Scientific research in fasting is starting to suggest that it might help with cancer, reduce the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, Parkinson’s and dementia.
Lab studies have shown in animal experiments that reducing calories can delay the onset of age related diseases. Whilst long term calorie restriction has potential health risks, regular fasting may have been a natural part of life for our ancestors and seems to have proven benefits.
Different patterns of fasting have been looked at. The normal recommended number of calories for a woman is 2000 and for a man 2,500. One gentler type of fasting has two fast days a week, where 600 calories only are eaten. Some types of fasting do alternate days of the week. Other types of fasting may do 1-5 days maximum, repeated less frequently.
Animal experiments have shown that a 48 hour fast reduced the rate of growth of five types of cancer out of 8, in mice. Other experiments on mice have shown that 48 hour fasting combined with radiotherapy, where twice as likely to survive for 28 days with an aggressive brain cancer, as with radiotherapy alone. Preliminary results with people appear to be encouraging.
Human studies of a 24 hour water fast, repeated monthly, helped people lose weight and reduced their risk of diabetes and heart disease. Alternate day fasting has shown similar results. Any weight lost for people who are overweight is likely to help reduce the risk of getting these conditions.
Alternate day fasting has also been shown to reduce the risk of asthma in overweight people. Alternate day fasting can also increase the production of an important protein in the brain which protects brain cells in humans. Experiments on mice showed that this type of fasting could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s type symptoms by the equivalent of up to 20 years in people.
Research suggests high protein levels in the diet increase the risk of cancer. The current suggestion is to have about 10% of calories from protein (whereas the usual amount in the Western diet is 16%). High levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) is associated with cancer and reduced lifespan. A group of strict vegans, who had about 10% of the calories from proteins had significantly lower IGF-1 levels than people with a typical western diet or people who have calorie restricted diets (for an average of 6 years).
Whilst plenty more research is required about the risks and benefits of fasting, and what types of fasting will help specific types of people with certain conditions, at this stage the indicators are it’s likely to do you some good – especially if you’re packing a few extra pounds.
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