For centuries, different cultures have implemented fasting for various spiritual and religious reasons. Buddhist monks and Yogic Masters have claimed they’ve accessed higher consciousness and induced mystical experiences through fasting. In fact, numerous breatharians (people who get their energy from oxygen alone) are in perfect health, despite the fact that they’re not eating in alignment with the U.S. Food Guide.
But science is now finally catching up and beginning to study the effects of fasting. Researchers have discovered that fasting can prevent Alzheimer’s, increase brain function, and even treat cancer.
Studies Determine the Long-Term Effects of Fasting on Monkeys
For nearly 30 years, two studies, one performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) and the other by the U.S. National Institute on Ageing (NIA) in Maryland, have debated the effects of fasting. Now both at an end, they have, remarkably, arrived at the same conclusion: Fasting extends lifespan and improves health.
It’s generally accepted that most animals can live up to 40% longer if they restrict their caloric intake. However, most previous studies were conducted on rats and other smaller animals that aren’t necessarily directly applicable to human health. These two experiments looked at rhesus macaque monkeys, which share around 93% of our genome, and experience a similar aging process to humans in that their hair greys, they go bald, and they often experience cognitive decline as they mature.
The experiments studied a combined total of 200 monkeys for almost 30 years, but the teams haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. In 2009, the UW-Madison team reported that the subjects who consumed fewer calories lived longer than those who ate normal amounts of food, and that the fasting monkeys had fewer reported cases of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes.
Whereas, in 2012, the NIA team’s results suggested that there was no difference in survival rates between the monkeys who were fasting and the ones who were not, although the dieters had better health overall.
“These conflicting outcomes had cast a shadow of doubt on the translatability of the caloric-restriction paradigm as a means to understand ageing and what creates age-related disease vulnerability,” explained Rozalyn Anderson, one of the researchers from the UW-Madison team.
From 2012 onward, the two teams decided to band together and consolidate all of their information. Together, they produced excellent information on the benefits of fasting and ultimately agreed on its efficacy.
Their results, published in Nature Communications, clearly show the differences between the two studies and why the two teams originally had opposing views. The animals in the two studies had their caloric intake restricted at different ages. Their findings suggest that caloric restriction is more beneficial for adults than for younger monkeys. Interestingly, this specific type of monkey usually only lives to be 26 years old; however, many of the monkeys fasting lived until their 40s and are still alive today!
Their opposing views could also be explained by the amount of calories they had restricted from the monkeys. For example, the monkeys within the control groups at the NIA consumed less than those at the UW-Madison, meaning the difference between the fasting monkeys and non-fasting ones was less distinct. In addition, the monkeys at the NIA ate ‘natural’ foods, whereas those participating in the UW-Madison experiment ate processed foods with higher levels of sugar. As a result, the UW-Madison control group monkeys were fatter. Plus, the monkeys used were from different genetic stocks.
Interestingly, the female monkeys benefited less from this experiment. The female monkeys seemed to have a lower risk of having high levels of body fat, so they didn’t experience the same benefits of caloric restriction as the males did. In the end, the researchers found that the fasting monkeys could live up to three years longer, though it depended on what they ate, the age they began calorie restriction, and their sex.
This relates to human health, as we can experience the same benefits from fasting. However, it’s important to note that intermittent or occasional fasting may not add years to your life if you’re not eating healthily and fasting properly. It’s ideal to break a fast with some fruit or a light organic, vegan meal. If you fast, then eat McDonald’s, then fast again, you are obviously less likely to experience the same health benefits.
How Does Fasting Aid Human Health?
Mark Mattson, a Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, has studied the effects fasting has on the brain for many years. His research indicates that fasting several days a week can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as increase brain function.
“Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and we think that your brain reacts by activating adaptive stress responses that help it cope with disease,” says Mattson. “From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense your brain should be functioning well when you haven’t been able to obtain food for a while.”
Indeed, a University of Southern California study showed that fasting can trigger stem cell rejuvenation and boost the immune system. The study was published in the June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell. Their findings show that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and induce immune system regeneration. The team concluded that fasting shifts stem cells from a dormant state to one of self-renewal. Fasting has also been linked to reduced cancer risk and improved cancer treatment, which you can read about in our CE articles here and here.
Final Thoughts on Fasting
The animal kingdom can be considered to be a direct reflection of ourselves, as many animals will mirror our actions, in a sense. The collective consciousness doesn’t start or end with our human shells; we’re connected to everything around us. What we manifest in our realities trickles outwards and affects everything on the planet. So, from both a biological and an energetic perspective, it makes sense that monkeys would experience the same benefits from fasting as humans do.
Clearly there are numerous potential health benefits to fasting: weight loss, improved immune system and brain function, and decreased risk of numerous diseases. If you try fasting, you won’t just feel better physically, but you may improve your meditation practice and discover more about yourself, too!