As we stroll into heart month (Feb), still the #1 killer of Americans - 20 years after the declaration to reduce heart-related deaths - here we are. Still. Trying like heck to reduce the risk of heart-related (and other co-morbidities) incidences.
According to statistics from the CDC in 2016, 610,000 heart-related deaths occur each year and it is the leading cause of death in both men and women. That is 1 in 4 Americans.
Why are we still here? After all, we know what we can do: exercise more, take our multivitamin, get regular checks-ups at our doctors' office and - oh yeah - eat more healthfully. Many of us are still sticking to our New Year's Resolutions!
Amid our plight to prepare more healthy home-cooked meals with an eye to consuming higher amounts of plant-based foods, with greater amounts of heart-protecting fiber, healthy, lean proteins, less sugar and processed foods, are we able to keep on with these habits - forever?
Some might say a resounding, "YES!", well, others...maybe...not so much. We have the statistics to prove it.
What do we do if we feel like we have "tried it all", and the results don't appear to be paying off?
What if we have test results, like an advanced lipoprotein or cardiometabolic profile that continue to stare us in the face and prove the errors of our ways? It's disheartening when the labors of our actions appear to be largely ignored by our body's metabolism.
Is it time to finally give up? Should New Year's Resolutions focus on some other aspect, other than finally getting healthy?
Perhaps it is time for a different approach…
The practice of fasting has had many surges over the millennia, extending from times of scarcity, to practices of mystics and religious groups and holidays to health-faddists. Some believed it brought spiritual enlightenment, or quick weight loss; while others believed it gave the digestive system a chance to rejuvenate itself, similar to the idea that adequate nightly sleep allows a reset of the nervous system.
It is largely this last assumption which has pioneered continued research into fasting and its multiple health benefits, including heart (but not limited to) health.1-4
I had the good fortune of learning first-hand about the incredible research into fasting this past December while attending the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine in Las Vegas. Valter Longo, PhD, who directs the USC Longevity Institute, expertly presented his research on fasting and its connection to a longer, healthier existence.5 Instead of fasting for long periods of time (4 days to a couple of weeks), the same benefits can be achieved through "Time-Restricted Fasting/Re-feeding" (TRF) or "Fasting-Mimicking Diet" (FMD). Below are two links to fascinating presentations featuring Dr. Longo and his work.
Essentially, with TRF and FMD, an individual can positively impact health for prolonged periods of time simply by choosing to consume all of their daily calories in an 8-hour window. If the first caloric consumption (this includes beverages so no cream or sugar in your coffee) of the day starts at 10:00 AM, an individual is done feeding by 6:00 that evening. If 11:00 is start time, 7:00 is finish time, and so forth.
What does FMD do, exactly?
The Fasting-Mimicking Diet creates the time needed to accomplish an "internal housekeeping" on the cellular level known to stimulate a pathway called: autophagy. Whether you choose to say it "Ah-tauf-ah-gee"or "auto-fay-gee" (I've learned both are right), somatic cells auto-phagocytize, literally eat themselves, to sweep out the debris of aberrant (faulty, damaged or maladapted) cells that build up in our cellular metabolism. Additionally, internal organs, like the heart, all shrink to their reset size, which allows for more effective functioning. When we eat too frequently and don't allow the digestive system to rest, clean and rebuild with re-feeding, autophagy processes are disrupted.
How will autophagy improve my heart health, specifically?
As noted earlier, autophagy has profound positive effects on many body systems and functions, as well as cancer prevention and other diseases, but one of the most researched areas in autophagy include cardiovascular disease. Since mitochondria are found in abundance within the cardiac muscle and TRF and FMD precipitate autophagy, another way fasting improves heart health might be through preserving mitochondrial integrity. 6
Dr. Longo's research has also shown that TRF and FMD influences cellular adaptive responses by reducing oxidative damage and inflammation; as well as optimizing energy metabolism and bolstering cellular protection.7
- Xie W, Zhou J. Aberrant regulation of autophagy in mammalian diseases. Biol Lett. 2018;14(1).
- O'Flanagan CH, Smith LA, McDonell SB, Hursting SD. When less may be more: calorie restriction and response to cancer therapy. BMC Med. 2017;15(1):106.
- Choi IY, Piccio L, Childress P, et al. A Diet Mimicking Fasting Promotes Regeneration and Reduces Autoimmunity and Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms. Cell Rep. 2016;15(10):2136-2146.
- Brandhorst S, Choi IY, Wei M, et al. A Periodic Diet that Mimics Fasting Promotes Multi-System Regeneration, Enhanced Cognitive Performance, and Healthspan. Cell Metab. 2015;22(1):86-99.
- Longo VD, Panda S. Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan. Cell Metab. 2016;23(6):1048-1059.
- Traba J, Sack MN. The role of caloric load and mitochondrial homeostasis in the regulation of the NLRP3 inflammasome. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2017;74(10):1777-1791.
- Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metab. 2014;19(2):181-192.