Last year, I wrote about Intermittent Fasting for Reducing Autoimmunity as it is an effective approach in my practice for patients’ whose immune system is attacking their own bodily tissues. But did you also know that intermittent fasting appears to increase one’s lifespan? Let’s discuss!
Longevity studies have been going on for almost a century, and it’s no secret that aging can be ameliorated by lifestyle, dietary, genetic, and pharmacological interventions (Fontana et al., 2014; Goldman et al., 2013; Partridge, 2010).
Yet, in the United States, the pillar that gets the most education and training in the conventional medical community are prescription drugs. This has to change as we know so much more now than we did a century ago.
For instance, we know that simple, single-gene mutations can extend animal lifespan, ameliorating natural, age-dependent loss of function (Metaxakis et al., 2014; Stein and Murphy, 2012). Not to mention, these single-gene mutations can also prevent several pathologies, including neurodegeneration, one of the hallmark conditions of “aging-related diseases.” (Cohen et al., 2009; Killick et al., 2009; Menzies and Rubinsztein, 2010; Pinkston-Gosse and Kenyon, 2007; Stöhr et al., 2013). Now, of course, we can’t go in and snip our genes to make the perfect anti-aging genome.
What we can do is recognize that by just making one simple lifestyle change can profoundly impact a person’s lifespan since there is a direct interplay between our genes and the environment. How you live, not your genes itself, determines your destiny since your environment defines which genes are activated or deactivated. For example, what you eat, how you move, breath, what you drink, how you handle stress, etc. directly impacts if you will live a long, happy, healthy life or a short, unhappy, miserable life.
Healthy aging is well within the realm of possibility. In laboratory animal models of slowed aging, naturally long-lived species such as the naked mole rat, and some humans that achieve the age of 100 have all shown that a long life is not inevitably associated with late-life disability and dysfunction (Ikeno et al., 2006; Edrey et al., 2011; Ailshire et al., 2015). For instance, specific dietary interventions promote long life and healthy and graceful aging. Under these circumstances, the environment can be thought of as being aligned with the genes; they work synchronously, in concert with one another.
What is the specific dietary intervention? You might be surprised to know that it’s NOT a “eat-this-not-that” approach. It’s a “eat less” approach. Dietary restriction is the “official” name used in research, and it’s very similar to the idea of intermittent fasting.
Dietary restriction is typically implemented as a long-term and coordinated reduction of all dietary constituents except vitamins and minerals. Dietary restriction was first studied over 80 years ago to extend lifespan in both rats and mice and improve most aspects of health during aging (Fontana et al., 2010a; Ikeno et al., 2006; Maeda et al., 1985).
Dietary restriction can yield substantial results with, for example, 30% of dietary restricted animals dying at old ages without gross pathological lesions, compared with only 6% of controls who could eat however much they wanted (Ikeno et al., 2006). Furthermore, when dietary restriction is implemented in young, adult Rhesus monkeys it greatly improves metabolic health, prevents obesity, delays the onset of muscle wasting, presbycusis (loss of hearing), and brain atrophy (natural brain shrinkage), and decreases the risk of developing and dying of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (Colman et al., 2014; Mattison et al., 2012).
Dietary interventions like a “dietary restriction” or “intermittent fasting” should not incite panic; it is not about self-deprivation, misery, and hunger. It’s a simple fast you can shift around to meet your needs. And if the word “fast” still creates a little distress, think of it as intermittent feeding instead. Without even realizing it, this approach naturally helps us eat less and use more out of what we supply our body. The goal is not to starve you because inadequate nutrition does increase the risk of impaired menstrual and reproductive function, osteoporotic bone fractures, anemia, and cardiac arrhythmias (Fairburn and Harrison, 2003).
Focus on having real, yummy, nutrient-dense plant-based food where you avoid eating for 12 to 16 hours at night, and make your day’s last meal (i.e., dinner) your smallest one. This is probably the single most effective way to start improving your health and longevity.
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