Are you intermittent fasting? Training while fasted? Wanting to know the do’s and don’ts of fasting? Want to supercharge your weight loss goals? Can you drink coffee or tea if you fast? And autophagy. Yeah autophagy. Believe me, you need some autophagy in your life.
Today’s focus is on fasting. What fasting is and why it works, as well as some of the mechanisms that underlie it.
So, what’s fasting?
Basically not eating. But in today’s health space not all fasting is created equal. Let’s define the variations of the fasting protocols and why they’re beneficial.
Intermittent fasting (IF) – This is a daily practice of not eating for periods of time, intervals of time, for a maximum of 24 hours. At minimum, IF is considered not eating anything (or drinking anything of enough calories) that triggers the digestive process for a minimum period of 12 hours. So, let’s say you stop eating at 7 pm, you should only trigger digestion again at 7 am the next day. That would be a 12 hour intermittent fast. Experts say 12 is okay, 14 hours is good and anything above 16 is power. A point of caution though, studies and anecdotal evidence show that intermittent fasting can physiologically over-stress highly active females. This point can be stretched to note that all types of fasting, like most things in health, is unique to each person’s innate and environmental reality. It is not one size fits all.
What are the benefits of IF? Some autophagy (or DNA and mitochondrial repair) and via the shift of energy production to fat (ketones) anti-aging genetic pathways are stimulated (as it gives the mitochondria a break from use/damage).
Time Restricted Eating (TRE) – TRE is the other side of the coin of IF. It’s effectively the same, eating and not eating during specific time windows, but TRE focuses on eating when metabolism (digestion) is optimal. This is unsurprisingly during the day, in accordance with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. A typical TRE person will eat for 8 hours a day and fast the remaining 16, often eating between 8 am to 4 pm and then fasting again until 8 am the next day. The benefits are the same as IF, with one critical bonus of improving insulin sensitivity via robust fasting glucose levels.
Prolonged Fast – Not eating for longer than 24 hours. And yes, this is doable. You will not die, or I would be dead. But, as always, be smart. Do research, discuss it with those with expertise or experience, and listen to your body. Unlike the mini-fasts of IF and TRE, now you are swimming in autophagy. Not only are cells and DNA being repaired, damaged ones are being thrown away and actually recycled to create new protein molecules. As mentioned below, organs shrink and upon re-feeding regrow with rejuvenated tissue. This is probably due to the spike of stems cells activated during prolonged fasts, which makes sense as they are sent out to replace the junk cells that are being cleared away.
Fasting mimicking diet (FMD) – Patented by Dr. Valter Longo, this 5-day plan creates many of the benefits of true fasting via an excessively low calorie intake. For people truly worried about consuming no food or find that too challenging, this is a good option. It mimics many of the autophagy an insulin benefits discussed above.
And who should do what?
Like everything, it depends on the individual. So before embarking on any practice, be responsible. But a good summary is that it would be “wise to combine“ all the practices, some regularly and some periodically. Personally, I do a 12 to 14 hour fast every day and then a 16 to 20 hour fast once a week. I also do 3 to 5 day fasts, consuming only juice and/or water for that period, two times a year.
So what actually happens physiologically when you fast?
Of primary interest is autophagy, an amazing biological function where the body basically removes dead or damaged cells. This is hugely beneficial in a variety of ways. It’s really not that important how as the nitty- gritty bio-chemistry is long and complicated. The point is autophagy is great for health, and it’s something that has gone near extinct in our everything on demand overconsumption world.
It is actually suspected to be a phenomenon of evolution. Because our ancestors had to actually grind hard for high caloric food, essentially putting their lives on the line each and every hunt and gather, they went long stretches of time without eating, easily a day. So, clever that it is, evolution figured that would be an opportune time to use the energy usually dedicated to digesting to design a cleaning and repair function we now call autophagy. Dr. Longo has even proposed that during autophagy all of our organs regenerate themselves, going against the ‘well-established’ scientific conclusion that the liver and skin are the only organs that can do so.
That’s the skinny on fasting. Mostly importantly however always remember that health outcomes based on choices like fasting are extremely individualized. Furthermore, these are just the basics. There are a hosts of tips and tricks with respect to fasting to make it both less painful and more beneficial. That’s where teaming up with experts is worth its weight in gold .
All other non attributed information and quotes may be referenced from Dr Rhonda Patrick’s YouTube Video – Zero Q&A below.