- What Is Intermittent Fasting?
- How Can IF Benefit Your Health?
- How Does IF Relate to Life Span?
- Why Might You Consider This Lifestyle?
5:2 How About You?
Would You Reduce Your Caloric Intake Significantly If It Meant Living A Longer, Healthier Life?
The only means known to increase life span is the drastic reduction of calories.
Called caloric restriction (CR), this scientifically validated method has extended the life span of a number of species, from microorganisms to mammals.
Perhaps the most comprehensive study to date involved 10 Rhesus monkeys. Published in Science in 2009, the results of the 20 year study demonstrated the capacity of CR to delay aging and fight disease. (“Monkey Business”, below.)
Probably because of the number of aging, health conscious baby boomers (or possibly because of the growing obesity epidemic), CR is gaining interest and participation.
In this issue, we take a closer look at the benefits of restricting calories and introduce a technique called intermittent fasting (IF). Not only does IF make reducing normal caloric intake by at least 20 percent a more viable option, it has been shown to outperform CR.
Is It Possible To Eat Less And Live Longer? Look Inside….
In 2011, a 100-year-old marathoner finished his 8th marathon. Thinking he had made the Guinness World Book of Records, Fauja Singh exclaimed he was “overjoyed to achieve this lifelong wish”. Later, Guinness denied Singh his cherished place because he has no birth certificate, only his passport. Indian officials stated that birth records weren’t kept in 1911. The same week, Singh broke world records in eight distances from 100 to 5000 meters. These were recognized by the World Masters Athletics. Singh began running marathons when he was 89.
How About You?
• What Is Intermittent Fasting?
• How Can IF Benefit Your Health?
• How Does IF Relate to Life Span?
• Why Might You Consider This Lifestyle?
Is It Possible To Eat Less And Live Longer?
Would You Reduce Your Caloric Intake Significantly
If It Meant Living A Longer, Healthier Life?
The only means known to increase life span is the drastic reduction of calories. Called caloric restriction (CR), this scientifically validated method has extended the life span of a number of species, from microorganisms to mammals. Perhaps the most comprehensive study to date involved 10 Rhesus monkeys. Published in Science in 2009, the results of the 20 year study demonstrated the capacity of CR to delay aging and fight disease. (“Monkey Business”, below.)
Probably because of the number of aging, health conscious baby boomers (or possibly because of the growing obesity epidemic), CR is gaining interest and participation. In this issue, we take a closer look at the benefits of restricting calories and introduce a technique called intermittent fasting (IF). Not only does IF make reducing normal caloric intake by at least 20 percent a more viable option, it has been shown to outperform CR.
In the benchmark study, Rhesus monkeys were chosen as subjects because their biological and aging characteristics are very similar to ours. One group of primates was allowed to eat freely while the other received a nutrient replete diet that had 30% fewer calories than they would normally eat.
By the end of the study, all the bio-markers of health were superior in the CR diet. In fact, only 13% in that group had died of age-related causes while 37% of the controls were gone. Further, among the CR group, the incidence of heart disease was half that of controls.
The CR monkeys lost fat, but not muscle mass. Not one of them had impaired glucose control or diabetes. On the other hand, among the monkeys who ate normally, 40 percent were diabetic or prediabetic. Lastly, our brain shrinks as we age; likewise, in aging Rhesus monkeys. However, CR inhibited age-related brain shrinkage, particularly in areas governing cognitive and motor function. Sound interesting? A list of 12 major benefits of CR appears in the sidebar.
At a time when obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are rampant, caloric restriction and its kinder, gentler cousin, intermittent fasting (IF), have profound implications for all of us. More than 70 years of research show that individuals who reduce the calories they eat by 20% for 2-6 years not only lose fat, they trigger a cascade of anti-aging mechanisms in the body.
There are two tricks involved here. In both our prehistoric and more recent past, our ancestors faced a consistently unreliable food supply. This taught our bodies to survive times of starvation (fasting). Because of this, we are designed to eat as much as we can as long as food is available. We continue to have that urge, except that now food is available 24/7. Not only are we biologically programmed to eat it, we are encouraged to do so.
Trick No. 1 is that IF trains us/our bodies to keep our
minds off food. In other words, by initiating fasting, we get off the old Seafood Diet. (You know, “If you see food, eat it.”)
Secondly, as we age – an occurrence that begins around age 40 – systems turn down or turn off all together. Apparently, Mother Nature doesn’t care about us once this happens. However, she reverses her position when she senses we’re facing environmental stress. And, the stress of 20% reduced calorie intake initiates this response. Hence,
Trick No. 2: Once we begin using IF techniques, our anti-aging mechanisms begin to switch back on. Intermittent fasting affects our genes, reprogramming them and giving us a more youthful biological profile.
In his book, The Gene Smart Diet, Floyd H. Chilton, PhD, names this rejuvenation phenomenon the Adaptive Stress Response (ARS),1 The ARS involves favorable alterations in gene expression, activating certain genes and disabling others. This activity can slow aging dramatically by simultaneously regulating a broad spectrum of aging factors. These range from inflammation and metabolic function to immune response and the health of our mitochondria.2
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Exactly what is intermittent fasting and how do we go about it? There are basically two ways of applying IF: 1) creating eating windows; and/or 2) fasting 1-2 days per week. In the first case (eating windows), one goes without food 14-16 hours each day. This implies eating only brunch and dinner.
