Article at a Glance
- Intermittent fasting is a growing health trend in which one consumes their food within a restricted period of time.
- Intermittent fasting may help slow down aging through increasing ketosis, inducing hormesis and increasing autophagy.
- Intermittent fasting is a simple health intervention which can have profound benefits.
As the popularity of intermittent fasting grows, more research has revealed that the benefits of forgoing meals may go far beyond simply losing weight. In fact, some research is revealing to us that intermittent fasting may very well play a key role in increasing longevity and reversing signs of aging.
Let’s explore some of the latest research on how intermittent fasting may help contribute to living a longer and healthier life.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is one of the world’s most popular health trends. People are using intermittent fasting to lose weight and gain control of their health. It involves having a time-restricted eating period that includes periods of feeding and fasting. Intermittent fasting isn’t a conventional diet, as you’re not changing what you’re eating, but rather it is an eating pattern that dictates when you eat.
A common intermittent fasting schedule involves eating all of your food between the hours of 12-8 pm, meaning you’re fasting for 16 hours and feeding for 8 hours. This is known as 16/8.
Intermittent fasting is most well known for being an effective weight loss intervention. But did you know that more research is revealing that intermittent fasting may very well help with a number of other health markers, including aging? Here are three ways intermittent fasting could help you live longer.
1. Intermittent Fasting Increases Ketones
In a fasted state, the body is deprived of glucose, which usually comes from the consumption of carbohydrates and protein. The body’s preferential source of energy is glucose, but when fasted, the body is forced to utilize an alternative source of fuel.
In the absence of glucose, the body breaks down fat in the liver and turns fat into an available source of energy called ketones. Ketones are shuttled into the mitochondria and are used as fuel for the brain, heart, and muscles.
Certain parts of the body (especially in the brain) cannot utilize ketones and require glucose. This glucose is supplied through the breakdown of protein as well as the fat glycerol via a process called gluconeogenesis. Ketones may have some anti-aging benefits and we can use Alzheimer’s disease as a prime example.
Alzheimer’s disease is related to glucose metabolism. This is why Alzheimer’s disease has been referred to as type 3 diabetes [R]. Through bypassing the shortcomings of a less than optimal glucose metabolism, ketones are able to directly supply the brain with energy and improve the cognitive function of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
One study showed that ketosis enhanced memory in those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) often called early Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, 23 older adults with MCI were assigned to either a high-carb or ketogenic diet. After the 6 weeks, higher ketone levels were shown to be positively correlated with memory [R].
Other emerging evidence has suggested that the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) exerts a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease in animal models [R, R, R].
Ketosis induced through dietary changes can improve memory in older people with cognitive impairment [R]. It would thus make sense that intermittent fasting, which induces ketosis, would also help to ameliorate brain aging.
Evidence has shown that regular intermittent fasting helps cells become more resilient to cellular stress [R]. This cellular resilience is caused by hormesis, a process describing favorable biological responses to stress.
Two examples of hormesis are exercise and consuming vegetables [R, R]. Both exercise and certain phytochemicals in vegetables can both cause the body a degree of stress. However, exercise and vegetables are beneficial, as the response to this stress is positive.
Intermittent fasting is also an example of hormesis. Too much fasting would lead to the catabolization of your muscle tissue and eventually death. However, a little stress from fasting on a daily basis is just enough to avoid negative effects and instead induce positive biological responses over time that increase your resilience to oxidative stress, one of the key factors which contribute to aging and degenerative disease [R, R].
3. Fasting Triggers Autophagy
Autophagy comes from a Greek word that means self-eating. Autophagy is the self-recycling of cellular waste, a process which is increased in response to stress.
As we age, autophagy slows down and our ability to recycle cells under stress is decreased. By fasting, we can increase autophagy which may slow down the rate of aging as we keep our body primed to combat cellular stress [R].
One study showed that relatively short term fasting (24-48 hours) induced profound neural autophagy [R].
But the question is, does the length of typical intermittent fasting (16-23 hours) also induce autophagy?
To date, research on fasting and autophagy has focused on 24-48 hour fasts. This is based on the rationale that autophagy generally increases in parallel to ketosis which is known to take 24-48 hours to induce [R].
However, ketosis can occur much sooner than 24 hours of fasting, and even without fasting as seen with the ketogenic diet, making it theoretically possible that intermittent fasting could increase ketosis and, as a result, autophagy [R].
Intermittent fasting is a simple health intervention which can have profound benefits that go beyond weight loss. By simply eating within a defined window of time on a daily basis, a number of anti-aging pathways in the body are activated. But will intermittent fasting really help you live longer? We simply don’t have a concrete answer to this yet.
If you’re serious about making a real difference to your health and would like to work with a professional that can help you incorporate intermittent fasting into your life, then you can start by referring to our directory of aging clinics for guidance.
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