Is intermittent fasting the way to better health?

Intermittent FastingFasting constitutes abstaining from food, either partially or totally. Traditionally, fasting has been practised by various religions, from Greek Orthodox Christians who fast 180-200 days every year to the Biblical Daniel fast, and the Islamic Ramadan fast which prohibits consumption of food and drink during daylight hours. There is evidence to suggest that some of these fasts may be associated with health benefits such as improvements in blood lipid content, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity. Since the time of Hippocrates, fasting has also been used for the treatment of acute and chronic diseases. Studies have also shown that supervised fasting may be efficacious in the treatment of a variety of disorders such as metabolic syndrome and hypertension.

One modified version of fasting, called intermittent fasting, is a regimen which entails alternating periods of eating and fasting. According to Anzonette Pittet, RD,CSO, Kaiser Permanente, it usually involves fasting for less than 24 hours, and eating 2-3 meals within an eating window. For most of us, it can be as simple as extending the natural fasting which occurs during our sleeping hours, skipping breakfast, and eating between noon and 8 pm. This is one form of intermittent fasting known as the 16/8 method, and there are some other types like the eat-stop-eat method and the 5:2 diet.

Studies evaluating the effect of fasting (with variations in fast duration from 24-180 hours), in cancer patients have shown a number of benefits such as reduction in fatigue, weakness, and gastrointestinal side effects, nausea, and vomiting, increase in red blood cell and platelet count post chemotherapy, and reduction in DNA damage. At the Silicon Valley Oncology Nursing Society’s, Hot Topics in Oncology Care Conference 2018, Anzonette Pittet, also spoke about another study which reported a reduction in severity of symptoms such as headaches, dry mouth, fatigue and nausea among patients who received chemotherapy and were fasting, versus those that were not fasting. Furthermore, some studies have even shown a decrease in cancer growth rate and reduction in the risk for cancer itself. This may be a result of the following outcomes of fasting such as decreased production of blood glucose, increase in the production of tumor killing cells and balanced nutritional intake. Intermittent fasting may also have anti-aging benefits as it was shown to extend lifespan in certain animal studies.

There is some evidence to show that short term fasting may make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy and protect healthy cells in the body against the side effects of chemotherapy. However, larger studies are needed to corroborate these findings. Despite the promising benefits of fasting against cancer, there is limited research in humans and further investigations are needed in to determine the optimal duration of fasting, effect on tumor growth and metastasis, and effects in patients with previous illnesses.

Intermittent fasting may not be the best approach for everyone. This is especially true in the case of individuals with eating disorders, those who are underweight, and those with a previous medical condition. While intermittent fasting can have powerful effects on the brain and body, you may feel weak during the fasting period, at least temporarily. You may also find it difficult to concentrate and feel irritable. It is advisable to work with a holistic health practitioner so that they can monitor you and see what works best for you.

 

References:

  1. Calorie Restriction, Fasting, Ketosis and Cancer. Kaiser Permanente. http://www.siliconvalleyons.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2108-SV-ONS-KD-presentation-6218.pdf
  2. Trepanowski and Bloomer. The impact of religious fasting on human health. Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:57
  3. Pradeep MK Nair; Sriloy Mohanty; Jainraj R. “Knowledge, attitude and practice of therapeutic fasting among naturopathy physicians: across sectional national survey”. Journal of Nutrition,Fasting and Health, 3, 4, 2015, 177-182. doi: 10.22038/jfh.2015.6075
  4. What is Intermittent Fasting? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-intermittent-fasting#section1 Accessed 24 July, 2018.
  5. Fasting and Cancer. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/fasting-and-cancer#research Accessed 24 July, 2018.
  6. Intermittent Fasting 101 – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide#section5 Accessed 24 July 2018.
  7. De Groot et al. The effects of short-term fasting on tolerance to (neo) adjuvant chemotherapy in HER2-negative breast cancer patients: a randomized pilot study. BMC Cancer (2015) 15:652. DOI 10.1186/s12885-015-1663-5
  8. Laessle R.G. et al.Biological and psychological correlates of intermittent dieting behavior in young women. A model for bulimia nervosa. Physiology and Behavior (1996) ISSN: 0031-9384, Vol: 60, Issue: 1, Page: 1-5

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