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Eat, Fast and Live Longer

Below is an excellent video on fasting, something we talked about in ancient wisdom for lifelong heath.

Now some thoughts.

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We are antifragile to randomness in food delivery.

In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb writes:

I have been repeating that in a natural environment, a stressor is information. Too much information would thus be too much stress, exceeding the threshold of antifragility. In medicine, we are discovering the healing powers of fasting, as the avoidance of the hormonal rushes that come with the ingestion of food. Hormones convey information to the different parts of our system, and too much of them confuses our biology. Here again, as with news received at too high a frequency, too much information becomes harmful— daily news and sugar confuse our system in the same manner.

Later, Taleb writes:

Among other things the role of religion is to tame the iatrogenics of abundance —fasting makes you lose your sense of entitlement. But there are more subtle aspects.

[I]nequality: irregularity has its benefits in some areas; regularity has its detriments. Where Jensen’s inequality applies, irregularity might be medicine.

Perhaps what we mostly need to remove is a few meals at random, or at least avoid steadiness in food consumption. The error of missing nonlinearities is found in two places, in the mixture and in the frequency of food intake.

The problem with the mixture is as follows. We humans are said to be omnivorous, compared to more specialized mammals, such as cows and elephants (who eat salads) and lions (who eat prey, generally salad-eating prey). But such ability to be omnivorous had to come in response to more variegated environments with unplanned, haphazard, and, what is key, serial availability of sources— specialization is the response to a very stable habitat free of abrupt changes, redundancy of pathways the response to a more variegated one. Diversification of function had to come in response to variety. And a variety of a certain structure.

Note a subtlety in the way we are built: the cow and other herbivores are subjected to much less randomness than the lion in their food intake; they eat steadily but need to work extremely hard in order to metabolize all these nutrients, spending several hours a day just eating. Not to count the boredom of standing there eating salads. The lion, on the other hand, needs to rely on more luck; it succeeds in a small percentage of the kills, less than 20 percent, but when it eats, it gets in a quick and easy way all these nutrients produced thanks to very hard and boring work by the prey. So take the following principles derived from the random structure of the environment: when we are herbivores , we eat steadily; but when we are predators we eat more randomly. Hence our proteins need to be consumed randomly for statistical reasons.

So if you agree that we need “balanced” nutrition of a certain combination, it is wrong to immediately assume that we need such balance at every meal rather than serially so. Assuming that we need on average certain quantities of the various nutrients that have been identified, say a certain quantity of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. 5 There is a big difference between getting them together, at every meal, with the classical steak, salad, followed by fresh fruits, or having them separately, serially.

Why? Because deprivation is a stressor— and we know what stressors do when allowed adequate recovery. Convexity effects at work here again: getting three times the daily dose of protein in one day and nothing the next two is certainly not biologically equivalent to “steady” moderate consumption if our metabolic reactions are nonlinear. It should have some benefits— at least this is how we are designed to be.

I speculate; in fact I more than speculate: I am convinced (an inevitable result of nonlinearity) that we are antifragile to randomness in food delivery and composition— at least over a certain range, or number of days.

***

In the Paleo Manifesto, John Durant speaks to the value of fasting in helping to fight infections, something not mentioned as one of the benefits in the video above. This may help explain why religious fasting became so prominent.

One indication of this effect comes from the behavior of sick animals, including humans, who often lose their appetite until an illness has passed. Farm animals, pets, zoo animals, and wild animals often just stop eating altogether when facing an acute infection or a serious injury. The widespread nature of this phenomenon suggests it’s an adaptive response. Loss of appetite isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

Like attacking the supply lines of an invading army, dietary restriction weakens pathogens while the immune system mounts a counteroffensive. Tiny pathogens don’t have large nutrient reserves and rely on the host for nutrition—therefore manipulating our nutrition is a way to manipulate their nutrition.

The benefits of fasting transcend chronic infections. It’s one of the promising areas of cancer research, especially in response to chemo.

“Fasting alters the playing field by activating ancient starvation defences in the cell. Fasting is a signal to the body that resources are scarce. Healthy, nonmalignant cells take the hint and stop dividing as often, focusing instead on cellular repair mechanisms that conserve resources. So even as chemo damages healthy cells, they are hard at work repairing chromosomal damage. But malignant cells don’t stop dividing; they’re “cancerous” because they refuse to do anything but grow and grow.

(h/t @yzilber)