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Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is rapidly becoming a very popular method of weight control. However, the benefits of intermittent fasting extend far beyond weight control. Humans evolved for millions of years under a fast and then feast pattern of eating. The current regimen of three squares a day plus two snacks is very unnatural and has unfortunate metabolic effects like insulin resistance. Intermittent fasting can re-set these metabolic effects.

Resets the genome

It has long been known that fasting and calorie restriction while consuming adequate amounts of essential nutrients can significantly prolong lifespan. However, the exact mechanisms of this effect have been unclear. One hypothesis is that fasting and calorie restriction re-set epigenetic changes to the genome.

Normally, epigenetic changes accumulate throughout life, altering gene expression patterns, which seems to cause many of the symptoms of aging. Mice and monkeys subjected to calorie restriction were found to have genomes that appeared to be much younger than they actually were.

Human studies

However, the results of animal studies don't always correlate well with human studies. In a recent study in Japan, a group of volunteers fasted in a laboratory, and their metabolic changes were examined in detail.

Glucose to ketone bodies

The most obvious and immediate effect of fasting is that the body switches from burning glucose for energy to burning ketone bodies, which are chiefly derived from fat. This state can also be initiated by consuming a very low carbohydrate diet.

A major advantage of utilizing ketones instead of glucose is that glucose metabolism produces harmful inflammatory products while ketone metabolism does not. Inflammation has been linked to every major chronic disease associated with aging, including heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Cleaning house

The next major metabolic change during fasting is that your body starts to "clean house," namely, removing misfolded proteins and damaged organelles and recycling them. They are used to repair damage throughout the body and are also used for producing energy. In a well-fed state, the body doesn't generally bother to scavenge waste products. The accumulation of misfolded proteins in the brain is a well-known phenomenon in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Many molecular changes

Surprisingly, the experimenters in Japan found that the mitochondria, which produce energy, had gone into overdrive during fasting. In addition, they identified 44 different molecules that dramatically increased during fasting. Many of these molecules had previously been identified to have anti-aging and anti-inflammatory roles, but they had never been linked to fasting before.

Reversal of insulin resistance

During fasting, your body also dramatically reduces its levels of insulin, which allows cells to reset their responses to insulin. A major problem in today's constantly eating society is that the resulting constant supply of insulin induces cells to turn off their response to it, producing insulin resistance, which can then turn into type II diabetes. Fasting can reverse insulin resistance and some individuals with diabetes who intermittently fast have reported that their diabetes was cured.

Preserves muscle mass and slims your waist

Fasting also alters the hormones in your body. Everyone is familiar with the aging process: muscle mass is gradually lost while fat levels increase, especially around the abdomen. However, fasting alters the hormonal state in your body and partially reverses this effect, preserving muscle mass and burning off that abdominal fat.

The bottom line

Intermittent fasting is one of the easiest ways to improve your overall health. It may even make you physically and mentally younger.

Posted by Emily Dawson on Jan 27, 2020 5:43 PM Europe/London

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