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Grandparents Health – Can Fasting Really Make You Live Longer?

I recently watched a fascinating Horizon about fasting – a follow up programme to his original exploration of exercise, in which Michael Mosley came to the rather alarming conclusion that some people just don’t seem to respond to  what’s good for them. His problem – fat around the body organs – is one experienced by huge numbers of older men, and can lead to a greatly increased risk of some cancers and heart disease.

Fat around the body organs doesn’t necessarily show up as abdominal fat, or visible fat of any kind. You can look reasonably slim, certainly the right kind of size for your age and height, and still have deposits of killer lipids arranged around your heart, your liver and your kidneys.

Once there, this hidden fat is extremely hard to shift. To get rid of it, you need to shock your body into dropping the production of a specific hormone, IGF-1.

IGF-1 keeps the body making cells in “flat out” mode, which means you’re constantly building new bits without repairing the old.

The central message of this Horizon episode: if you fast, your IGF-1 levels drop. Sometimes by 50% or more.

So is fasting really good for you? Obviously, older men need a certain amount of nutrition to fuel the natural repair processes of the body. And no-one should start a programme of fasting without first consulting their GP. Incorrect fasting, for instance, can lead to self-caused diabetes.

The good news: you don’t have to fast for days on end, or even conduct massive fasts on a regular basis. Instead you indulge in what’s called Alternate Day Fasting – where you calorie restrict on alternate days, and then eat what you like on the other days. That’s right – what you like, up to and including burgers, cakes and curries – whatever you want. Current research in ADF suggests that no matter what you eat on the “feed day”, you will reduce your weight and also your levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides – high levels of both of these are contributors to serious age related diseases.

Obviously all dieting and all fasting regimes should be taken under advisement from healthcare professionals. Pre-existing conditions (diabetes for example) may mean you can’t engage in fasting, or shouldn’t engage in fasting without a professionally designed programme backing you up.

The apparent beauty of ADF is that it doesn’t matter at all what you eat on your feed days – the potential success of the method is tied up with kick-starting your body’s emergency recovery systems on the fast day, rather than looking at what you eat on the feed days.

As we get older, paying more attention to our health can add years of enjoyment to the salad days – without us necessarily having to eat a leaf of rabbit food! Of course the healthier we eat, and the more we move around, the better. But for that hidden fat, who knows? Eating less every other day could be the answer.

For more information on senior health:

The Net Doctor, which gives advice on all aspects of senior health.

Ask Granny, the online guide for grandparents.

Helpguide, which offers great advice on senior sexuality.