Intermittent Fasting, Autophagy, and Why It May be OK to Skip Breakfast
The theory of ‘thrifty genes’ states that periods of food abundance fluctuating with periods of food scarcity are required for optimal metabolic function. When we limit our food consumption to only 8 hours per day, this leaves 16 hours to hydrate, digest, renew, recover and burn fat. In some circles this is known as intermittent fasting and has been shown (in the context of a whole foods diet) to be associated with extending lifespan and reducing the incidence of age-related disorders. Medical studies have shown intermittent fasting to improve insulin resistance, slow brain aging, reduce oxidative stress and increase autophagy.
What is autophagy?
Yo Shinon Ohsumi of Japan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for discovering autophagy – the body’s process of destroying, recycling and renewing dysfunctional cells. He studied this cellular renewal process in yeast but it has wider implications in human health. Autophagy occurs when we’re in a non-fed state, is known to be triggered by intermittent fasting, and is thought to be why fasting is associated with longevity and staves off aging. Defects in autophagy have been linked to diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer. Drugs targeting autophagy are being developed.
Too much time in a fed state leaves many overfed. Most don’t have enough consistent exercise and activity in the day to justify eating from morning to night. The bottom line: there may be benefit in delaying the first meal of the day and/or eating an early dinner with no snacking in the evening hours. By compressing the number of ‘fed’ hours in the day to 8 hours, even down to 6 hours, we’re allowing the body opportunity to ‘house clean’ and access body fat.