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Periodic Fasting May Improve Health

The comedian Gallager once said, "I don't know why they call it fasting, when it goes so slow!" None-the-less, a new study reported to the National Institute on Aging suggests that fasting may be good for you. An article on the subject appeared in the Tuesday, April 29, 2003 issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, (AJC). That article starts off by saying, "Periodic fasting may improve health and help people withstand the stresses of disease and aging."

One of the lead researchers, Mark Mattson, explains it by saying, "What we think is happening is when you go an extended time period without food, it causes a mild stress on the cells. When a cell reacts to this stress, it may increase its ability to cope with more serious stress, such as disease and aging."

The actual research was performed on mice that were denied food on alternate days. These mice subsequently showed marked improvement in key health indicators. Researchers believe the results are relevant to human health and are designing an experiment using human volunteers. The article noted that the mice in the experiment, which were allowed to eat all they wanted on alternate days, ended up consuming about the same number of calories and weighing about the same as animals allowed to eat all they wanted all the time. The mice deprived of food for a whole day gorged the next, consuming all the calories they'd been deprived of and more.

The good news was that in the fasting mice, blood glucose and insulin levels were markedly reduced. The fasting mice also had a dramatically increased ability to withstand brain cell damage after injections of a poison into regions of the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease in humans. These mice lived 30 percent to 40 percent longer than normal, but they didn't lose any weight.

On the other side of this issue was an article that also appeared the the Atlanta Journal Constitution just three days later. In that article entitled, "Doctors frown on fasting for health", Chris Rosenbloom, a nutritionist at Georgia State University, argues that "fasting isn't normal or healthy and could be harmful. If you're fasting for religious reasons, fine, but in terms of fasting for long-term health, I'm not aware of benefits." He goes on to say, "Animals on restrictive caloric diets may have longer life spans and fewer chronic diseases, but there aren't any studies to show the benefit with people, though some subscribe to the philosophy. Without food, we can become irritated, disoriented, fuzzy-headed. I wouldn't recommend it as a way to improve longevity or health or to lose weight."