Monday, February 27, 2012

Fasting to avoid Alzheimer's disease?

I have to admit, it sounds strange, but according to an article in the Daily Mail it may be possible to slow down, or even prevent, the onset of dementia in elderly people if they fast for a couple of days each week. Here's an excerpt.

Fasting was a common medical treatment in the past, but now new research suggests there may be good reason for it to make a comeback. This is because it seems to trigger all sorts of healthy hormonal and metabolic changes.

Researchers have long known that cutting back animals’ calories over an extended period can make them live up to 50 per cent longer — it’s been harder to prove benefits in humans because few people can stick to this restrictive regimen.

But there’s now emerging evidence to show occasional fasting — which is much more manageable — also carries benefits. Fasting days involve eating between 500 and 800 calories (the usual daily intake for a woman is 2,000 calories, for a man, 2,500).

This intake appears to cause a drop in levels of growth-factor, a hormone linked with cancer and diabetes, as well as a reduction in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in the blood.

Meanwhile, free radicals — the damaging molecules linked to disease — are dampened down. Studies also suggest that levels of inflammation can fall. And now there is the suggestion that fasting protects the brain, too.

‘Suddenly dropping your food intake dramatically — cutting it by at least half for a day or so — triggers protective processes in the brain,’ explains Professor Mark Mattson, head of neuroscience at the U.S. National Institute On Ageing.

‘It is similar to the beneficial effect you get from exercise.’ This could help protect the brain against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

. . .

According to an article that will be appearing in the leading science journal Nature Neuroscience next month, calorie restriction can protect the cells from damage and make them more resistant to stress.

‘Part of this effect is due to what cutting calories does to appetite hormones such as ghrelin and leptin,’ he explains. ‘When you are not overweight, these hormones encourage growth of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus.’

This is the area of the brain which is involved in laying down memories. If you start putting on weight, levels of ghrelin drop and brain cell replacement slows. ‘The effect is particularly damaging in your 40s and 50s, for reasons that aren’t clear yet,’ he says. ‘Obesity at that age is a marker for cognitive problems later.’

The good news is that this brain-cell damage can be reversed by the two-day fasting regime, although so far Professor Mattson has shown this only in rats. A human trial is starting soon. There is reason to think it should work.

There's more at the link.

There'll need to be a lot more research and testing, of course, but if it can be proved that fasting is conducive to mental health, it'll shed a whole new light on the Biblical emphasis on fasting as a spiritual exercise. Could it, perhaps, help one's spiritual life by helping one's physical processes, and one's mind, to focus more clearly on God and spiritual things? Now there's an intriguing thought!



Old NFO said...

Interesting idea, and yeah a LOT more testing needs to be done!

Mikael said...

I read about a recent study that playing world of warcraft helped seniors with their memory, spatial ability, and focus, specifically it helped those who had problems, but had no effect on those who didn't.

Phillip said...

It continues to amaze me how so many of the guidelines of the Bible are found to have reasons that we're only finding today with our new technologies. From the reasons why eating pork is bad for you to this, there's so many things that we used to think were just random rules that actually have much deeper reasons than the primitive technology of the time could account for.

They've found that prayer actually lowers blood pressure and increases a patient's chances of surviving surgery, so imagine what else they'll find in the future.

Mikael said...

Actually, pork being bad for you is a myth, just like most things in the bible.

As for prayer, meditation has the same effect.

Shrimp said...

Actually, the "myth" that pork was bad wasn't a myth at all. Pork used to be extremely bad for you. Trichinosis is only one parasite commonly carried by pigs, but a fairly common disease that still affects the developing world.

Pigs were considered dirty, disease-ridden animals, and ate anything, including garbage and feces from themselves and other animals. This is quite possibly the reason the Israelites were commanded not to eat pigs, amongst other things.

In fact, many of the commandments from God (Moses revealed many commandments from God, not just the Ten Commandments, and Leviticus is stuffed full of them) dealt with issues that on their surface may not seem related to survival, but were simply about making sure His people survived. Some of them were blatantly about survival and cleanliness.

Nowadays, through smarter feeding processes, applied antibiotics and testing, our supply of pork in the US, GB and most developed countries is perhaps the cleanest it has ever been. As a result, pork here in the US no longer needs to be cooked to "well done" range.

You may choose to believe that the bible is nothing but myth. I choose to believe otherwise, as does the host of this site, I'm sure.

Mikael said...

There's no biblical commandment against chicken, and salmonella is common in the region as well.

The solution to both those diseases, is the same, when you're lacking current medicine.

However in desert temperatures, with no refrigeration, pork does go bad pretty quickly.

Here's my real objection though: you said pork was bad TODAY. Well, thanks to a lot of scientific study, we now know that the things taught about pork being bad for us is in fact myth. A myth that started in the 50s. As in: saturated fat is good for you, there's 3 fatty acids in saturated fat, one is good for the heart and arteries, and the other two are benign(neutral), for a net health gain. In other words, eat all the bacon you want, it's good for you.

Mikael said...

Here's a good article about fat:

Anonymous said...

Godwin rule. You know who else believed in low calorie diets being good for one?

Shrimp said...

Actually, no I didn't say that pork was bad for you, today. (That was implied by the other commenter) I said that there is still trichinosis making the rounds today, and the common cause of it (in developing nations) is pigs and the meat being undercooked.

I don't argue the health benefits of pork vs any other food. They're all good and bad, so eat in moderation. And those that aren't good, eat less of.

Eat, drink, be merry. Or don't.