Did you know that Intermittent Fasting (IF) was the most searched diet worldwide over 2019? It easily beat related searches like paleo eating, keto diet, one meal a day (OMAD) diets, weight watchers, primal eating, plant-based diet, vegan diets, 5:2 eating and caveman diets.
So, what’s all the fuss? Why is this way of eating becoming so popular? What makes it different and is it something you should be doing?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the term used to describe eating your normal daily calories in a smaller window of time each day. Rather than eating 3 meals a day and snacks spread out over 14 hours e.g. eating all your meals and snacks starting at 6am and finishing at 8pm that night, you would restrict the amount of hours your food intake would occur to a 6 to 8 hour period instead e.g. eating your daily food from say 11am to 6 pm that evening and not eat anything else for the remainder of the day.
Sounds simple doesn’t it. The basic premise of the diet is to give your body a longer period of the day where it doesn’t have to be digesting, processing and absorbing foods. You are giving your body a longer period of time where it doesn’t have to continually secret insulin and the trillions of cells in your digestive track can have a break from the constant demand of food breakdown and digestion.
Not only do you reduce digestive and cellular inflammation, but you also put the body into a state of calorie restriction which forces the cells to access other forms of energy from around the body, namely your fat stores. Our cells are put into a protective state which switches on multiple gene pathways and defence mechanisms. This series of events is what propels Intermittent fasting into the world of anti-ageing and longevity research.
Intermittent fasting comes under the research heading of Dietary Restriction (DR). Researchers have known the health benefits of reduced calories for decades, having proven the reversal and prevention of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and various cancers (especially breast and prostate cancer). We should all be practising calorie restriction daily as our modern world encourages overconsumption of food. We simply eat too much on a daily basis and we overwhelm our digestive systems and keep our cells in a constant state of high alert and inflammation. Scientists have given us a figure we should be aiming for - between 10 and 30% restriction of daily calories to give cellular benefits and to improve human health.
Interestingly, researchers have uncovered several natural nutrients that can mimic the effect of calorie restriction and put our cells into defence mode and also upregulate our genes to repair and regenerate. Some of the stronger memetic nutrients are resveratrol, pterostilbene’s from blueberries, ECGC from green tea and turmeric/curcumin.
So, can Intermittent Fasting really increase our lifespan and healthspan? There are multiple ways IF can slow down the ageing process:
- IF reduces inflammation, not just in the digestive track but all through the body and especially the brain. Chronic inflammation is directly associated with the development of chronic disease.
- IF stimulates autophagy which is the body’s ability to remove and clear out damaged, dead and unwanted cell debris. Many of us are living with overwhelmed ‘garbage disposal systems’ and are getting clogged up with excess cellular garbage. IF maintains the ability to remove this molecular garbage and slow down the ageing process.
- IF has multiple current studies showing how it reduces tumour growth and improves chemotherapy and radiation outcomes. Cancer cells exclusively use sugars as a growth agent and IF provides a habitual energy restriction process that starves cancerous cells and protects healthy cells from some of the damage caused by the cancer drugs.
- IF has been shown to increase DNA repair, improve gene stability, increase secretion of protective enzymes, reduce reactive oxidative species (ROS) and reduce insulin and glucose that causes inflammation in the cells.
- IF switches on and improves the function of our sirtuin genes that are the foundational genes effecting how we age and allows us to live longer and healthier lives
If you are worried about how you could possibly go without food for very long, researchers found that there are health and gene benefits evident after simply fasting or not eating anything for 12 hours. How simple is that? Have dinner about 6pm and then eat breakfast after 6am the next morning, you’re asleep for most of that time, so you won’t even notice the fast. The best and strongest effects of IF on our cells and genes were found after fasting for 16 to 18 hours so simply skipping breaky or dinner could be the answer for many of you.
The health benefits of IF and dietary restriction are impressive and are showing to be a powerful technique to use in our quest to reduce chronic disease, extend lifespan and improve healthspan.