Sunday, August 10, 2008

Religion and food science

One of the big research areas in longetivity is calorie-restricted diets. No studies of continual calorie restriction have been done in humans (I think it would be deemed unethical). Interestingly, a study in rats found that regular fasting (with no calorie restriction on non-fast days) had similar health benefits to calorie restriction. Fasting would in many ways be more practical to implement in humans than continuous calorie restriction.

Encouragingly, a human study of Mormons (who are encouraged to fast the first Sunday of each month) concluded this once-a-month fast lowered their risk of heart disease by 40%. That benefit persisted even after accounting for differences in weight, age and conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol or blood pressure.

So, I've become interested in fasting. Today is Tisha B'Av, one of the two major fast days for Judaism. I fasted on the other major fast, Yom Kippur, earlier this year. The proscription is no food or drink. But while the science has interested me in trying the no food part, I don't current see any benefit to risking dehydration: I'm drinking water and tea.

While I am sometimes put into a horrible mood by eating a meal late, my two experiences with fasting I have not felt anything other than mild hunger. It doesn't feel very religious, just not bothering to cook or eat anything. Other religious practices have become more meaningful to me with repetition, though. It will be interesting to see if this one grows on me, also.

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