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By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist, last updated
Last updated July 30, 2016 (originally published August 16, 2015)

It’s incredibly simple. Don’t count calories, don’t follow a
special diet, don’t exercise – just don’t eat.

Quit eating for a short while and say hello to fast weight
loss, lower blood pressure, and even a new immune

“Intermittent fasting” is hot right now thanks to the 5:2
Fast Diet where you eat a regular healthy diet on five days
and drop to 500 calories a day on the other two days, with
celebrities like J-Lo and Miranda Kerr following the regime.

Aside from weight loss, science says fasting offers a
number of health benefits. Is fasting truly effective for
helping conditions like
diabetes and high cholesterol? Can
fasting help prevent breast cancer?  

Why Does Fasting Benefit Your Health?

Intermittent fasting – skipping food and drink intake for
short periods – is apparently good for us.

Doctors say that fasting can change metabolic parameters
such as blood pressure, weight, and metabolic rate.

your body cannot get any energy from calories in
food when you fast, it begins to use up the stored glucose

(blood sugar)
 in your muscles and liver.

After around eight to 10 hours of fasting,  this back up
source of glucose
is all used up, and your body begins
burning your stored fat as a source of energy.

This results in weight loss but also in
detoxification, when
the toxins in fat are stripped away, and in a mental boost
as endorphins --- natural "feel good" hormones --- rise.
Fasting may also result in
lower cholesterol, and lower
blood pressure, which causes a number of beneficial health

Are There Health Risks of Fasting?

Fasting, according to the experts, is fine in moderation but
there are health risks associated with the practice.

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) says the principal
risk is dehydration – make sure you get enough water
while you fast.

You may also suffer from
stress and disrupted sleep, which
can lead to headaches.

People who are malnourished or suffer from eating
disorders shouldn’t fast – and it is worth checking with a
doctor before you begin a fasting regime in order to get
"all clear".

But in terms of the positive side, we looked at recent
scientific evidence showing the health benefits of cutting
out food for a while.

Fasting Reduces the Risk of Diabetes

Periodic fasting – one day where you drink only water,
once a week – may help reduce the risk of diabetes in
people who are at high risk of suffering the condition,
according to 2011 research from Intermountain Heart
Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, UT.

This study dealt with people with pre-diabetes. With pre-
diabetes, glucose levels in the blood are higher than normal
but not high enough for diabetes.

In the study, routine fasting was associated with lower
risks of diabetes and coronary heart disease because the
energy used came from fat cells – the body snacked on
cholesterol and this helped lower the impact of insulin

Reboot Your Immune System by Fasting

Recent reports also suggest that fasting could even give
you a
completely new immune system.

A 2014 study from the University of Southern California
(USC) in Los Angeles demonstrated that longer periods of
fasting – between two to four days – actually caused the
immune system to clear out old cells and regenerate new
ones, a process that could protect against cell damage due
to aging.

Chemotherapy Works Better with Fasting

According to a 2012 study by the University of Southern
California, chemotherapy is more effective when it is
combined with short bursts of fasting.

Fasting and chemotherapy, according to the researchers,
slowed the growth and spread of tumors – and chemo was
much more effective when fasting was involved.

The trial was on mice but a human version is planned to see
if humans would equally benefit from the regime of

Fasting Could Be Good for the Heart

Fasting lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease,
according to a 2007 study from the Intermountain Medical
Center in Utah.  This study found lower rates of
cardiovascular disease among followers of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormons), who
fast one day a month as part of their belief system.

Scientists also know that Mormons are less likely to die
from heart disease, perhaps due to the fact it is forbidden
by their religion to smoke, but it could also be due to

What's going on here? Researchers believe that when you
abstain from food for 24 hours you reduce the body’s
exposure to glucose, and that could allow cells which have
lost some of their sensitivity to insulin to re-sensitize and
return to a level where they work better.

Fasting Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

An increase in overnight fasting and a decrease in time
spent eating reduces glucose levels and may help protect
against breast cancer, according to a 2015 study by the
University of California, San Diego School of Medicine led
by Dr. Catherine Maranac and Loki Natarajan.


