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Fasting May Help Fight Some of the Effects of Aging

Fasting has a long and rich history. Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle all praised the benefits of fasting. Many religions embrace fasting as part of their ceremonies as a way to become closer with God. Today, several scientific studies show that fasting may also have numerous health benefits.
The definition of fasting has evolved over the years. Traditionally, it is the act of abstaining from eating or drinking for a specific period of time. Today, there are juice fasts, fruit fasts, and water fasts, among others. For the purpose of this article, “fasting” involves the abstinence from food over a specific timeframe – typically anywhere from 24 hours to several days.
So what are some of the benefits of fasting? Here are just a few:
It strengthens the immune system
Scientists at the University of Southern California say that fasting “flips a regenerative switch” that essentially restores the immune system. According to Valter Longo, professor of gerontology and biological sciences, “It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system. Fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.” These findings are particularly interesting for those whose immune systems have been damaged by aging or chemotherapy. Tanya Duff, who co-authored the study says, “The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy.”
It may help in the fight against cancer
In addition to the USC study, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that fasting for two days before chemotherapy helped ease its toxic side effects. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that eating every other day decreased cell proliferation rates, which helps slow the development of cancers. Most recently, a study authored by Longo and published in Science Translational Medicine found that five out of eight cancer types in mice responded to fasting alone – without chemotherapy. Longo concludes “the combination of fasting cycles plus chemotherapy was either more or much more effective than chemo alone.”
It protects the brain
A study from the National Institute on Aging found that fasting one or two days a week may help those living Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Mark Mattson, Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the NIA discovered that “Fasting increases BDNF, a protein that’s crucial for learning and protection against age-related cognitive decline. When the brain goes under energy restriction, we see neural activity that’s associated with protection against degeneration from stroke and aging.”
As with all health regimens, you should consult your physician before starting any kind of fast. For instance, fasting isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing or people living with severe anemia. If your doctor thinks you would be able to fast healthfully, you might want to try it for yourself. In addition the benefits listed above, many adherents also mention increased energy, better mental clarity, clearer skin and an easing of the symptoms of allergies and digestive disorders of all kinds.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.
 

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