Starving yourself once or twice a week could help protect the brain against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, claim a group scientists.
Researchers from the National Institute on Ageing discovered that not eating at all for one or two days a week not only improved the chances of avoiding dementia later in life, but could also be the key to a longer life as fasting increased the lifespan of lab rats and mice by 40%.
Scientists have known for some time that a low-calorie diet is a recipe for a healthier life. However the recent research suggests that cutting down to around 500 calories for one or two days a week also significantly slows the onset of brain diseases.
Experts believe that this is down to chemical messengers in the brain being "boosted" when calorie intake is restricted.
Professor Mark Mattson, head of the Institute’s laboratory of neurosciences, said in a statement: "Reducing your calorie intake could help your brain, but doing so by cutting your intake of food is not likely to be the best method of triggering this protection.
"It is likely to be better to go on intermittent bouts of fasting, in which you eat hardly anything at all, and then have periods when you eat as much as you want."
Despite these findings, dementia charity Alzheimer’s Society disagree with them, telling The Huffington Post: "We would not recommend people fast regularly.
"The best way to cut down your chances of developing dementia is to combine a balanced diet with regular exercise, not smoking, and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly checked.”
Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, added to this, telling The Huffington Post: "This new research is interesting, and understanding how restricting food intake affects how the body responds to stress and illness could one day help us develop better treatments for a whole range of different conditions.
"But 'fasting' can be dangerous especially for vulnerable people with long-term health conditions like Parkinson's - so this won't be a new treatment or a cure for the condition."
But is fasting ever healthy? Although fasting has been practiced for thousands of years, the question is still a subject of much medical debate.
While some do it for religious reasons and others as a means of detoxing, many nutritionists warn that it's never a good tool for long-term weight-loss.
"The appeal is that fasting is quick, but it is quick fluid loss, not substantial weight loss," says Madelyn Fernstrom from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Weight Loss Management Center.
"If it's easy off, it will come back quickly as soon as you start eating normally again."
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