by S Abbas Raza
It all began in March last year when I read an article by Steve Hendricks in Harper’s magazine titled ‘Starving Your Way to Vigour’. Hendricks examined the health benefits of fasting, including long-term reduced seizure activity in epileptics, lowered blood pressure in hypertensives, better toleration of chemotherapy in cancer patients, and, of course, weight loss. He also mentioned significantly increased longevity in rats that are made to fast. Most interesting was his tale of undertaking a 20-day fast himself, during which he shed more than 20 pounds and kept it off for the two years since. I was fascinated, and I started reading more about fasting afterwards, although at the time I had no intention of doing it myself.
The benefits of fasting have been much in the news again lately, in part due to a best-selling book from the UK that is also making waves in the US: The Fast Diet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, Live Longer (2013) by Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. Mosley is a BBC health and science journalist who extols the benefits of ‘intermittent fasting’. There are many versions of this type of fasting that are currently the subject of various research programmes, but Mosley settled on the 5:2 ratio — in every week, two days of fasting, and five days of normal eating. Even on the fasting days, one may eat small amounts: 600 calories maximum for men, 500 for women, so about a quarter of a normal day’s intake. Mosley’s claim is that such a ‘feast or famine’ regime closely matches the food consumption patterns of pre-modern societies, and our bodies are designed to optimise such eating. Drawing on various research projects studying intermittent fasting and weight loss, cholesterol levels and so on, he argues that even after quite short periods of fasting, our bodies turn off fat-storing mechanisms and switch to a fat-burning ‘repair-and-recover’ mode. Mosley says that he himself lost 20lbs in nine weeks on the diet, bringing his percentage of body fat from 28 to 20 per cent. He says his blood glucose went from ‘diabetic to normal’, and that his cholesterol levels also declined from levels that needed medication to normal. He also says that he feels much more energetic since.
Inspired by Mosley and Hendricks, I delved into research on fasting online, but much of what I found was pseudoscientific drivel about getting rid of mysterious and unnamed toxins in the body. Recommendations for fasting were often coupled with such staples of alternative-medicine junk-science as colonic irrigation and worse. But I happen to be a mild hypertensive myself and for various reasons have been off my blood pressure medication for a couple of months. I thought I might try fasting as an experiment, to see if it made any difference to my blood pressure, but also out of sheer curiosity about what the experience would be like. My wife, who had also read Hendricks’s article in Harper’s, said she would try it, too.
[My bold. Go to the link for the rest. JB]S Abbas Raza was born in Pakistan, educated at Johns Hopkins and Columbia, and now lives in Italy. He is the founding editor of 3QuarksDaily.com.