Joe Mercola, MD, suggests a 6-8 hour eating window: the first meal at 11 or 12 o’clock and the last at 7 or 8 pm, then not eating for at least 3 hours before bedtime.3 Joe instructs us that the daily fast must last at least 16 hours. He explains that it takes 6-8 hours for the body to metabolize its glycogen (i.e., carb) stores. This allows our bodies to shift to burning fat. When we eat every 2-4 hours during the day, we replenish glycogen, making it much more difficult for our bodies to utilize our fat stores for energy.
Mercola states, “Once your body has made this shift, it is nothing short of magical as your cravings for sweets, and food in general, rapidly normalize and your desire for sweets and junk food radically decreases if not disappears entirely.”
In the second case, one fasts 1-2 non-consecutive days per week, eating as usual 5-6 days. This iteration is commonly referred to as the “5:2 Diet”. In the context of IF, fasting has been defined both as going without food for 24 hours or limiting food intake on fasting days to 500-600 calories. If you choose the 24 hour fast, the recommendation is to have dinner one night and then not to eat again until dinner (at the same time) the following day.
Mike O’Donnell, fitness coach and trainer, has been following IF since 2008, and launched his website “The IF Life” the same year. Mercola and O’Donnell combine the eating window method with the occasional 24 hour fast. Mike notes that there are many ways to adapt IF to your particular lifestyle. Reinforcing the truth of this, at least a dozen books were released in 2013, covering the topic of IF – even Fast Diets For Dummies.
Jump On The Monkey Bars!
Intermittent fasting with high intensity exercise is a powerful combination, bringing about positive changes in our genes as well as in our muscles. Exercise enhances the mechanisms of the adaptive stress response, including the reduction of whole body inflammation and deep cellular detox. Further, evidence shows that exercise is one of the most effective ways to shift the body into a fat burning machine, particularly exercising while in a fasting state. By practicing IF, you are living in a modified fasting state.
It’s no secret that Americans don’t exercise regularly despite the overwhelming evidence of health benefits. Recently, we discussed the direct effects on the brain of regular exercise4, now we can add that exercise turns on the adaptive stress response. (And, there is a connection between the two.) Working out to combat degenerative disease while maintaining youthful biological markers takes us way beyond weight loss and fitness as motivators for exercise.
How Can Food & Supplements Help?
Quiet your appetite, and it suddenly becomes much easier to choose the right snack, as opposed to the ‘right now’ snack.” – Chilton
Certain foods and particular supplements support intermittent fasting and trigger the underlying mechanisms of the adaptive stress response. This also means that if you don’t want to undertake the rigors of IF, you can still reap some of the benefits by adding the foods and supplements recommended here.
In this section, we discuss the importance of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, dark chocolate, red wine, and black tea. We emphasize eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies. The supplements described are resveratrol, quercetin, grape seed extract, pterostilbene, and black tea extract.
Fiber – Because we are eating less, it is especially important to increase fiber intake. Fiber helps us to feel full, but that’s just the beginning. It can lower blood sugar, cut cholesterol, help prevent colon cancer, and discourage hemorrhoids. Further, it encourages the growth of intestinal flora (probiotics). Chilton’s recommendation is to eat 16 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories. That means about 15-32 grams of fiber daily.
These amounts are similar to the recommended amount of fiber intake per day (which is not based on commensurate calories). However, only 3 percent of Americans get enough fiber. Here are some high fiber foods to consider.
Beans are a high fiber bonanza, coming in at about 15 grams per cup cooked. A bowl of chili beans and you’re 1/2-1/3 of the way there. In general, a cup of whole grains contains less than half the fiber of beans. (For example, brown rice has 3.5 grams/cup.) Taking a look at veggies, an artichoke has 10.3 grams; a cup of peas, 8.8; Brussels sprouts, 5. Among the fruit family, berries are a rich source. A cup of raspberries has 8 grams; blackberries, 7.6. Surprisingly, avocados have 6.7 grams per half. Nuts are healthy and have a lot of fiber. (Almonds have 16 grams/cup.) However, they are expensive calorie-wise: a 1/4 cup serving of almonds = 4 grams of fiber.
Polyphenols – These are plant substances which are rich in a particular type of antioxidant. We are concerned with dark chocolate, red wine, and black tea. In season fruits are also members of this bioactive group. Dark chocolate has become a well known “health food” and imbibers know that the higher the percentage of cacao, the healthier the chocolate.5 Studies show the richer darks (60-70 percent cacao) decrease total cholesterol and LDL; decrease sticky blood and plaque formation in the arteries; decrease inflammation; and lower blood pressure. Chilton recommends 1.5-3.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily.
Caveat: Chocolate can interfere with iron absorption. If you’re on an iron supplement, wait at least 2 hours after the chocolate to take the iron.
