Feast and Famine: Fasting once or twice a week has a beneficial impact on ageing and neurodegeneration.

Feast and Famine: Fasting once or twice a week has a beneficial impact on ageing and neurodegeneration.

Congratulations to Chris Robinson on getting a science post to the top of “What’s Hot” list!

Originally shared by Chris Robinson

Scientists have known for some time that a low-calorie diet is a recipe for longer life. Rats and mice reared on restricted amounts of food increase their lifespan by up to 40%. A similar effect has been noted in humans. But Mattson and his team have taken this notion further. They argue that starving yourself occasionally can stave off not just ill-health and early death but delay the onset of conditions affecting the brain, including strokes. “Our animal experiments clearly suggest this,” said Mattson.

He and his colleagues have also worked out a specific mechanism by which the growth of neurones in the brain could be affected by reduced energy intakes. Amounts of two cellular messaging chemicals are boosted when calorie intake is sharply reduced, said Mattson. These chemical messengers play an important role in boosting the growth of neurones in the brain, a process that would counteract the impact of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


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60 Responses to Feast and Famine: Fasting once or twice a week has a beneficial impact on ageing and neurodegeneration.

  1. I remember reading that people who kept mentally active under severe caloric depravation stood a better chance of survival that those who just gave up and stayed in bed hungry. http://goo.gl/UmM0E

  2. Gaythia Weis says:

    This is interesting work! If we can get real information onto “what’s hot” maybe I’ll have to re-think having disabled that feature.

  3. Ward Plunet says:

    In this case it might not be actual calorie restriction, because the suggestion is to eat 500 calories per day for 2 days a week, which would likely be made up by an increase in consumption in the other days. Rodents on every-other-day fasting, which Mattson has mostly studied end up calorie restricted, but the few short term human studies using this method found that humans (unlike rodents) can eat enough on the eating days to not lose weight (unless they are overweight and want to lose weight).

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    How interesting, Suhail Manzoor ! Long term caloric restriction places great stress on the body and it makes sense that mental engagement helps counter it. On the other hand, this research is about short term “fasting” (we know this well in India), that paces the metabolism and protects against neurodegeneration.

  5. Bill LaBrie says:

    Ward Plunet Yes, the question is “caloric restriction over what period?” I would think the study would need to look at a month minimum.

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    You’re right, Ward Plunet ! Caloric restriction is applied to continuously low levels of calories. Let me edit my header πŸ˜›

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    I think my header is scientifically more along the lines of the study now, thanks Ward Plunet . Mattson clarifies the distinction, “Reducing your calorie intake could help your brain, but doing so by cutting your intake of food is not likely to be the best method of triggering this protection. It is likely to be better to go on intermittent bouts of fasting, in which you eat hardly anything at all, and then have periods when you eat as much as you want”. As I noted in Chris Robinson ‘s post, once a week fasts are common in India, especially among the elderly, who restrict their diet to fruits and milk/water for the day. Now this is anecdotal, but I rarely see cases of Alzheimers in India (heart disease is the #1 killer there, and largely due to genetic factors).

  8. Rajini Rao says:

    So many good points, Lester Sawicki . Ultimately, longevity may be influenced more by our genes than anything else. So how do we assist those without “centenarian genes” to age “successfully” and enjoy a quality of life? I agree also that many religions incorporate fasting into their rituals..Hinduism, Islam and Jewish faiths come to mind.

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Jonathan Rider , I looked in PubMed and did not find anything credible. There is a connection between diet and autism though. Autism is associated with a lot of gastrointestinal distress and gluten allergies may be part of it as well as other immune disturbances.

  10. Bill LaBrie says:

    Rajini Rao That’s because they all go back to one root: GM wheat.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    A bit more specifics would help, Bill LaBrie ! Is there a component of GM wheat that is suspect (I’m guessing that you refer to autism here?),or just GM in general? Thanks.

  12. Bill LaBrie says:

    Rajini Rao Here’s one example: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/nns/2010/00000013/00000002/art00004

    FTA:”Based on per protocol repeated measures analysis, data for 26 diet children and 29 controls were available at 12 months. At this point, there was a significant improvement to mean diet group scores (time*treatment interaction) on sub-domains of ADOS, GARS and ADHD-IV measures. ”

    Now, add to this the mix: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/07/23/why-is-wheat-gluten-disorder-on-the-rise.aspx

    FTA: “Additionally, modern wheat is very different from the wheat your ancestors ate. The proportion of gluten protein in wheat has increased enormously as a result of hybridization.”

    In other words, we are eating far more gluten than did our ancestors even for those who eat no more calories than they did back in the day. Since most of us eat more, we get even more exposure to it. This uncovers not only gastrointestinal intolerance, but neurological symptoms as well.

