Fasting probably is the best thing you can do to experience a breakthrough with your body. You can accomplish so much without having to stick to three meals a day or go to gym for rigorous workouts. Multiple studies have suggested that going without food for a limited number of days can help revitalize immune system, and improve insulin sensitivity.
Also, there is a growing number of researches to investigate if fasting can really fend off heart diseases, lower cancer risks and even stop or possibly reverse the onset of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s.
Now researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and Kyoto University have given us another reason to embark on our fasting regime. Their latest study published in the journal Scientific Reports revealed that fasting can tremendously increase metabolism, drive the production of antioxidants, and reverse some effects of aging.
It also reported revelation of 30 previously unrecognized substances that offer a host of health benefits and whose quantity increases during the period of fasting.
“We have been researching aging and metabolism for many years and decided to search for unknown health effects in human fasting,” said Dr. Takayuki Teruya, first author of the study in a news release. “Contrary to the original expectation, it turned out that fasting induced metabolic activation rather actively.”
In the study, the team analysed the whole human blood, plasma, and red blood cells of four fasting individuals. Upon monitoring their changing levels of metabolites – substances that are synthesised and broken down for growth and energy production of the organism – they found 44 of them, including 30 that were previously unknown. Also, there were 1.5 to 60 fold increase in the number of metabolites among the participants during the span of just 56 hours of fasting.
Earlier study had identified three known metabolites – leucine, isoleucine, and ophthalmic acid – crucial for maintenance of muscle and antioxidant activity, including various others whose quantities decline with age. However, fasting spurs increase in these metabolites level, suggesting possible rejuvenating effect and increase in longevity.
Carbohydrate is the body’s immediate energy source. But when it’s not available, the body undergoes what is known as “energy substitution” where it scrounges for alternate energy stores. This then leaves a trial of metabolites such as butyrates, carnitines, and branched-chain amino acids. These metabolites, which are eminent markers of energy substitution, have been shown to pile up during fasting.
The team also did a comprehensive analysis of human blood. They found that fasting fuels the rate at which organisms release energy stored in carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. In other words, it drives every cell to go into overdrive.
Fasting also boosts metabolism of purine and pyrimidine. These chemical substances are known for their roles in protein synthesis and gene expression. When metabolized, they increase the extent at which antioxidants are produced.
Antioxidants protect our cells, proteins and DNA from damage caused by free radicals produced during metabolism. Several antioxidants, such as ergothioneine and carnosine, were found to increase significantly during the study.
Their findings also showed that fasting endows the body with the ability to reprogram which protein cells to build, and even reschedule when to build one, thus changing the way they function. In turn, the change encourages optimal functioning of the cells (homeostasis), and even helps in editing their gene expression in response to environmental factors.
Apart from providing the first evidence of antioxidants as a fasting marker, the study reveals fasting triggers production of several age-related metabolites that are plentiful in youths, but declined with age.
Restricting calorie intake and fasting may have been shown to have prolonging effect on lifespan in several aging-related studies, but the detailed mechanism has never been thoroughly investigated. Developing exercise programs or drugs capable of simulating metabolic reaction similar to that of fasting may help verify the anti-aging effect, researchers explain.
It’s clear that fasting, if done responsibly, could yield a wide range of health benefits, and these latest findings just happen to expand our understanding of what it could really do for our health. In the future, researchers hope to replicate the results of these findings in a much larger study, and investigate if there’s any other means that could trigger metabolic changes.
“People are interested in whether human beings can enjoy the effects of prevention of metabolic diseases and prolonging life span by fasting or caloric restriction, as with model animals,” explained Teruya. “Understanding the metabolic changes caused by fasting is expected to give us wisdom for maintaining health.”
We, at times, eat not out of hunger, but just for the comfort and enjoyment of food, while still leading a sedentary lifestyle. This irrepressible practice has sparked a rise in number of health issues. But if we work a little harder to understand one’s own individuality and be aware of all shortcomings arising from our lack of self-control in eating, we can avoid confrontation with all sorts of diseases. And the easiest and yet the most effective way to do that is – fasting. Yes, fasting is extremely healthy.