Taking a break from food

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Dr. Narinthorn Surasinthon Dr. Narinthorn Surasinthon is the Director of Health at Thanyapura.

Diet programs are plenty and diverse. They promise anything from weight loss, better health to anti-aging effects, but if you’ve tried some of them, you might already know that many, if not most of those promises, are empty. There is however something new on the horizon, a nutrition plan which actually works.

It’s called intermittent fasting and while its current spike in popularity may be new, the premise itself is not; in fact, it’s ancient. The concept of fasting has been known for thousands years and is an important element of all major religions - Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. And while back fasting was used mostly for spiritual reasons, but today’s trend for fasting has more to do with healthy lifestyle. With a new name of intermittent fasting, it’s quickly becoming the to-go diet not just for celebrities or politicians, but for all those looking to break the spell of failed weight loss attempts.

Intermittent fasting exists in a variety of forms. One concept aims to reduce calories intake down to 500 calories a day, 2-3 days a week, while allowing for normal eating for the rest of the week. In an alternative approach, the fasting period may be reduced to just 16-18 hours, but takes place every day. Whatever the pattern, it doesn’t differ much from what our prehistoric ancestors had to cope with, that is lack of food before they managed to hunt it down. The difference is that today we know it’s good for our health, and we have science to back it up.

In 2016 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for the discovery of autophagy genes, and the elucidation of the molecular machinery for autophagy.
which has led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its contents. A link has been found between impairments in the regulation of autophagy and a variety of diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, infections and nervous system disorders. Autophagy plays a key role when we adjust our metabolism to fasting - during intermittent fasting, hormones and metabolism change, levels of insulin drop, while those of growth hormones spike, along with cellular repair and gene expression. This can lead to reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, improve memory and help you reduce body weight.

But long before Yoshinori Ohsumi enlightened us to the intricacies of cellular waste, it was Lord Buddha himself who praised eating once a day only, citing such benefits of fasting as better focus and improved resistance to disease. As I try intermittent fasting myself, not only do I benefit from what Buddha mentioned; I’m also quicker to notice the difference between real hunger and meaningless cravings. This understanding helps me improve my mental and physical health.

By Dr. Narinthorn Surasinthon is the Director of Health at Thanyapura. Learn more on thanyapura.com