  13. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the links and information, Bill LaBrie ..I will check it out! This seems to tie in with Jonathan Rider ‘s point about gluten and yeast negatively impacting autism. I’m aware of the connection, but not an expert on it. If I come across some relevant research, I will pass it on to you. Also, if there is a publication that you do not have free access to, let me know and I will email it to you.

  14. Mike Elgan says:

    Longevity is one potential benefit. But mental clarity and physical energy is another. Here’s a technique my wife and I developed that “reboots” your mind and body: http://thespartandiet.blogspot.com/2010/08/how-to-do-spartan-reboot.html

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Fascinating read, Mike Elgan , thanks! Although I knew that the word Spartan was associated with austerity (as in the decor of a room), I had no idea that this extended to their dietary practices as well. I’m all for cutting a meal here and there..ever since my metabolism slowed down in middle age (drat it!). Do you specifically recommend skipping dinner versus lunch, for example? It’s pretty easy for me to skip lunch, I do that most days πŸ™‚

  16. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Lester Sawicki for the story. Not surprising that bacterial flora differ in children with autism. They do fecal transplants now, seriously. They actually seed fecal matter from healthy donors into the colons of people with altered gut flora (I have some GI physician colleagues who do this). e.g., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22183182

  17. Ward Plunet says:

    Rajini Rao yes, it seems like there is a whole revolution going on in the study of gut flora. And I think there are a couple of disease they are treating with fecal transplant – even though when I first heard about it I thought the person telling me was joking.

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    I wonder if anyone has tried fecal transplants for autism, since the number of autism diagnoses are sky rocketing and there does seem to be at least a subset with clear GI issues.

  19. Ward Plunet says:

    Rajini Rao seems like a reasonable and simple hypothesis to test out.

  20. Ward Plunet says:

    Mike Elgan I like the combo of exercise and fast who mentioned in your link, which would in essence make it like a longer fast. Research in rodents indicate even one day of fasting reduces incidences of cancer. My Phd involved research on intermittent fasting.

  21. Rajini Rao says:

    Katerine K , the article on Dr. Mattson’s work (main link in my reshare) suggests 1-2 times a week of 500 calories a day.

  22. Ward Plunet says:

    Katerine K most of the research with intermittent fasting in rodents (and only 2 or 3 papers in humans) use every other day: 24 hour fasting: 24 hour eat freely. All the research so far indicates the rodents like about 30% longer (but it varies). But has not been tried in humans or other primates (but calorie restriction is reported to extend life in a primate study).

    Fair question about slowing down the metabolic rate – but in humans they usually eat twice as much on the eating days so in theory should be a problem.

  23. Rajini Rao says:

    The fasting never extends to red wine, Katerine K ! πŸ™‚ I have a strict wine-a-day philosophy.

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Well, “glass” is only loosely defined πŸ˜‰ No precise measurements in my kitchen..I leave that behind in the lab.

  25. Ward Plunet says:

    Jonathan Rider I agree with what you experiencing. But think of it just like exercise. If you are out of shape and forced to run 5 or 10 miles you will say you are shaky, and maybe not even thinking well – and therefore you could conclude that running must be bad for you. Just like exercise, fasting (at least in our current times) take time to get use to. Time for your body to adapt. But the body can be ‘trained’ (within limits) to adapt to the fast (the body becomes more efficient) and you won’t suffer the edginess you mentioned until far later into the fast – just like after running a couple months you don’t feel tired at the point where you use to.

  26. Ernest Rider says:

    It would be interesting to know what a low consumption of water does. I grew up in Australia where water is very precious. I find that i never drink enough of it. I have to force myself to drink. It kinda makes sense that cells would limit splitting in a water and food deprived environment. Its just a theory. But it makes sense.

  27. Kerri Sharp says:

    Jonathan Rider Have you seen the pilot study of the ketogenic diet in children with autistic behavior? The pilot study is referenced in this article that talks about ketone bodies as being neuroprotective and may explain the benefits of caloric restriction on cognition. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2649682/

    18 of the 30 children on the John Radcliffe diet for 6 months (a supposedly easier to manage ketogenic diet) showed improvement on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) after the diet. Most improvement was seen in those with mild/moderate initial CARS scores whereas those with more severe scores on CARS were unable to complete the diet.

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    Katerine K , you are describing me exactly, down to the types of food I eat -although I don’t work out 4x a week, may be half that πŸ˜› It actually works in keeping the pounds in line, but it seems not too healthy.

  29. Ward Plunet says:

    Kerri Rawson great addition. Quite a few similarities between ketogenic diets and calorie restriction. Clinicians see very good results in treating children with epilepsy using a ketogenic diet (even if no other drugs are working).

