Fasting may hold the key…
Fasting is historically common-place as it has been a part of spiritual practice for millennia. But modern science has confirmed there are many good reasons for fasting, including:
Normalizing your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance (which is what you get when your insulin sensitivity plummets) is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as “the hunger hormone”
Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process
Lowering triglyceride levels
Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage
There’s also plenty of research showing that fasting has a beneficial impact on longevity in animals. There are a number of mechanisms contributing to this effect. Normalizing insulin sensitivity is a major one, but fasting also inhibits the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in driving the aging process. The fact that it improves a number of potent disease markers also contributes to fasting’s overall beneficial effects on general health.
Interestingly, one recent study that included more than 200 individuals, found that fasting increased the participants’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, the “good” cholesterol) by 14 percent and 6 percent, respectivelyvi. Why would fasting raise total cholesterol? Dr. Benjamin D. Horne, PhD, MPH, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, and the study’s lead author, offers the following explanation:
“Fasting causes hunger or stress. In response, the body releases more cholesterol, allowing it to utilize fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. This decreases the number of fat cells in the body… This is important because the fewer fat cells a body has, the less likely it will experience insulin resistance, or diabetes.”
Even more remarkable, the study also found that fasting triggered a dramatic rise in HGH—1,300 percent in women, and an astounding 2,000 percent in men!
HGH, commonly referred to as “the fitness hormone” plays an important role in maintaining health, fitness and longevity, including promotion of muscle growth, and boosting fat loss by revving up your metabolism. The fact that it helps build muscle while simultaneously promoting fat loss explains why HGH helps you lose weight without sacrificing muscle mass, and why even athletes can benefit from the practice (as long as they don’t overtrain and are careful about their nutrition).
The only other thing that can compete in terms of dramatically boosting HGH levels is high-intensity interval training. If you’re over the age of 30, especially if you lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, you’ve likely entered a phase known as somatopause (age-related growth hormone deficiency). As your HGH levels decrease, your levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) also decrease, and this is yet another important part of what drives your body’s aging process.
Variations of Fasting
In his blog on marksdailyapple.com, Mark Sisson delves into four different variations of fasting, and how to implement them. The variations he includes are:
LeanGains (a fasting protocol by Martin Berkhanvii )—A daily 14-16 hour fast, during which time you consume nothing, with the exception of non-caloric fluids. Sleeping time is included in this time-frame, leaving an 8-10 hour window during the day when you’re allowed to eat.
This protocol is designed with regular exercise in mind, with specific nutrient ratios for workout days and rest days, and is geared for those who want to shed excess fat and gain muscle mass. Hence, it’s best suited for those who are actually exercising and lifting weights each week and can tolerate working out in a fasted state.
Eat Stop Eat (created by Brad Pilonviii)—In this protocol, you fast for a full 24 hours once or twice a week. Your fast should be broken with a regular-sized meal (i.e. avoid gorging when coming off your fast), and you can maintain a regular exercise program without any special diet recommendations for workout days.
Fasting for 24 hours can be tough for some people, but I would agree with Mark’s advice that eating a high-fat, low-carb diet can make 24-hour fasting easier, as a higher fat diet will tend to normalize your hunger hormones and provide improved satiety for longer periods of time.
The Warrior Diet (by Ori Hofmekler)—This is another protocol designed to improve your fitness by exercising in a fasted state. I’ve interviewed Ori and posted detailed articles on this in the past. His plan calls for 20 hours of fasting, and four hours of “feasting.” You exercise during the day in a fasted state. Raw vegetables are allowed during your fast, but no protein, which is reserved for “feasting” or post-exercise recovery meals.
To learn more about the Warrior Diet, please see this previous interview with Ori.
Alternate Day Fasting—This fasting protocol is exactly as it sounds: one day off, one day on. When you include sleeping time, the fast can end up being as long as 32-36 hours.
As Mark notes, this may be the most difficult of all types of fasting, as it will require you to go to bed with an empty stomach a few times a week. It’s definitely not for everyone.
Mark rounds off his list with one last suggestion: to simply let your hunger guide you and skip meals if you’re not hungry. While this should work really well for those who are otherwise healthy and are not struggling with food cravings, it may not work if you’re constantly craving food. Food cravings is a sign that you’re not providing your body with proper nutrients in the appropriate ratios, so following your hunger in this case could be staggeringly counterproductive.
Learn more at Dr. Mercola’s site:
Burn Away Fat Cells With Intermittent Fasting