Hungry for Health: Fasting's Medical Benefits

John Watson


July 12, 2018

In This Article

The Future of Fasting

All of the researchers interviewed for this article agreed that the data supporting intermittent fasting as a clinical intervention are currently limited to a few indications, and are derived from relatively small studies. It is difficult to know the true benefits of this treatment, much less the adverse events that could accompany its application. They cautioned against the adoption of fasting in such populations as frail and elderly persons, hypoglycemic patients, and children and adolescents.

There is justifiable excitement that a simple, nonpharmacologic intervention could have a notable impact for patients with life-threatening conditions.

There is nonetheless a justifiable excitement that a simple, nonpharmacologic intervention could have a notable impact for patients with life-threatening conditions, such as breast cancer or cardiovascular disease. However, according to Sears, this hasn't made obtaining funding for robust fasting studies any easier.

"It would be really wonderful to see larger, appropriately powered studies funded. That takes support from the research community who's reviewing the grants, to invest and to recognize the promise," she said.

Then there is the issue of financial incentives. Clinical trials are primarily subsidized under the hope that a marketable treatment will emerge at the end of a prolonged and expensive period of investigation. There is no clear way to profitably market food abstinence. Diet books do not make it into Big Pharma's development pipeline.

But if our bodies are evolutionarily conditioned to survive and perhaps even excel through hunger, our appetite for shortcuts may be equally hardwired. This past spring, a team of biologists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that mice fasting for 24 hours were able to regenerate their intestinal stem cells at double the normal rate.[10] In accompanying media coverage,[11] the team expressed hope that one day, these results would lead to the creation of a drug that mimics fasting without the actual need for fasting.

If these and other like-minded researchers are able to make good on their aspirations, in the future it may be fine once again to treat that growling in your stomach with a trip to the refrigerator, so long as you stop by your medicine cabinet for dessert.

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