There’s more and more evidence that fasting — an ancient behaviour frequently used for spiritual transformation — might have a powerful effect on health.
As a dietary regimen, various fasts have been shown to help people lose weight, but that’s not all. Other researchers think that fasting may help improve cognition, decrease inflammation, lower blood sugar, and more. More research is needed on much of this, but one of the reasons that fasting is popular in the research community right now is that is that anti-ageing researchers think that the right kind of fast might somehow slow ageing and extend life (though this has not been proven in humans).
When we say “fasting,” there are various behaviours that might refer to, some of which are drastically different from each other. Here are four of fasts that researchers are studying for their health benefits:
- Water fasting: One of the oldest forms of fasting, people on water fasts go for days or even weeks (and rarely, longer) without food. People on water fasts usually need nutritional supplements to fast safely. These regimens have been shown to help with hypertension, and there’s some evidence they help reduce inflammation, but these fasts aren’t necessarily practical for many and can be dangerous after a certain amount of time.
- Calorie restriction: Reducing calories dramatically has been shown to extend life and slow ageing in a number of animal models, but this effect has not been demonstrated in humans — and there are reasons to think it might be difficult if not impossible for humans to do the same. But these experiments excite anti-ageing scientists.
- Fasting-mimicking diet: Researcher Valter Longo, a professor of gerontology and biological science and the director of the USC Longevity Institute, created this diet to try to get some of the health benefits of fasting while limiting the amount of time people need to fast. For five consecutive days each month, participants drastically limit their caloric intake (hence, “fasting mimicking”) by up to two-thirds. He thinks this may slow the effects of ageing and make people less likely to suffer from illnesses like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.
- Intermittent fasting: Intermittent fasting covers a range of different fasting regimens that rely on abstaining from food regularly. Some people fast regularly for 12-16 hours, others cut food for one or two days a week. There’s evidence that these fasts help people lose weight and they may even reduce risk for certain cancers, though more research on this is needed.
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