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Is Fasting Harmful?
Published: 06/11/2014

Intermittent fasting, or IF, refers to repeatedly going without solid food for longer periods than is typical on a daily breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule. Variations are endless. Some proponents skip breakfast; others dinner. Others fast all day every other day, every third day, once per week, or once per month. Fasting periods accelerate the clearing out of waste left by dead and damaged cells, a process known as autophagy. A failure of autophagy to keep up with accumulated cellular debris is believed by many scientists to be one of the major causes of the chronic diseases associated with aging.

Positive effects of IF suggested by animal and human studies include:

  1. Decreased cardiovascular disease risk.
  2. Decreased cancer risk.
  3. Lower diabetes risk (at least in animals, data on humans were less clear).
  4. Improved cognitive function.
  5. Protection against some effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

I don’t recommend IF for everyone. Children under 18 should not fast, nor should diabetics, nor pregnant or lactating women. Some health conditions – such as severe gastrointestinal reflux disease, or GERD – are easier to manage when food intake is more regular. But I do think that getting hungry now and then is clearly a healthy thing to do as long as overall caloric intake stays high enough to maintain a healthy weight. If you do fast, be sure to drink water or other fluids to stay hydrated.

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