One of the newest diet trends in the weight loss world is also one of the most ancient: Fasting. But in addition to helping with weight loss, intermittent fasting can also help reverse some diseases and even turn back the clock, based on new research reported on Thursday.
The study revealed that by fasting two to four days, cancer patients and those with other conditions can benefit because the dietary intervention helps with stem cell regeneration of immune cells. Even the researchers were impressed with the results.
"We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system," said Valter Longo, a gerontology professor in California. His team discovered that alternating fasting and feasting impacted blood cell counts.
Dr. Longo extrapolated that fasting also can help reverse aging because levels of IGF-1 declined. This growth factor hormone is linked to aging, cancer and tumor progression.
For those seeking to lose weight, fasting may help because it mimics that of our hunter-gatherer Paleo ancestors, says Dr. Joseph Mercola, author of "The No-Grain Diet." Based on the newest studies, he extrapolated that the reduction in food intake models "the behaviors of our ancient ancestors to optimize health."
Paleo diet guru Mark Sisson offers his own insights on intermittent fasting on his site. Author of "The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy," he advocates the use of alternate approaches, including full-day fasts as well as missing meals.
Confirming this thesis, Dr. Krista Varady, author of "The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off," developed her own alternate-fasting approach when she began studying calorie restriction.
"I wanted to do a PhD in the area of calorie restriction and fasting,” she recalled of her initial studies. “I wanted to find out: do you really have to diet every single day to lose weight?"
After Dr. Varady discovered that most individuals could not restrict calories significantly for longer than a month or two, she decided to experiment with an alternate-day diet. On her plan, dieters eat 500 to 600 calories every other day and then eat what they want on the "feast" days.
But that's not the only option. You can eat restricted calories two days a week, then feast five days in what's become known as the 5:2 diet, detailed by Dr. Michael Mosley in "The FastDiet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting."
He created a documentary for the BBC showing the benefits of the 5:2 approach - and that included putting himself on the diet as a guinea pig. After his health improved and weight dropped, Dr. Mosley become a believer.
The approach also is detailed in "The 5: 2 Fast Diet for Beginners: The Complete Book for Intermittent Fasting with Easy Recipes and Weight Loss." And for those who want help figuring out what they can eat on the restricted calorie days, there are cookbooks such as "The Fast Diet Cookbook: Low-Calorie Fast Diet Recipes and Meal Plans for the 5:2 Diet and Intermittent Fasting."
For those who don't want to restrict calories so drastically, some experts advocate fasting "windows" that limit food intake on a daily basis. This approach is used in "The Mini-Fast Diet: Burn Fat Faster Than Ever with the Simple Science of Intermittent Fasting."
Author Dr. Julian Whitaker advocates skipping breakfast and then limiting your food intake to lunch and dinner. As a result, he says you can achieve ketosis on a daily basis without the extreme hunger that some experience on traditional fasts.