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Anti-Aging with Intermittent Fasting

Fasting is becoming trendy in the wellness arena. Ironically, both intentional and unintentional fasting has been around since the dawn of humans.

Many religions across the world have traditional, structured fasts as a part of their religious practices. Having come from a hunter and gatherer society, fasting was a frequent part of life until the next meal was secured. With the wide and unlimited access to food in the form of local supermarkets and grocery stores at all times, many people are not aware that food was not always so readily available.

What keys does fasting hold to unlock supercharged longevity? The answer may surprise you. When done appropriately, intermittent fasting unlocks primal biologic mechanisms meant to enhance mental clarity and focus, metabolic health, anti-aging, and much more.

In a world of endless products, devices, and procedures aimed at anti-aging that can weaken your wallet, intermittent fasting packs a powerful punch and is completely free. Intermittent fasting also acts on many different facets of health, not just one. All intermittent fasting takes is some mental fortitude and resolve. Food is an emotional comfort- hence the epidemic of obesity and food addiction.

Healthy Fasting Versus Unhealthy Fasting

Healthy fasting is not starvation. Rest assured, the human body has stores of nutrients that it can rely on for short periods in a fasting state. The difference between healthy fasting and unhealthy fasting comes down to timing.

Unhealthy fasting occurs when the body's fuel demands deplete nutrient stores and start eating away at valuable muscle mass. It is possible to fast for too long, however basic knowledge of safe fasting can avoid any health-adverse effects.

Intermittent fasting is extremely natural to human biology. Humans have been on the earth for 300,000 years, while agrarian societies only started 10,000 years ago. Agrarian societies started farming, storing grains, and domesticating animals. Before agrarian societies, humans were hunters and gatherers who sought out food.

In other words, the period of time humans have consistently had access to food is a blip in time. Keep in mind it takes hundreds of thousands of years for human biology to significantly evolve and adapt to new circumstances.

The unlimited access to food is not doing well by human beings. Unfortunately, rates of chronic disease and obesity are climbing, not falling.

The Science of Intermittent Fasting: Growth Hormone

Intermittent fasting has many positive effects on human physiology which have been studied and backed in the scientific literature.

Originating from the pituitary gland in the brain, growth hormone has a powerful role in promoting muscle and promoting protein production. Growth hormone modulates metabolic pathways to prevent blood sugar problems. Growth hormone encourages the burning of fat, contributing to a healthy body mass. Unfortunately, growth hormone levels start dipping after the 3rd decade of life.

Research shows that during a 24-hour fast, which is completely doable for many people, growth hormone increases fivefold. Intermittent fasting is a wonderful tool to biohack age-related decline of growth hormone to restore metabolic health.

The Science of Intermittent Fasting: Leptin

Leptin is another hormone impacted by fasting. Leptin is primarily released from fat tissue cells and signals the brain to suppress appetite. For this reason, leptin is called the satiety hormone. Dysfunctional leptin signaling can trick the brain into thinking it's hungry- called leptin resistance.

In leptin resistance, the brain becomes less responsive to leptin signaling. Since people with higher body fat will secrete more leptin, the brain becomes desensitized to it in leptin resistance.

Intermittent fasting restores leptin sensitivity, allowing the brain to experience satiety again to discourage overeating and obesity. For people who struggle with overeating and frequent hunger, the beginning of resetting leptin resistance will feel difficult. The key is time, patience, and persistence until intermittent fasting starts to feel much easier.

The Science of Intermittent Fasting: Insulin

When it comes to blood sugar regulation, good insulin sensitivity is key. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas gland. Insulin is released in response to an elevation in blood sugar- such as after eating a meal. The higher the meal in carbohydrates and sugars, the more insulin is released. Blood sugar needs to be escorted into a cell, and the key to that lock is insulin. The problem is, when cells are bombarded with blood sugar and insulin, they become less sensitive to insulin.

Blood sugar dysregulation happens when the cell's sensitivity to insulin is blunted, causing glucose to not be escorted into cells and elevating blood sugar levels. Persistently high blood sugar levels cause inflammation and a cascade of chronic health problems.

Intermittent fasting has been researched to restore insulin sensitivity. Fasting lowers insulin levels, which helps insulin cell receptors resensitize to insulin. Research has shown that even among two groups consuming the same foods, the group that restricts the time frame in which they eat loses more weight. In other words, if you are unwilling or unable to change what you are eating, narrowing the time frame you eat will still have benefits.

How To Get Started with Intermittent Fasting

There are many different options for intermittent fasting. Starting with intermittent fasting one day a week is an extremely reasonable place to start.

A very common intermittent fasting regimen is called 16:8. 16:8 means the time-restricted food window is 8 hours long and the fasting period is 16 hours long. Examples of this could look like the following eating windows:

  • 8 am- 4 pm

  • 10 am- 6 pm

  • 12 pm- 8pm

Many people will gradually work up to 16:8 intermittent fasting daily. A very doable and conservative approach is starting with one day a week of 16:8, and then each subsequent week adding in another day. By just under two months, this regimen will have achieved intermittent fasting every day of the week.

Other intermittent fasting examples include:

  • 17:7

  • 18:6

  • 20:4

  • 22:2

As you can see, as the list goes down the time-restricted eating window narrows. Naturally, these regimens are more challenging and not reasonable to implement daily. However, it can be very beneficial to try a more challenging intermittent fast once a week or biweekly.

Intermittent fasting is highly customizable to what you feel comfortable with. Starting is the most important step, after clearance from your physician as certain medical conditions may not be suitable for intermittent fasting.

Dr. Laurel Ash ND, MS

Dr Laurel Ash, ND, MS is an Oregon and Washington board-certified Naturopathic Physician. With a passion for nutritional health, Dr Ash earned her doctorate in Naturopathy from the National University of Natural Medicine while receiving her masters in Integrative Mental Health. Her unique combination of evidence-based research and skilled knowledge in holistic medicine has allowed Dr. Ash to successfully treat many with a wide-range of issues.