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Starving Yourself Sometimes Could Be Good for You

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Want to boost your brain power and a live a few years longer to boot? Scientists say the answer could be as simple as occasionally depriving yourself of food.

Research from the National Institutes for Aging shows when animals are given just enough calories to keep them alive, they can live up to twice as long. And when the same diet was tested on humans, it appeared to protect the heart, circulatory system and brain against age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

Mark Mattson, head of the laboratory of neurosciences at the NIA and professor of neuroscience at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, said, “We have found that dietary energy restriction, particularly when administered in intermittent bouts of major caloric restriction, such as alternative day fasting, activates cellular stress response pathways in neurones.”

In the experiments, some mice were fed only on alternate days, while others ate daily. Both groups had unlimited access to food on the days they ate, and both groups’ overall caloric intake was the same.

However, Mattson said the mice fed on alternate days were more sensitive to insulin and therefore needed to make less of it. High levels of the hormone, which the body produces to control sugar levels after eating, are often associated with lower brain power and an elevated risk of diabetes.

This isn’t the only medical research showing intermittent food deprivation could have health benefits. Previous research has found that it can be good for cancer patients, since starving healthy cells of the food they need sends them into a survival mode and makes them highly resistant to the stress and damage caused from chemotherapy.

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