Can fasting keep you looking young?


Try embracing a plant-based diet several times a week for better health. — Relaxnews

Intermittent fasting has been shown to provide benefits for weight loss, lower cardio vascular risks, blood sugar and now, to fight against ageing.

It's important to acknowledge that there is a lot of misinformation out there about fasting, its health benefits and its science.

The ageing process cannot be stopped, but intermittent fasting may slow or delay it, according to many claims – however, it’s good to note that most of the research conducted has been with animals.

Some of the research has been inconclusive, with mice showing little changes in lifespan.

But, according to other studies, fasting may help your body's defences against oxidative stress and remove damaged molecules.

It may also help with chronic diseases associated with inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, certain cancers and even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Science behind fasting

There are two key processes in fasting that researchers are very keen to explore and learn more about: autophagy and hormesis.

Autophagy, or self-eating, is a process of recycling cellular waste.

During a fast, your body doesn't have to expend energy to break down and process food.

With the excess energy, it can turn its attention "inward" as it eliminates waste, cleans and heals areas of the body that would otherwise be neglected or unused.

In theory, this method of autophagy suppresses tumors by removing cancer cells and can therefore prevent cancer. Right now, most of the research is in animal models and remains to be verified.

Intermittent fasting advocates will also mention hormesis as one of the key benefits.

In hormesis, we assume that small doses of potentially harmful things can increase our tolerance of that stressor, be it calorie restriction or toxins. Again, most of the research is conducted with animals and the findings may not apply to humans.

Fasting methods

Historically, religion was a primary driver of the concept of fasting, but in modern times, it is also a common weight loss aid. As a result, there are many more fasting styles than before, each one touting health and weight loss benefits.

A fasting day usually involves either fasting entirely or consuming very few calories (600 calories or less). Fasting during alternate days, fasting periodically, and fasting for a fixed time frame are some of the most popular options and generally safe for most people to try:

> Periodic fasting: Typical examples of this fasting include the 5:2 diet, where you fast twice per week (normally not consecutively) and eat normally the other five days.

> Alternate day fasting (ADF): During this regimen, 24-hour fast days alternate with regular 24-hour eating days.

> Time-restricted fasting: Diets of this kind restrict your caloric intake to a specific "eating window". A popular way to do this is to fast for 16 hours and then eat all your meals within an eight-hour window, which is also known as 16:8 intermittent fasting.Severe caloric restriction can lead to chronic fatigue and muscle weakness. — dpaSevere caloric restriction can lead to chronic fatigue and muscle weakness. — dpa

Anti-ageing diet

Most anti-ageing diets do not focus on what you should eat, but rather on limiting your total food intake or restricting the times and days when you eat.

Calorie restriction, intermittent fasting, fasting-mimicking diets, the keto diet and time-restricted eating are prime examples of these diets. They can be a beneficial practice if the individual is careful and seeks advice from experts to ensure it’s being done properly.

That said, severe calorie restriction can also cause increased muscle weakness, poor sleep, decreased sex drive, chronic fatigue and cold sensitivity.

Some researchers have expressed concern about intermittent fasting and other restrictive diets resulting in disordered eating.

Of course, the risk of developing an eating disorder restricting your eating to every other day or within an eight-hour window varies from person to person. Since the science of dieting is still limited, it may not be worth risking an eating disorder, especially if it exists in your family history.

Additionally, it is becoming apparent that certain dietary patterns not related to calorie restriction, can help people age more gracefully and live longer. Some dietary guidelines recommend consuming a diet lower in protein (reduced but not too low, especially for older citizens) and embracing a plant-based diet several times a week. If you’re a vegan, ensuring that you’re fulfilling all the necessary macronutrients like amino acids, is critical.

There is no best way to practice fasting – it simply depends on lifestyle fit.

Considering there are many significant unknowns in this emerging field of health, you should not start fasting if you have to make a dramatic switch in your dietary habits. The only exception would be if your doctor recommends it due to medical reasons.

But, if you’re healthy and have no known health or diet issues, and are curious about fasting as an anti-ageing tool, it may be worth a try.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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