Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Stay Hungry to Fight Cancer and Dementia

This is a good news article by David Liu on the Food Consumer website. It relates to how fasting can have significant anti-cancer benefits and is protective of the brain. Latter the article references Professor Mattson, who long ago wrote a fascinating little article entitled, "Starve me and watch my brain run". He is now investigating the possibility of intermittent fasting as an anti-dementia strategy. After reading his previous work and that of others I long ago decided that intermittent fasting is one of the best things we can do for our health in general and cancer and cognitive function in particular. This is good epidemiological, physiological, and cellular data to support this contention. Three levels of analysis confirmation is good enough, especially given the strength of the primary data.

If you are at all serious about maintaining good health you must think very seriously about fasting as an integral part of your lifestyle. For another example of that have a look at the previous post on the news report, Short fasting cycles work as well as chemotherapy in mice. In relation to the other benefits of fasting you'll have to read on. 

Many species in the wild go through periods of hunger, at the cellular level this induces autophagy which promotes cell "cleansing", at the physiological level this reduces inflammation because food itself, being so pathogen rich, via a leptin mediated process, initiates some level of immunological inflammation. Fasting also induces cortisol release, which can happen within hours and lowers inflammation. With sugar levels falling insulin growth factor is either bound up with its binding protein(IGFBP) and hence unavailable for cells or its release is being reduced from a reduction in central HGH release; either way this can help inhibit tumour formation because many tumour cells are very sensitive to growth hormone stimulation. Our physiology has had to evolve in a challenging environment where calories are not always readily available, hence the stores of fat and sugar so common in species. We are adapted to coping with this and the steady availability of calories actually impedes some physiological and cellular functions which are vital to our health. Once again we see this rather remarkable "fine tuning" that can occur through natural selection.

In relation to the cognitive and anti-dementia benefits, the above linked article by David Liu does an excellent job of summarising the research findings of Professor Mark Mattson and others. If you're interested, read the latter half of that news item. I read about Mattson's work over a decade ago. In my archive is a wonderful article of his: Starve me and Watch my Brain Run, wherein he cited how caloric restriction had significant improvements in various tests of rat cunning. It is great to see he has continued the research and is preparing to conduct human trials on fasting.

There is a complex set of interactions in play. Consider this extract from the news article ...
If body weight begins to increase, ghrelin levels in the stomach tend to be reduced and the renewal of brain cells will be slowed down. 
This is a good example of how when we think about cerebral health we must think about what is happening in the whole body. If an animal is overweight it don't really need those new hippocampal cells arising the dentate gyrus so much, as recent research indicates new memory formation may be critically dependent on the availability of new neurons in the hippocampus and there is a substantial body of research to indicate that anti-depressant treatment works only when it stimulates new neuron production in the dentate gyrus, which reminds me of some British research which found that obese women had brain ages circa 10 years in advance of their actual age, this increased rate of shrinkage being consistent with increased inflammatory mediator release with obesity, the above point by Mattson, and increased insulin resistance seen in obesity because neurons really like their sugar ... .

So of course fasting will help prevent obesity. Learning to fast is a bitch, it takes a long time and in some occupations at least is unrealistic, at least over the long term. We've all heard about caloric restriction benefits but I happen chanced upon some research showing how even intermittent fasting conferred many of the benefits of full CR, the latter being completely incompatible with modern life and I'm not sure it is a safe long term strategy. I now fast without effort, the key point being I reduce my concept of food to pure functionality. It is not primarily a social event or a pleasure event, it is primarily about keeping my brain running. So all those cooking programs are doing precisely the wrong thing from a psychological perspective because they are persistently providers reinforcers to eat. You need to remove the stimuli. Let me give a broader example from economics: a study found that the frequency of fast food consumption was proportional to the number of fast food outlets in a given area. Well der. Forget about Willpower. I don't know who Will is but he hasn't given me any power. You may have spent decades almost religiously following the culturally dictated 3 meals a day everyday mantra so don't expect to change your habits overnight. Just keep at it. Thus Spoke the Contradiction.


Gail said...

Lots of interesting information in this blog. I didn't realise that fasting was also beneficial to brain activity.

There are lots of examples of fasting in various religions and cultures. In the animal world they have quite long periods of fasting. Many animals don't eat every day.

In our Western Mind we tend to ignore age old and natural wisdom and spend $millions to prove it for ourselves. No wonder our system is broke!

Herbert and I fast for 1 month in January or February. We live on freshly squeezed fruit but mostly veg juice and we take some supplements. I have been thinking this is too severe and have swapped to 1 day of fasting/week.

This article suggests that 2 days is the optimum. When I have sorted out the 1 day/week fast routine I'll give 2 days/week a go.

Thanks for the blog.

stretch marks said...

There are lots of examples of fasting in various religions and cultures. In the animal world they have quite long periods of fasting. Many animals don't eat every day.

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