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    Good find Kerri Rawson . Hopkins (where Mattson is) was the birthplace of the ketogenic diet, that works quite well in controlling certain types of seizures. It’s an open access paper too, yay.

  31. Rajini Rao says:

    Small portions, occasional skipping of meals, random exercising..that’s seems to work for me, I feel much better than I did 10 years ago. Katerine K , I expect you to check back with me to make sure I step up on the work outs, and I’ll do the same πŸ™‚

  32. Rajini Rao says:

    Lester Sawicki , I’m pretty happy to hear all this talk of restricting calories here on G+. If one were to watch the cooking channels on TV, it’s all about excess and oversized portions. Those chefs seriously revel in too much butter, fat, whatever. Obviously those shows sell, and I’ve been kind of disheartened by the sheer in-your-face gluttony. Great to see enthusiasm for a different point of view. πŸ™‚

  33. Mike Elgan says:

    Rajini Rao The Spartan system was based entirely on food. They were a “normal” Greek polis until their Lycurgan revolution, after which time land was re-distributed (every citizen given a huge farm at birth) and demonstrations of wealth were illegalized. Their famous group dining (for men) involved both mandatory contributions to be prepared by a hereditary guild of cooks, and also a kind of “pot luck” where people contributed food from their own homes and farms.

    Any kind of overindulgence was seriously frowned up, and their foodie culture was based on what Plutarch referred to as a “frugality of the diet.”

    Plutarch talked about the connection between the Lycurgan reforms, food and the fitness of the citizenry:

    “The most effective measure against the love of money was Lycurgus’ law that all meals had to be eaten together at public mess-halls. Everyone ate the same thing, so money could not buy dainty food. And since the rich could not eat at home, there was no way for them to show off their fancy things. The rich could no longer spend their lives at home, lying on their couches and stuffing themselves with unwholesome delicacies, like pigs being fattened for slaughter. No longer could they ruin not only their minds but also their bodies, becoming so weak by lazy overindulgence that they needed long sleep, warm baths, and about as much care as if they were constantly sick.”

  34. Rajini Rao says:

    An egalitarian society, one that we could borrow a lot from for the better! Thanks, Mike Elgan πŸ™‚

  35. Mike Elgan says:

    Rajini Rao Regarding skipping a meal, the problem is that doing so gives you energy, so oftentimes people have trouble sleeping. (This is also a great tip for people pulling all nighters to study or finish a project — not eating is the best way to stay alert.) That’s why our rebook involves skipping a meal with exhausting exercise. The combination of hunger plus a great night’s sleep is really amazing. So I recommend skipping dinner, and instead walking 10 miles or more instead.

  36. Rajini Rao says:

    I’ll try, Mike Elgan ! I can do a couple of miles, not sure about 10. As they say, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak πŸ™‚

  37. Anand V.L. says:

    In nature too; animals have times of famine and their systems are designed to handle this.. For instance a carnivore would go foodless for days and herbivores too at times of scarcity.. So could this actually work in favor of their metabolism/health? And if so could man, being a product of nature too; benefit by following the eating habits of wild animals to some healthy/ logical extent?

  38. Rajini Rao

    I agree with the benefits of fasting. But not today. You know… ( :

    Mike Elgan

    Agree with Your recommendations. Good advices. With one but.10 miles or less… ( :

    If more – it’s overly, as for me.

    p.s. May recommend one more useful thing. Melt water. I use to drink it regularly for some years already.And have to say – it really “works”.

  39. Mike Elgan says:

    Rajini Rao Exhaustion is the key. : )

  40. Rajini Rao says:

    Konstantin Makov , after all the birthday cake and wine from yesterday, fasting will be useful. After all, you are one year older today πŸ˜‰

  41. Rajini Rao it’s a pity… ( :

    “The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older”

    Time – Pink Floyd

  42. Rajini Rao says:

    “So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking, Racing around to come up behind you again”. Those lyrics I know by heart, Konstantin Makov πŸ™‚ I heard them first as a teenager, and never forgot. We are all shorter of breath and one day closer to death today. It is not too early here to pour a glass of wine…to cheer your good health, of course πŸ˜›

    Happy (belated) Birthday!

  43. Tom Lee says:

    Very good discussion here. Intermittent fasting. exercising, good healthy and balance diet, reduce high fat contents intake, sugar, salt…all good stuff in this post. What do we remember 2 months from now of one should do. And I may add stop watching television flooded with food advertising. I still think best practice is to not overeating, watch what you eat and drink. Be active. Do exercise moderately daily. Learn how to get rid of your stress. Do what you feel comfortable and like doing. A single research only covers a narrow topic. Most don’t cover side effects if implementing strict guideline in the research. And I ‘m with you Rajini Rao , a glass of wine at dinner does do a lot of good uplifting ! πŸ™‚

  44. Rajini Rao

    But…Maybe there will not be place for death in Future.

