Chennai: The wise Indian sage had known this all along and practised it in routine rituals round the year and through his very long life, staying robust and radiant in body and mind. And now we have a study published in the journal Scientific Reports telling us that fasting increases metabolic activity and may even impart anti-aging benefits.
While the benefits of intermittent fasting for losing weight have been discussed widely, the current study shows that caloric restriction and fasting have a prolonging effect on lifespan in model animals.
Indian household valued fasting since ancient times, but with a religious colour and ritualistic pattern to it with the basic philosophy being healthy eating to keep gastrointestinal tract healthy.
The study done at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Japan examined the impact of fasting on metabolism.
To analyze the measurements of metabolites, four volunteers fasted for 58 hours and the researchers anlyzed their whole blood samples at intervals during the fasting period.
Several metabolic changes occur when the body is restricted of caloric intake. The levels of metabolites had increased in the blood of participants during fasting. However, there was an increase in products of the citric acid cycle that releases stored energy. During the fasting period, the energy producing mitochondria are put to excessive activity to produce more energy in the cells.
The researchers noticed an increase in levels of purine and pyrimidine indictaing increased levels of certain antioxidants, including ergothioneine and carnosine. Previous studies by the same group of researchers found that a number of metabolites including leucine, isoleucine, and ophthalmic acid reduced with aging.
However, this study revealed that fasting boosted these three metabolites. A total number of 44 metabolites were found to have increased during fasting by as much as 60-fold.
Lead researcher of the study Dr Takayuki Teruya said that fasting appears to provoke a much more metabolically active state than previously realized. "These are very important metabolites for maintenance of muscle and antioxidant activity. This result suggests the possibility of a rejuvenating effect by fasting, which was not known until now," said Dr Takayuki.
Medicos say that our bodies can experience high levels of oxidative stress during fasting that helps to avoid some of the potential damage caused by free radical.
Dean of Madras Medical College and a general physician, Dr R Jayanthi says that the fasting helps to enhance the metabolism, however, the quality and the quantity of the food consumed after fasting is significant. "Feasting only on high carbs as the fasting ends is not healthy and a balanced diet of adequate calories, fat, proteins and roughage is necessary,"' says Dr Jayanthi.
While there are numerous benefits of fasting, it might not have similar affect on diabetics, say diabetologists. "Usually, insulin works on reducing the blood sugar levels, while other hormones increase the blood sugar levels, thereby, maintaining a balance. During fasting, the insulin secretion is low and secretion of other hormones is higher, which maintains the sugar levels and enhances the metabolism. However, in case of diabetics, there is no change in the insulin levels during fasting and the sugar levels increase highly as they feast. This can impact the cardiac functioning significantly," said Dr P Dharmaraj, director and head, Institute of Diabetology, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.