Do you fast—that is, do you give up food periodically? If you don’t, you should probably consider changing your habits.
Why? A variety of researchers have begun studying the health benefits of fasting, and they’ve made some interesting discoveries. When you skip eating for a day or two, your brain seems to respond by adopting new pathways, and also producing beneficial proteins that promote the growth of neurons and the strength of the synaptic connections between them.
The researchers also found that fasting stimulates the production of new nerve cells from stem cells, and may also increase the number of mitochondria (the energy-producing part of cells) in neurons. That raises the neurons’ ability to maintain strong connections with each other, improving learning and memory ability.
Additional studies by researchers at the University of Southern California showed that cycles of prolonged fasting—such as our cave-dwelling ancestors endured between successful hunting expeditions—induced the regeneration of the human immune system. Fasting seems to shift stem cells from a dormant state to a state of renewal, and meanwhile recycles damaged immune cells. The effect is to replenish the human immune system against diseases.
But don’t you get hungry when you don’t eat for a day or two? Some researchers have suggested that you can get most of the health benefits of fasting simply by cutting down your food intake to one-fourth of your normal daily calories for two days a week, while eating normally on the other days. Another possibility that seems to work is to restrict your food intake to between the hours of 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM each day— not eating during the hours outside of that time. Or you can simply not eat one day a week and get the benefits directly.