Experimental data has accumulated during the past 100 years demonstrating the effectiveness of fasting to improve health.
Hundreds of scientific studies and publications agree on the positive effects of dietary restriction on health.
And yet, some people are skeptical about fasting themselves or their dogs.
Learn here how the health benefits of intermittent fasting go beyond weight loss and why it is considered an anti-aging diet.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Most of the data about intermittent fasting come from studies in laboratory rodents.
However, there’s mounting evidence drawn from studies on larger animals including monkeys, dogs, and even people.
What’s fascinating is they all seem to point to the same direction: restriction of food improves the overall health of organisms.
It's not often that doing nothing, simply stop feeding the body for a little while, can have such a great impact on the health of animals.
Fasting: beyond weight loss.
It’s the perpetual quest for the perfect weight-loss diet that has popularized the virtues of intermittent fasting.
Fasting is, indeed, an efficient tool to shed pounds. As we saw before, it boosts the fat-burning process instead of its storage.
This is especially relevant in the face of the growing obesity epidemic in American pets and people.
While it may be intuitive that eating less often results in weight loss, what may be less so is the effect it has on longevity.
Fasting is the most robust and studied method that prolongs the healthy years and lifespan of animals without any genetic or pharmaceutical intervention.
Most animals live longer when food restricted, including dogs. It really is an anti-aging approach, a rejuvenation strategy!
What fasting does is prolonging the healthy years of life, referred to as health-span, which results in an extension of the number of years an animal lives without major health problems.
It’s about improving the quality of life. It’s about aging gracefully.
It’s putting more life into the years and not only more years to life.
Fasting: an anti-aging diet.
In yeast, worms and fruit flies, life-long reduction of nutrients extends their lifespans 2 to 3-fold.
In laboratory mice and rats, results are impressive. 20 to 50% reduction in calories relative to what they normally eat prolong their lives by 50%!
Rhesus monkeys show signs of aging that are similar to those in humans: greying and thinning of hair, redistribution of body fat, loss of skin and muscle tone.
Clinical manifestations of age-related diseases also accompany aging in these animals.
Also conserved in rhesus monkeys are the benefits that fasting imparts.
In a study performed at the University of Wisconsin Madison, 76 monkeys were divided in two groups of 38 each.
One group was fed what’s considered a normal amount of food, the other group was fed around 30% less, starting at their young adulthood and continuing for the rest of their lives.
Food restricted monkeys lived longer with a 3 times lower risk of death from age related causes.
After 20 years of follow up, when all the monkeys were 27 years old, just 5 of the 38 restricted monkeys had died of age-related diseases, compared to 14 of 38 in the group with access to normal amount of food.
Monkeys with restricted access to food not only lived longer, but they also aged more gracefully.
An improved physical appearance could be noticed compared to monkeys from the control group at the same age.
More importantly, dietary restriction significantly delayed and reduced the incidence of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, muscle and auditory loss, and brain atrophy in these animals.
Is intermittent fasting good for you?
Humans too can undergo the same physiologic adaptations as long-lived laboratory animals, according to data collected in people practicing voluntary fasting on a regular basis as well as clinical studies of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting.
People naturally exposed to calorie restriction live longer as well.
The Japanese island of Okinawa is home of one of the highest densities of centenarians in the world.
The number of people aged 100 or more is 4 to 5 times higher than in any other industrialized country including Japan itself.
Okinawa is one of the five denominated “Blue Zones” of the world where people live longer and healthier lives.
Studies have established that adult Okinawans consume on average 17% fewer calories than the average adult in Japan and 40% less than Americans. Only 9% of their calories come from protein.
Here’s something remarkable: massive health benefits can be obtained even upon short periods of fasting as opposed to a long-life regimen.
And these benefits are experienced by people with health problems as well as by healthy individuals.
In Europe, a well-known medical program developed by the German physician Otto Buchinger is followed by many people in specialized clinics.
Researchers followed 1,422 patients that fasted in these clinics for 4 to 21 days. They were required to drink 2-3 liters of water and consume only 200 to 250 calories daily (compared to around 2,000 daily calories that are considered normal).
Even the group fasting for “only” 4 days saw significant improvements in metabolic and inflammatory markers by the last day of the program.
Most patients lost weight and had a drop in blood pressure.
Other benefits included normalization of blood lipids and reduction of blood glucose.
The typical metabolic switch, which leads to the use of fat as fuel, was also observed.
What’s interesting is that almost all the participants described an absence of hunger, and even reported an increase in their emotional and physical well-being across all groups of different fasting durations.
The latter coincides with reports of fasting inducing the production of endorphins, the body’s own opioids that are also called “feel good” chemicals and are natural painkillers.
Given the powerful effect of intermittent fasting on multiple key molecular pathways that promote health, it’s not surprising that it achieves strong effects not only on one but on an array of diseases.
The list of diseases that can be averted and even reverted by dietary restriction keeps growing.
Beside a profound impact on cancer, autoimmune diseases, cognitive decline, and neurodegeneration, it wouldn’t be crazy to expect that in the next few years scientists reveal additional illnesses to add to the list.
What are the health benefits of fasting for dogs?
In my next post, I’ll discuss the evidence available showing the benefits of fasting dogs.
I can tell you already; the evidence is strong and the benefits plentiful.
Intermittent fasting produces health benefits beyond weight loss.
Fasting extends the life and improves the overall health of multiple animals, from fruit flies to monkeys.
Strong evidence suggests that humans too can live longer and healthier when restricting food intake.