In the study, women who went without food for longer
periods overnight had better blood glucose control, which
relates to a drop in breast cancer risk. For every 3 hours
increase in the amount of time you fast, your blood glucose
level (measured 2 hours after eating) goes down by 4%.  
This 4 % drop in blood sugar levels occurs no matter what
you eat.

The reason this is important is because other research has
found that a higher blood sugar level (hyperglycemia) is
associated with an increased risk for diabetes. For example,
a 2014 study led by Dr. J. C. de Beer of North-West
Campus Pretoria, South Africa concluded that "chronic
hyperglycaemia correlates with increased cancer risk for a
number of cancers, except prostate cancer. Evidence is also
provided that risk is already increased in the pre-diabetic
and normal ranges for several cancers."

Here is the kicker --high blood sugar levels increase your
risk for breast cancer, even if you do not have diabetes.

Bottom line - stop eating earlier in the day. You will have
better blood sugar control and lower breast cancer risk.]

By the way, in the University of California study, women
who went for longer at night without food also consumed
fewer calories during the day and ate fewer calories after

Reduce Cholesterol Levels by Fasting?

Fasting actively lowers your cholesterol levels, according to
researchers, which has a beneficial effect on many aspects
of health particularly when it comes to the likelihood of
developing diabetes.

Research in 2014 from the Intermountain Heart Institute at
Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah shows that
after 10 to 12 hours of fasting the body looks for other
forms of energy and starts to pull bad cholesterol from the
fat cells for sustenance.

During the actual fasting days cholesterol levels went up
slightly but over the period of the trial they went down by
about 12 percent in total.

Fasting May Help People with Epilepsy

Children suffering from a drug-resistant form of epilepsy
benefit from periodic fasting along with following the high-
fat, low-carb diet called the ketogenic diet, according to a
2012 Johns Hopkins Children's Center study.

This diet and fasting on alternate days can work together
to reduce seizures – four of the six children in the study
had between 50 percent and 99 percent fewer seizures
after the fasting.

Bear in mind that these results are from a very small study,
so more in-depth research is needed.


Age Slower with Intermittent Fasting

Numerous studies have shown that calorie restriction
extends the lifespan. A 2015 study from University of
Florida College of Medicine found that an on-again, off-
again diet in which a person fasted for one day (eating
25% of normal calories) and gorged the next (eating
175% of normal calories) actually dropped blood sugar
and increased insulin sensitivity.

Why is this a big deal for aging? Insulin sensitivity is closely
related to pathways that add oxidative stress to your cells.
Oxidative stress is the same process that turns apples old
and brown when you leave them out in a room, and that is
the process that also ages your cells.

As the study notes, many years of studies have  
"demonstrated that sustained under-consumption of daily
calorie intake (60%–80% of normal) has significant health
benefits1,2 and delays the onset of a number of age-
related diseases."

Most of the studies on fasting and longevity have been
done in mice and non-human primates. However, a 2004
study conducted jointly by three universities/research
centers showed that we humans experience much of the
same benefits from intermittent fasting/calorie restriction
in improved aging as other animals. The 2004 study called
"CALERIE" was sponsored by the National Institutes of
Health and conducted at Washington University in St. Louis,
MO, Tufts University in Boston, MA, and the Pennington
Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA.

How much longer can you live through fasting? The results
will vary with the person but estimates are that intermittent
fasting which is controlled so that you also get the
nutrients you need can extend your lifespan by between
10% and 20% more than expected.

Here is a game plan for calorie restriction. The key is to cut
back on calories without also losing out on nutrients. Go
for the easy, "empty" calories first. If you enjoy a Burger,
keep doing so. But just cut it into half, then cut the half in
half and save the 1/4 for the next day. You still get to eat
3/4 of your burger. The same goes for any other food that
is heavy in unhealthy fats such as steaks, pork chops and
so on.

If you eat out, get into the habit of splitting an entree or
dessert with your friend or family.  It will help extend your
lifespan and your budget. ]

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Modified fasting may involve
eating a small bowl of oatmeal
early in the day and drinking
water for the remainder of the