I used to blog about this all the time. About 230 posts going back to 2008 that are either about fasting, or mention it in some way.
There were several things that intrigued me. Off the top of my head:
- Makes weight loss pretty easy
- Once adapted to it, most people find enhanced mental attitude and clarity
- Many religious institutions have various fasting regimens. Hmmm…
- It may confer the hypothesized longevity benefits of chronic caloric restriction diets, without being chronic, but acute.
- It may protect healthy cells against the ravages of chemotherapy while weakening cancer cells.
It’s that last one I blogged about way back here, more than 6 years ago: Counterintuitive Cancer Therapy.
Fasting for two days protects healthy cells against chemotherapy, according to a study appearing online the week of Mar. 31 in PNAS Early Edition. Mice given a high dose of chemotherapy after fasting continued to thrive. The same dose killed half the normally fed mice and caused lasting weight and energy loss in the survivors.
Fortunately, Dr. Longo didn’t sit still on this: Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system.
In the first evidence of a natural intervention triggering stem cell-based regeneration of an organ or system, a study in the June 5 issue of the Cell Stem Cell shows that cycles of prolonged fasting not only protect against immune system damage — a major side effect of chemotherapy — but also induce immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal.
In both mice and a Phase 1 human clinical trial involving patients receiving chemotherapy, long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles then “flipped a regenerative switch,” changing the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems, the research showed.
We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system.
The study has major implications for healthier aging, in which immune system decline contributes to increased susceptibility to disease as people age. By outlining how prolonged fasting cycles—periods of no food for two to four days at a time over the course of six months—kill older and damaged immune cells and generate new ones, the research also has implications for chemotherapy tolerance and for those with a wide range of immune system deficiencies, including autoimmunity disorders.
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system,” said corresponding author Valter Longo, Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute. Longo has a joint appointment at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Longo said. “What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. So we started thinking, well, where does it come from?”
Sounds a lot like autophagy, another term that’s in lots of my posts going back 6 years.
Interestingly, a chronic ketogenic diet has been touted as an effective therapy for both cancer and epilepsy, and with some evidence to justify hypothesis forming and testing, a good thing. But has it panned out? Moreover, is it less effective than ACUTE ketosis (AKA: an extended fast)? If something is good, is more of it and all the time necessarily better? Does disregarding delicate balances either way get you into trouble?
Angelo Coppola, an honest inquisitor after my own heart—with no turf to protect with stinky obvious bias—recently dropped a comment on the changing landscape with regard to chronic ketosis vs. more effective therapies.
Re: Cancer & Epilepsy
This Dr. claims to have worked closely with Atkins and that Atkins tested a ketogenic approach on cancer patients but failed to show benefits.
~ The surprising story of medical marijuana and pediatric epilepsy: Josh Stanley at TEDxBoulder.
“Paige took her daughter to Chicago to see a Dravet specialist, who put the child on a ketogenic diet frequently used to treat epilepsy that’s high in fat and low in carbohydrates. The special diet forces the body to make extra ketones, natural chemicals that suppress seizures. It’s mainly recommended for epileptic patients who don’t respond to treatment.”
The diet helped control Charlotte’s seizures but had a lot of side effects. She suffered from bone loss. Her immune system plummeted. And new behavioral problems started popping up.
“At one point she was outside eating pine cones and stuff, all kinds of different things,” Matt said. “As a parent you have to say, let’s take a step back and look at this. Is this truly beneficial treatment because of these other things?”
Two years into the diet, the seizures came back.”
Go ahead and sort it all out, pass it on to folks who might need it.
Here’s my random thoughts about fasting:
- Except for fat loss, it ought not be about under eating, but crowding the same amount of food into a shorter time.
- I’d rather see a person do a 4-day fast and eat regularly the other 26 days of the month, than a weekly fast.
- I’d rather see a person do a 2-day fast and eat regularly the other 12 days of a fortnight, than a weekly fast.
- I’d rather see a person do a 30-hr fast weekly than do a daily fasting window, with one exception: a disciplined Leangains-styled protocol that involves holy shit heavy lifting 3 times per week, and eating your ass off, with everything counted, in an 8-hr window every day.
- Fasting can be seductive, in that it can gradually adapt you to chronic under eating as you get used to it and plug into the euphoria it can induce. Chronic under eating comes with a whole host of problems, not the least of which is that your body gets very good at making you not exert much energy, all while it guards every molecule of energy it can keep. In short, it can really mess up a metabolism, along with hormonal regulation. I think this was what a lot of women predominantly experienced back when intermittent fasting was all the rage.
Alright, no go empty your fridge and toss it in the trash. Starve.