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Documentary Review: The Science of Fasting

Found on Amazon Prime video.

This is a very intriguing documentary about fasting - out of France under the title, 'Le jeûne, une nouvelle thérapie?' - which Google translates to: 'Fasting, a new therapy?'. It covers large groups of people who fast for the potential health benefits as well as some of the science behind it presented by legitimate scientists such as Dr. Valter Longo from the university of southern California.

The science presented seems very convincing and eye-opening. This was an excellent method to whet my appetite for further research of fasting in general and of finding effective and natural ways to live a more healthy and longer life.

Much like a recent book I read, called 'Brain Maker' - this documentary seemingly attempts to sell fasting as a cure-all (this book also mentions the potential benefits of fasting).  While I believe both fasting and maintaining a well-balanced gut microbiome have health benefits, I don't think the techniques discussed definitively provide a miracle cure. However, I do think these areas of study need more attention and research because the findings presented are potentially profound.

One thing these two sources having going for them to make them more convincing is that they really aren't trying to sell any kind of product. They aren't benefiting from folks following this advice. Unfortunately it's for this very reason that funding for future research is limited. Mattson has been funded by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) who are non-profit.

Doing a bit of online research, I stumbled upon yet another, equally interesting documentary by BBC on fasting, which also featured Dr. Longo:
Link to 2012 BBC Documentary on Fasting

Link to Mark Mattson STEM talk

Fasting article by the John Hopkins Health Review featuring Mark Mattson:
Link to article

It's really quite amazing what happens when you stop eating. My first concern about fasting was this: don't we need constant nutrients to be healthy? Wouldn't we start losing muscle mass if we stop eating? It turns out the answer to these questions are, 'no'.

Interestingly enough, our body is 'smart' enough to power our bodies efficiently for long periods of time without food. Over time, though evolution, our body has 'learned' to use its reserves in the proper order, in the most beneficial ratios. After 12 hours of not eating, the body begins to use its reserves, starting with glucose - which has been converted to glycogen in the liver (exhausted after about 24 hours of fasting), then a mixture of fats (which gets converted to ketone bodies as an alternative fuel), and protein (from muscle, which gets converted to glucose). A study of male emperor penguins (who regularly go long periods without food) and also lab rats yielded results that say only 4% of energy is taken from protein and the other 96% is taken from fats (lipids). It is assumed that the story is similar for humans.

Mark Mattson's studies suggest that these ketones help with the structure of brain synapses. Instead of regularly being fueled by sugar, the brain is now fueled by ketones, from fat (lipids). If you keep eating, say 3 meals a day, you will never deplete the liver's glucose, and therefore won't generate these beneficial ketone bodies. However, exercise will have a similar affect to fasting, since when you work out, you tap into the glucose in the liver. Matton's big suggestion is a '5:2' diet: 500 calories for 2 non-consecutive days, and a 'normal' 2000 calorie diet for the remaining 5 days.

Dr. Mattson's TEDx talk:
(Discusses how fasting helps your brain)

Dr. Longo's TEDx talk:
(Discusses regeneration of cells and immune system)

In our hunter-gatherer days, I'm sure we needed to go many days without food. Our bodies over time had to evolve to allow this. It is said the human body can go several weeks without food - even longer if your body contains large amounts of fat reserves.

The biggest concern I'm sure most people have is, isn't fasting dangerous? I think it can be, but it depends on your body type if you have any sort of condition. I think overall, it is very safe to do so for most people. Obviously if you have any sort of condition or if you take medication, you want to discuss fasting with your PCP. Otherwise, from what I've seen so far, I don't see any danger in it - at least for a day or two to start out with. A way to both save money and get healthier? Why aren't more people trying this? Probably because of the strong feeling of hunger. And we're always told to listen to our bodies, right? Well, what about when my brain is craving a whole bucket of ice cream?

To wrap up, this area of study needs more attention. It needs more scientific funding and human trials to provide rigor to the argument. However, it is pretty compelling so far.


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