This is my overview of the science presented in the ‘Fast Diet: The secret of intermittent fasting’. This book has been written based on the Horizon programme on Fasting shown on the BBC last August. There are several reasons why it has grabbed my interest so firmly and all of them could have a very positive impact on the patients coming to my clinic.
The research so far indicates Fasting can
• Lower levels of chronic inflammation. The book notes that this can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s. I wonder also if it could help with reducing arthritis pain and migraines, two of the chronic pain conditions I often see in my patients. Inflammation is part of the picture for both of these problems. Might it even help the persistent pain of fibromyalgia?
• It can improve your mood. Well, the research in this area is at its early stages as so far as it has only been done on mice (what does a happy mouse look like?) and they have only just started investigating humans. It’s possible that the ability to stimulate a special protein that can grow new cells in your brain can have an antidepressant effect. Certainly anecdotal evidence from Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer, the authors of the book seem to support this. My personal experience in relation to the fasting isn’t terribly clear cut because I practice Meditation to help manage my moods, but the option of ‘growing’ yourself a new way of thinking is an intriguing one.
• Activating your natural healing capacity. Going without food for short periods of time (a 16 hour break without food is what has been researched so far) seems to switch on our repair genes. Rather than having to be working on digesting and absorbing food the body is able to switch to its own natural healing mode. This seems to be a combination of a process called autophagy where the body breaks down and recycles old cells as well as the stimulation of appropriate new growth. I say appropriate as some growth can be harmful as in that of cancer cells which grow without stopping. The amount of insulin we produce to mop up the sugars produced as the result of digestion of food is a factor here. High levels of insulin mean high levels of Insulin Growth Factor or IGF-1. The key word here is GROWTH. High levels of IGF-1 stimulate growth and could, via this mechanism accelerate cancer development. So producing less of it sounds like a good plan for the future…