    Hope, you, scientists, will invent something… ( :

  45. Anand V.L. says:

    Konstantin Makov Death is good, and fair; isn’t it? πŸ™‚ Unless there is no death, who will cater to the never ending need for resources of a resulting ever increasing population? Without death how will newer generation get an opportunity.. Just like we clear our homes of staleness death clears the earth of stale lives… It’s the way of nature πŸ™‚

    Just a reasonable span of life which is full of interesting events >>>>> a long repetitive life span πŸ˜‰

  46. Rajini Rao the Yogi ‘s we’re right after all… it seems there his so much we already knew… just that science did not believe it

  47. Kapil Ranade says:

    Alright Dr Rajini Rao – its time to start observing all the chaturthis and ekadashis!!

  48. Rahul Joshi says:

    Damn I missed my chance to have one on the occasion of MahaShivratri today. Need to check my stream more often! :X

  49. J Stasko says:

    In a similar vein, some athletes are discovering that fasting helps them perform better:


  50. Rajini Rao says:

    That blogger’s tale was sort of scary, J Stasko ! πŸ™‚

  51. Dr. Cassone says:

    Great conversation thread! It’s all about how our bodies use fuel. Mike Elgan ‘s Spartan method makes physiological sense whereas skipping meals during the day (without the exhaustive exercise) will set you up for overeating your next meal or your body will mishandle the fuel even if you don’t over eat. Skipping meals will typically increase cortisol levels from the adrenal glands. Imagine you’re tired on the couch and suddenly company knocks on your door; you get energy but it was through the adrenal stimulation (not healthy normal fat/carb metabolism). If you skip meals you force your adrenals to make up which can eventually leave you deeply fatigued once your adrenals are tired (and likely prone to allergies as adrenal production of epinephrine is hindered too). This is also a set up for carbohydrate and coffee/stimulant cravings (to pick up the poor fuel handling). The exercise of the Spartan reset is not to burn up the extra energy but instead to burn a huge amount of fuel without access to new fuel (carbohydrates in particular) which forces the body to burn fats (which always burn slow and even). It literally gets the body off its spike and drop fuel handling problem and returns it to efficient. At night we have to burn fats primarily – if we’re spike and dropping blood sugars then we don’t sleep as deep (fuel handling). Once we return to proper fuel handling (using fats) we sleep deeper.

  52. Dr. Cassone says:

    Jonathan Rider I appreciate your report; the best research comes from experience which makes you qualified. The hammer gel is a high carbohydrate supplement which is great for some purposes, but goes against the reset principle here of getting your body off the blood sugar spikes and drops (assuming I’m right about the purpose and mechanism of the Spartan Reboot). Try skipping the hammer gel and see if it makes the experience even better.

  53. Dr. Cassone says:

    Jonathan Rider this means you likely burned that high carb fuel during the workout instead of forcing your body to readjust and use fats as a more steady form of fuel (this is why triglycerides go up on high carb diets because the fuel efficient fats stop be used by the body – not saying you eat high carbs; just for the sake of explanation). The spike/drop pattern that I mentioned is when the body is relying on carbs (kindling for fire) instead of relying on fats (log on fire). Fruits have carbs too but much less and other factors slow the entry rate (GI).

  54. Mike Elgan says:

    Jonathan Rider Thanks for trying, it Jonathan. Can I suggest two “tweaks” for next time? Try long-distance type cardio instead of weight lifting — say, running, swimming, walking or biking for a few hours. The second “tweak” would be no spirilina — zero calories, zero nutrients. I’m really looking forward to hearing your results.

  55. Mike Elgan says:

    Jonathan Rider The idea is that you have a normal light lunch at your normal lunchtime, then don’t take in any calories of any kind until your normal breakfast time the next day. Between those two meals, do the equivalent of a half marathon or so if you can.

    Most people report that the next day they have a lot of control over their eating (they don’t feel like eating a lot), and enjoy serious mental clarity and physical lightness and wellbeing for at least a day.

  56. Mike Elgan says:

    Jonathan Rider Great! Please do let us know!

  57. Mike Elgan says:

    Jonathan Rider Thanks for doing this and chronicling your results!

  58. Mike Elgan says:

    Jonathan Rider Seems like you’re doing a lot of fasting in a short period of time. How many times have you fasted in the past two weeks?

  59. Mike Elgan says:

    Jonathan Rider Wonderful! That’s awesome. Please keep us posted with further developments!! (Copying Amira Elgan)

  60. Mike Elgan says:

    Jonathan Rider Nice!!

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