I''ve read a lot of books on fasting, and
almost all of them mention significant health benefits. When
I first started reading this stuff, the claims seemed over the
top. Nothing could be that beneficial. I tried to find some studies
supporting these claims, but I found very little. I didn't find
much research either supporting the claims or refuting them.
But then a study came out a couple of weeks
ago that changed the way I think about fasting. I read about
it in InteliHealth, a newsletter that publishes
medical findings. They have never promoted fasting, and probably
wouldn't recommend it (that's the general medical stance on fasting
it's dangerous). In other words, InteliHealth has no vested
interest in saying fasting is great. And yet this study is remarkable.
The experiment was conducted by Mark Mattson
and his team at the National Institute on Aging. Mattson fed
mice nothing every other day. The mice could eat as much as they
wanted on the days in between, and they did. They pigged out.
They ended up eating very nearly double what normal mice eat
in a day.
But fasting every other day caused them
to live longer and healthier lives. A lot longer and a
lot healthier. The researchers don't exactly know what
to make of it. Mattson said, "We think what happens is going
without food imposes a mild stress on the cells, and cells respond
by increasing their ability to cope with more severe stress."
He said maybe it's similar to what happens when you lift weights:
You stress your muscles and they respond by growing stronger.
Near the very end of the study, they injected
all the mice (those fasting every other day, and those eating
a normal diet) with a toxin that damages the cells in the same
part of the brain Alzheimer's damages in humans (the hippocampus).
Mattson and his team later looked at the brains of the mice and
found that those that had been fasting every other day suffered
less damage to their brain cells.
This study made me think maybe all the
claims in these fasting books might not be ridiculous. At least
some of it might be true.
I've been thinking about this. It seems
likely that at least an occasional state of hunger would have
been fairly common throughout our evolution. Our bodies might
be adapted to it. Maybe it creates unnatural problems when the
body doesn't ever go hungry. Maybe eating three square
meals a day, every day, is unnatural.
Up until the first time I fasted, I had
gone my whole life without ever going even one day without food,
and very rarely even went twelve hours without food. That ain't
For the millions of years mammals have
been evolving and right up to our invention of agriculture a
short ten thousand years ago, mammals often went hungry many
times in an individual's lifetime. Surely our bodies have evolved
to handle this. Maybe that's why it is totally accepted by most
people in the health profession that human beings gain about
a pound a year. Maybe that is part of the body's adaptation to
the inevitable lean times the eons have adapted us to.
In other words, eating plenty of food every
day is probably unnatural for mice as well as for people. An
occasional fast might very well be more natural and very good
Read a personal account of my longest fast
yet: Fasting, Metabolism,
I would like to add one more benefit I
have found from fasting: It is really easy to change my diet
after a fast because everything tastes great. If you want
to change your diet, fast first.
Make or read comments on fasting
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I've read a lot of books on fasting. I
didn't think many of them were very good. But I found two I really
liked, and I recommend them if you're interested in trying a
Fasting: An Exceptional Human
Principles of Fasting
fasting a good way to lose weight?