METI’s Column: Fasting and anti-aging

By Dr Walter Vermeulen 03 December 2023, 6:00AM

In our previous column we focused on how the whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet -if strictly followed- can slow down and even arrest prostate cancer. In such cases, the individual will be transformed and be able to plan how best to enjoy his newfound health and how to keep living for many more years. 

This brings us to the very active field of ‘anti-aging’. All kinds of experimental drugs are being tried to block certain hormones or enzymes that promote the aging process. Not only are these drugs still in the experimental stage but -surprise- the same effect can be obtained by utilizing the normal processes that our bodies use to stay healthy. 

Let me explain. The aging process involves the build-up of materials in the cell that have lost their usefulness. Compare it to you carting broken chairs and other furniture, or home appliances damaged beyond repair to the attic or the garage. 

In the cells that would be strands of damaged cell parts that stopped functioning. Over the years, your attic or your garage will have accumulated a lot of ‘junk’, to the point where it becomes unbearable. The same thing happens inside the cells: the accumulating ‘junk’ will eventually start interfering with normal cellular functioning. 

Nature has given the living organisms a way to ‘clean up the junk inside the cells’: it is called ‘autophagy’ from the Greek words for “self-eating.” Autophagy is a natural cellular mechanism by which the cells in our body degrade damaged components within the cell. In this way, it helps maintain normal cell functioning. 

Not only that, but it selects those components that still can be reused, while others are discarded, very much like you -after demolishing an old shed- will select certain still useable timbers or roofing irons and take the rest of the junk to the dump. At the cellular level, it means that certain damaged components can be utilized as food or reconstruct new cellular parts, while the rest is sent to the liver for disposal out of the body via the bile and the intestinal tract. 

So, autophagy act both as a salvage and a cleaning-out operation and at the same time helps the immune system by cleaning up toxins and infectious agents. Our ancient ancestors often went for several days without food; so, autophagy was constantly being switched on to use the damaged cellular components as a food source. 

But these days, the average human eats on a daily basis so that our cells no longer need to look for discarded scraps for sustenance. And so, instead of regularly cleaning up, the junk keeps piling up higher and higher, which accelerates the aging process, while at the same time, our bodies’ ability to take out the trash declines with age… So, how can we activate autophagy, this essential health maintenance mechanism, in times of abundance? 

It can be activated by fasting… Yet, fasting is not easily followed on a regular basis and any fast more than 24 hours should probably only be done under medical supervision––especially with so many people now suffering from NCDs. And then, periods of fasting can lead to overeating afterwards… A simpler way is to practice what is called ‘daily time-restricted feeding’, which therefore alternates with ‘daily time-restricted fasting’. 

Time-restricted fasting is “defined as fasting for periods of at least 12 hours but less than 24 hours.” This involves trying to confine eating to a set window of time, typically 3–4 hours, 7–9 hours, or 10–12 hours a day, resulting in a daily fast lasting between 12 and 21 hours. To understand how it works, we have to explain what metabolism is:   it is a process which helps cells convert food into a form of energy that cells can use to grow and divide. Metabolism balances between two opposing activities, anabolism, and catabolism

Anabolism is a process that builds cellular structures, while catabolism breaks them down. Autophagy is a catabolic process. When we eat from morning to late at night, we are constantly in the anabolic state and there is not much time left for autophagy. So, the trick is to increase the period of not-eating when we place the body in the catabolic state. 

It’s like making sure that ‘the janitors will go to work after everyone has left the office’! Ideally one should eat within a period of 8 hours (say having 2 meals a day: at 10 am and 6 pm), leaving 16 hours for autophagy. As a compromise -especially if you have an 8-hour job- try to eat within an 11-hour period (say having 2 meals at 7 am and 6 pm), leaving 13 hours for autophagy. 

Done over a prolonged period of time, practitioners will vouch for feeling healthier and better being able to control their weight. Why don’t you give it a try? We invite you to visit METI’s Healthy Living Clinic at House No. 51 at Motootua (across from the Kokobanana Restaurant) to become acquainted with METI’s whole food plant-based diet and Lifestyle Change programs. Or call us at 30550. Learning how to follow these Programs might be your ‘game changer’!

By Dr Walter Vermeulen 03 December 2023, 6:00AM
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