With so much food readily available to us at all hours of the day and night, it’s no wonder that our society has become plagued with chronic conditions including diabetes, obesity and heart disease that are linked with overeating or eating an unhealthy diet. Intermittent fasting has become a popular trend in the health and diet industry as people look for a way to help shed fat and allow their bodies to heal, but is it a safe practice for older adults?
Fasting is common in many cultures and religions around the world; during the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours and break the fast each evening with a light meal. But abstaining from food and drink for long periods of time, especially for the elderly, can lead to dangerous dehydration or a drop in blood sugar. Some medications must be taken with food, so careful attention should be paid to timing when stopping eating for short periods of time.
There are a growing number of studies that suggest small fasts can improve sleep, offer protection against breast cancer recurrence, reduce bad cholesterol and lower blood pressure. A recent study out of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore demonstrates that restricting calories periodically may also help protect cognitive function in older age. Our ancestors often experienced extended periods of time when food was in limited supply. By mimicking this experience, researchers believe nerve cells may be protected and new brain cells can thrive, tricking the older brain into acting younger.
In programs like the popular 5:2 diet, participants drastically cut their calorie intake down to 500 or 600 calories for two days out of the week. This is believed to encourage the body to burn stored fat and over time, treat risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. There are also a number of programs that mimic fasting while still allowing limited foods, claiming to provide similar benefits.
If you are considering fasting intermittently, talk with your doctor first discussing any potential risks and work together to make a plan that will ensure safety while fasting. To learn more about the health benefits of fasting, follow this link to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Check out Canadian author Brad Pilon’s popular book, Eat Stop Eat which takes an in depth, scientific look at the benefits of intermittent fasting here.