Over the course of my research, I have come to believe that when we eat may be just as important as what we eat.
The Paleo approach that posits that we may have evolved genetically to benefit from certain foods and lifestyles has always made sense to me (at least up to a point).
Where it makes the most sense to me is that our bodies evolved to move around a lot, and to live through periods with very limited calories. Just the opposite of the typical western lifestyle today!
Fasting has proven the test of time (why else would it be part of so many religions and cultures!) And now, it’s increasingly passing the test of science as well, including being researched for its positive effects on the brain.
I am a close follower of the work of professor Valter Longo, researcher at IFOM in Milan and
Director of the Longevity Institute at USC.
He has done many of the most rigorous studies of fasting as a health intervention, including with cancer, MS and other conditions.
He has also developed a solution for one of the biggest problems with fasting: pure water fasting is very hard to do for multiple-day periods!
He developed the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) which provides 800 calories or so a day, but in precise combinations that cause the body to still get the benefits of a pure water-only fast.
I have followed his recommended regime by doing his program initially three times, for 5-day periods, spread over a few months, and I experienced tremendous and positive results from it, including increased energy and vitality, but also weight-loss and a reduction in body fat.
There is a lot more available about his work on line, including from LNutra, the company he started to distribute his ProLon kits, which include everything one needs to follow his precise method. It is fairly expensive, but Dr. Longo donates all his proceeds to his non-profit foundation: CreateCures.
Dr. Satchin Panda, a Professor at Salk Laboratory has done some of the most interesting work I’ve seen related to time-restricted eating, which is an increasingly popular way to bring the benefits of calorie restriction (which is a proven method to increase longevity, but also very hard to do) into one’s life. You can see more about his work here.
Dr. Panda’s work is also well summarized in this piece in the New York Times covering his book, The Circadian Code, entitled: When We Eat, or Don’t Eat, May Be Critical for Health
Further science behind both of these methods can be found in this piece from
Ageing Research Reviews on Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: Two potential diets for successful brain aging.
Whether you call it time-restricted eating or “intermittent fasting”, my practice feels like part of the solution for both my brain health and my overall health as well. I generally fast 14 hours or so a day, confining my eating to between 9 am and 7 pm (give or take).
Before starting these regiments, I did a three week program from Mark Sisson called The Keto Reset Diet, which is designed to get your body used to relying on fat as well as glucose for an energy source.
I think this may be critical to easily adapting to a new dietary approach like this, as it seems to change the appetite and satiety hormones (like ghrelin and leptin) in ways that make hunger manageable, or almost a non-issue.
The connection between ketone bodies and brain health is another area getting lots of study. I found this piece: Can Fasting Help Fend Off Parkinson’s Disease? Quite interesting, as it focuses in on the potential benefits for Parkinson’s patients in particular.
I also want to clearly say that all of these approaches need to be personalized. What works for me does not necessarily work for my wife, or for you. There are versions of “intermittent fasting” that could be dangerous for some, and one of the things I appreciate about Valter Longo and Dr. Satchin Panda is that they are careful to encourage a science based and medically supervised approach, especially for anyone using these methods in response to a chronic condition.
And while the science on what is best is still not known, the debate in this area seems like a healthy one, as evidenced in this piece Mark Sisson wrote about his perspective on: Does the Fasting Mimicking Diet Live Up to the Hype?
Finally, one of the most exciting elements to this “biohack” is that it is low cost, and with the right preparation and approach, anyone can experiment successfully with it!
Disclaimer: I offer all of these suggestions not as a Doctor or Researcher, but as a Patient, and a “Citizen Scientist”. None of this should be taken as medical advice, and certainly you should consult your Doctor when it comes to making decisions about your health.