heart disease survival rate
While many may think of 2020 as the Year of COVID, they may be surprised to find that heart disease is still the number 1 cause of mortality worldwide. If you have been diagnosed with the condition, you may be thinking of ways to increase your survival rate. If so, taking up fasting will help improve your chances.
In an abstract published in Circulation, researchers followed over 2000 subjects between the ages of 63-67 who underwent cardiac catheterizations, 380 of which described themselves as routine fasters (minimum of five years).
The researchers later found that the fasters had a 49% reduced risk of death compared to the non-fasters.
8. Boosts your longevity
A review published in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded the following:
“Numerous clinical trials indicate that intermittent fasting has broad-spectrum benefits for many health conditions and age-related diseases, including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and neurologic disorders.”
How can I start fasting?
First, you don’t have to starve yourself, so get that idea out of your head. Secondly, there are several ways that you can fast, but here are the most common ones:
- EAT-STOP-EAT: Fasting for 24 hours once or twice every week.
- 16/8 METHOD: Limit your eating to a period of 8 hours, then fast for 16 hours.
- 5:2 DIET: Fasting takes place two days a week while regular food intake happens on the other five.
If you have a history of eating disorders, it would be best not to fast. This also goes for anyone under 18 years old, pregnant, or breastfeeding. As always, before starting a new eating plan, it’s important to consult a doctor or dietitian to see if it’s appropriate for you.
Albosta, M., Bakke, J. (2021). Intermittent fasting: is there a role in the treatment of diabetes? A review of the literature and guide for primary care physicians. Clin Diabetes Endocrinol 7, 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40842-020-00116-1
de Cabo, R., & Mattson, M. P. (2019). Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease. The New England journal of medicine, 381(26), 2541–2551. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra1905136
Gabel, K., Hoddy, K. K., Haggerty, N., Song, J., et al. (2018). Effects of 8-hour time restricted feeding on body weight and metabolic disease risk factors in obese adults: A pilot study. Nutrition and healthy aging, 4(4), 345–353. https://doi.org/10.3233/NHA-170036
Han, Y. M., Bedarida, T., Ding, Y., Somba, B. K., et al. (2018). β-Hydroxybutyrate Prevents Vascular Senescence through hnRNP A1-Mediated Upregulation of Oct4. Molecular cell, 71(6), 1064–1078.e5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molcel.2018.07.036
Jordan, S., Tung, N., Casanova-Acebes, M., Chang, C., et al. (2019). Dietary Intake Regulates the Circulating Inflammatory Monocyte Pool. Cell, 178(5), 1102–1114.e17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2019.07.050
Mihaylova, M. M., Cheng, C. W., Cao, A. Q., Tripathi, S.,et al. (2018). Fasting Activates Fatty Acid Oxidation to Enhance Intestinal Stem Cell Function during Homeostasis and Aging. Cell stem cell, 22(5), 769–778.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2018.04.001
Wilhelmi de Toledo, F., Grundler, F., Goutzourelas, N., Tekos, F., et al. (2020). Influence of Long-Term Fasting on Blood Redox Status in Humans. Antioxidants, 9(6), 496. doi:10.3390/antiox9060496