Red wine polyphenols may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and may help protect the lining of blood vessels of the heart. Resveratrol is one substance in red wine that’s gotten attention, and is known to protect against artery damage. The recommendation is one 6 oz glass of red with dinner 3-6 times weekly.
Brewed tea decreases risks associated with heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. Bottled and reconstituted teas do not have the same effect. Drink black/green tea, Earl Grey, oolong, Ceylon, and Darjeeling. The polyphenol content of tea can be boosted by adding up to ½ cup fruit juice. Try pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry, cherry, orange, apple, cider, or Concord grape.
Polyphenol Supplements – The following compounds work separately and together to mimic caloric restriction, encouraging positive changes in gene expression. The information in this section comes from the work of Julius Goeppe, MD. He notes that the polyphenols in black tea support metabolic effects. In addition to black tea extract, these CR mimics include resveratrol, quercetin, grape seed extract, and pterostilbene.Meanwhile research shows that the others “powerfully inhibit systemic inflammation, enhance mitochondrial health, prevent cancer, and protect brain and heart tissue from age-related deterioration.”
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids – Inflammation is one of the great bugaboos of aging. Since IF already lowers inflammation markers, let’s support that tendency with omega-3 oils and omega-6 oils as fish oil and GLA (as gamma linolenic acid) respectively. These oils have long been shown to reduce inflammatory gene expression. In addition, the combination of omega oils with the reduced calories of just ordinary dieting results in greater weight loss.
Take your oil supplements with meals. This is the only way for you to get their full nutritional benefit. With food, the pancreas is stimulated to release bile salts. These emulsify the omega oils so that they get into the bloodstream, enhancing bioavailability.
Siri Says: Are you aware of the “ Nutrition Transition”? This is the global nutrition transition and the pandemic of obesity happening in developing countries.
From the International Life Sciences Institute: In the 1970s, diets began to transition from food prepared from scratch at home toward reliance on processed foods, take-away food, and the increased intake of edible oils and sugar-sweetened beverages. Less physical activity and more sedentary behavior appeared as well. By the 1990s, the negative effects of these changes began to emerge, primarily in low- and middle-income populations. The changes were not acknowledged until diabetes, hypertension, and obesity began to dominate the globe.
Now, rapid increases in obesity and overweight are widely documented, from the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to populations in countries with higher income levels. Rapid shifts in diet and inactivity are also well documented. In a few countries, large-scale programs and policy measures are being explored; however, few institutions are engaged in committed efforts to prevent the serious dietary challenges that are implied.
It appears that humans are intent upon living out the future as predicted for us by the animated film “Wall-E”. Perhaps the fact that some of us are willing to live more closely to our prehistoric ancestors, “starving” to have a longer, more healthy life, is not ironic but rather the beginning of a wholesome paradigm shift.
1 Dr. Chilton is a professor of Physiology & Pharmacology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC.
2 For a comprehensive scientific explanation of the Adaptive Stress Response, see “Activate Your Longevity Genes” by Julius Goepp, MD, at www.lef.org.
3 The well-known and knowledgeable popular nutritionist has been experimenting with IF for the past 2 years, and is very satisfied with the results.
4 See Nutrition News, “Brain Fitness”.
5 Milk chocolate does not deliver these benefits. Sorry.
6 Endothelial cells are those lining the blood vessels (and lymph nodes).Their function is to separate the blood from the inner surface of the vein and artery walls.
12 Health Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
1. Weight loss.
2. Reduce inflammation.
3. Improve brain function.
4. Optimize metabolism.
5. Use fat as the primary fuel.
6. Increase blood sugar control.
7. Improve heart health, blood pressure,
and endothelial function.6
8. Increase energy and focus.
9. Initiate long-term appetite control.
10. Radical increase of beneficial intestinal bacteria.
11. Improve the following biomarkers of longevity:
Lower core body temperature,
higher levels of HGH (human growth hormone),
lean muscle mass spared and conserved.
12. Delivers greater health, slowed aging, and the potential for a longer life.
Mike O’Donnell comments, “Overall, IF can be a simple eating lifestyle that not only helps you lose weight, but more importantly lets you relax and provides relief from obsessing about food or ‘diets’ all day.”
FYI: Caloric Restriction
In 1934, Mary Crowell and Clive McCay of Cornell University observed that laboratory rats fed a severely reduced calorie diet while maintaining micronutrient levels resulted in life spans of up to twice as long as otherwise expected.
Nearly 50 years later, these findings were explored in detail by a series of experiments with mice conducted by Roy Walford, MD and his student Richard Weindruch. In 1982, I was contacted by Kathleen Yankee Hall, Walford’s friend and colleague. As a result, I published Nutrition News, “Maximum Life Span”, based on his book of the same name, discussing innovative ideas around what has become known as Caloric Restriction. Following is one of Roy’s comments about aging.
A person’s allotted span of life is simply too short to permit a satisfying exploration of the world’s outer wonders and the realms of inner experience. We are cut off in the midst of our pleasures, separated too soon from our loved ones, shelved at the mere beginning of our understanding, and laughed at by the gods.
– Roy Walford, MD, 1924 – 2004