Science and the benefits of fasting
I’m sorry I didn’t write from London the Sunday before last because I just couldn’t find the time. Much relief to the reader, I’m sure. There were no newspapers last Sunday because of Eid, so one was absent again. Now I’m back. And I’ve had one more injection in my left eyeball since to boot and am seeing the better for it. But very weak because of the anti-biotic.
The moment one arrives in London one discerns a sudden and alarming drop in one’s standard of living. The level of spiel has gone up considerably while quality is tending towards the ordinary. Conversely, one returns home to find an alarming drop in the level of collective common. Here the level of randomness, bombast and bluster is increasing while the country tends towards failure. Britain’s prime problem is economic mismanagement that has caused horrendously rising prices, economic stagnation, joblessness and a drop in real incomes – with no light at the end of the tunnel yet. Ours is because collectively we live in our own dream worlds, out of touch with reality, our own and of a fast-changing world.
To be sure both suffer from each other’s maladies too, but differently. If the British had common sense they would not find themselves in the dire economic situation that they are in today. They handed their financial thought process to America and to banks. The only sensible thing I have seen Britain do is not to join the Euro: perhaps therein lies their eventual salvation. The only sensible thing I have seen Pakistan do lately is to allow this horrid system to continue towards its final denouncement. Interventions without ideology and a doable plan only strengthen the horrid system, making things worse because they lengthen its life.
Both countries have one thing in common though: both have clung to the coattails of America for years. It is not America’s fault, my dears, but our own. America does what it thinks is in its own good. We should too. That a lot of what America has done imagining that it is in its good has turned out to be bad is neither here nor there: it too suffers from acute lack of common sense, especially when it comes to foreign and war policies. But that is no excuse for us not doing what is in our good too before we think of others as long as it is not based on pie in the sky.
But all this mind-numbing global politics aside, in London one comes across many new things. I came across some. Let me share one with you. Michael Mosley, the editor of BBC’s ‘Horizon’ programme, decided to do a programme on the benefits or harms of fasting, not of the Muslim kind but of eating and drinking 600 calories or less on the fasting day. On ‘normal’ days you can eat normally; gluttons will find that they are gorging less. His research led him to two forms of fasting that can lead to weight loss in a healthy way and even reduce high blood pressure and blood sugar.
One method is what is called ADF or Alternate Day Fasting. The other is 5:2 – eating normally for five days in a week and fasting for two, though whether the two fasting days should be consecutive or can be any he doesn’t say. He tried the 5:2 method and lost a stone or 14 pounds in five weeks and felt the better for it. He says that it could also increase life span: “Calorie restriction, eating well but not much, is one of the few things that have been shown to extend life expectancy, at least in animals.” Mice, for example, “on a low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet live far longer. There is mounting evidence that the same is true in monkeys” – which brings the theory closer to humans. I wonder what my friend Maverick the Monkey would have to say.
The theory is that we have a growth hormone called IGF-1, short for ‘Insulin-like Growth Factor’, “high levels of which seem to lead to accelerated ageing and age-related diseases, while low levels are protective.” Then there is a natural genetic mutation in humans with Laron Syndrome, “a rare condition that affects fewer than 350 people worldwide. The very low levels of IGF-1 their bodies produce means they are short, but this also seems to protect them against cancer and diabetes, two common age-related diseases.”
The IGF-1 hormone “is one of the drivers which keep our bodies in go-go mode, with cells driven to reproduce. This is fine when you are growing, but not so good in later life. There is now evidence suggesting that IGF-1 levels can be lowered by what you eat.”
But restricting calories is not enough, not unless you cut out protein (meat and daal) intake, not entirely but substantially, like eating meat, preferably not red, twice a week (my suggestion). I’m told that our army gives meat to soldiers only on Thursdays in its ‘langars’ yet see how much exercise they do. Cutting out protein entirely “would be a very bad idea,” says Mosley. “It’s about sticking to recommended guidelines, something most of us fail to do. The reason seems to be that when our bodies no longer have access to food they switch from ‘growth mode’ to ‘repair mode’. As levels of the IGF-1 hormone drop, a number of repair genes appear to get switched on according to ongoing research by Professor Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.” This is where intermittent fasting – alternate day or twice weekly – helps.
It doesn’t seem to matter what you eat on non-fasting days. “Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago carried out an eight-week trial comparing two groups of overweight patients on ADF.” Says Varady: “If you were sticking to your fast days, then in terms of cardiovascular disease risk, it didn’t seem to matter if you were eating a high-fat or low-fat diet on your feed (non-fast) days.”
Michael Mosley who did the 5:2 diet ate scrambled eggs with a thin slice of meat (ham in his case) and lots of black tea for breakfast, amounting to about 300 calories. He would drink lots of water and herbal tea through the day and then for a light dinner he would take, say, grilled fish with lots of vegetables. Not so difficult when you come to think of it. As I said, he lost 14 pounds in 15 days for his pains, which, when one gets used to it, is no pain at all.
Look, it’s simple. If 2000 calories are enough for a grown man, he eats 4,000 in two days. But if on one of those two days he consumes only 600 calories his total calorie intake in two days would be 2,600, not 4,000. The growth hormone, IGF-1 would slow down and the repair hormones kick in so you reduce weight and thereby diabetes and high blood pressure and help your heart too. Daily light exercise is mentioned nowhere. If one did that, even on non-fasting days, it would help greatly (my suggestion again). I have eaten only two shami kebabs today, grilled on a tawa (iron skillet for making chapatti or even a dry frying pan), not fried. Tonight I will eat steamed fish with vegetables at my restaurant ‘Chand Tara’. Let’s see what happens: in the meantime, happy eating.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org