It's about how long you don't eat
New research into longevity indicates that it’s not so much what you eat, but how long you don’t.
A new study led by Dr Ayse Mindikoglu, Associate Professor of Medicine and Surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and published in Nature Proteomics has found that the state of our circadian biology — that is, how well we attune to the day/night cycles of our planet — is a important factor in our physical and mental wellbeing.
Fourteen healthy individuals, including both men and women with an average age of 32, fasted from sunrise to sunset for 30 days, beginning their day with a pre-dawn breakfast, and a twilight dinner — similar to the practice of Ramadan. None were required to change their diets and none experienced any significant weight loss.
The study found that when the rhythmic nature of circadian clocks was disrupted, particularly the hepatic or the liver ‘clock’, it can lead to what’s called metabolic syndrome — which can arise from poor eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. When the clocks were in order, the researchers reported significant improvements to the immune system, cognition, sugar levels, DNA repair and cytoskeleton remodelling. They hypothesise that intermittent fasting for several consecutive days without otherwise restricting calories induces “a serum proteome [that is] protective against cancer, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, Alzheimer's disease, and several neuropsychiatric disorders”. For instance, levels of LATS1, a large tumour-suppressor enzyme, which has been shown to suppress several kinds of tumours, were increased nine-fold by the end of Week 4 of the fast.
The study is small and further research is recommended. However, it would appear that a 14-hour fast — starting at sundown and ending at sunset — can ‘reset’ the clocks and improve wellbeing markedly. The practice of Ramadan may be more than a religious ritual, after all. There may be good science behind it.