The Fasting Cure Is No Fad
Personal note: I did this for energy and to sleep better. What I didn’t expect — energy levels more even, constant and less “spikey”.
By Andreas Michalsen for The Wall Street Journal
Aug. 1, 2019 12:21 pm ET
Fasting is one of the biggest weight-loss trends to arise in recent years. Endorsed by A-list celebrities and the subject of a spate of best-selling books, it was the eighth most-Googled diet in America in 2018.
But fasting shouldn’t be dismissed as just another fad. At the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, I’ve employed what’s called intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, to help patients with an array of chronic conditions. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatism and bowel diseases, as well as pain syndromes such as migraines and osteoarthritis.
There are different ways to go about it, but I advise patients to omit either dinner or breakfast, so that they don’t ingest any food for at least 14 hours at a stretch. That makes lunch the most important meal of the day. It also reduces the time spent each day processing food and lengthens the period devoted to cleansing and restoring the body’s cells, both of which have positive health effects.
Adopting this technique is not as difficult as it may seem. If you sleep from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., you’ve already fasted for eight hours. Now you only need another six. It’s healthy to avoid eating late in the evening to let your body burn energy from food rather than store it, so if you eat dinner by 7 p.m., that’s another four hours. For breakfast, you can limit yourself to coffee or tea (maybe with a small piece of fruit) and make lunch your first proper meal. By that time, you’re clearly beyond the 14 hours and don’t need to restrain yourself: You can eat until you are full.
The biologist Satchidananda Panda at California’s Salk Institute showed the possibilities of this approach in a 2012 report in the journal Cell Metabolism. He fed a group of mice a high-fat diet around the clock for 18 weeks; they developed fatty livers, pancreatic disease and diabetes. Another group was fed the exact same number of calories a day, but all during an eight-hour span. Surprisingly, the second group stayed slimmer and healthier for much longer.
There is a logic to it. When we eat, our body releases insulin. That disrupts the process of autophagy (from the Greek, meaning “self-devouring”), by which cells deconstruct old, damaged components in order to release energy and build new molecules. Autophagy helps to counteract the aging of cells and builds immunity. Fasts stimulate autophagy and allow the full molecular process to take place, as a team led by Frank Madeo at the University of Graz in Austria found in 2017.