When I started eating honey at bedtime to improve my sleep, my fasting blood sugar values suddenly improved. Alternate-day fasting had pushed them into the mid-80s; now they were often in the high 70s, values I had never seen before. Without long walks and alternate-day fasting, my fasting blood sugar values would have been more than 100, which is pre-diabetic.
This made me wonder: Does bad sleep cause diabetes? Plenty of evidence, I found, supports this idea. Here is one example:
Just three consecutive nights of inadequate sleep can elevate a person’s risk [of diabetes] to a degree roughly equivalent to gaining 20 to 30 pounds, according to a 2007 study at the University of Chicago. . . .This revelation backs up previous research from Yale and the New England Research Institutes, which showed that people who clock six hours or less of sleep a night are twice as likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime as those who snooze seven hours.
Here is another:
In the study, published in the October issue of the Journal SLEEP, short sleepers reported a higher prevalence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, in addition to obesity and frequent mental distress, compared with optimal sleepers who reported sleeping seven to nine hours on average in a 24-hour period. The same was true for long sleepers, and the associations with coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes were even more pronounced with more sleep.
Maybe there is something to it.
After I blogged about benefits of alternate-day fasting, a software engineer named Brandon Berg commented:
I had had plantar warts for a couple of years prior to starting IF (eating in a four-hour window each night). They cleared up almost immediately.
I had never heard about this effect of fasting. And the Wikipedia entry on plantar warts said nothing about this. I asked Brandon for details. Continue reading “Does Intermittent Fasting Improve Repair Processes?”
Jeff Winkler described his first weeks of intermittent fasting:
Annual physical July 2nd , HDL 46, cholesterol 243, LDL 177. Doc pushing for statins. I’ve been taking 5000 IU D3, some zinc, eating vaguely low carb. Had a kid a couple years ago. Watched Eat Fast, Live Longer. Was blown away.
Decided to try intermittent fasting and use $500 USB ultrasound device (BodyMetrix) for feedback. Conclusions after three weeks:
- It’s not hard. I’m eating within an 8-hour window. Usually try to eat first food at 9 AM, close the window 8 hours after. I’m hardly ever hungry. Now it’s like “oh, it’s 9, guess I should eat”. I’m not eating specially or restricting my intake.
- Losing weight. About 237->231 in 20 days.
For me, the novelty was his BodyMetrix data (mm of subcutaneous fat). Here it is:
This shows fat loss from the thigh and waist; the chest measurements vary too much to see a trend. The BodyMetrix data and the weight data (237–>231) confirm each other. He also used an Omron measurement device that uses impedence to measure body fat. You hold it in your hands. Its data were too noisy to conclude anything.
All in all, Winkler’s scale did a good job of detecting weight loss, the BodyMetrix device added a bit (confirmed the weight loss was due at least partly to fat loss), and the Omron device added nothing. The BodyMetrix device is advertised with the claim “no embarrassing pinching” but I’m sure pinching (with calipers) to measure skinfold thickness would have been more accurate.
Nassim Taleb said this or something close to it on the first day of the Ancestral Health Symposium in Atlanta, which was yesterday. Danielle Fong told me something similar last week: We should use all of our metabolic pathways. Of course it is hard to know what metabolic pathways you are using. In contrast, Taleb’s point — not original with him, but a new way (at least to me) of summarizing research — is easily applied.
What I know overwhelmingly supports Taleb’s point. 1. When I did the Shangri-La Diet the first time, I was stunned how little hunger I felt. This wasn’t bad — presumably my set point had been too high, lack of hunger reflected the dropping set point, it was good to know how to lower the set point — but it was dreary, not feeling hunger. It was as if life had gone from color to black and white. Something was missing. 2. Data supporting the health benefits of intermittent fasting, which produces more hunger than the control condition. 3. The experience of my friend who had great benefits from alternate-day fasting. He told me he had never felt hunger before, at least of that magnitude. A great increase in hunger, in other words, happened at exactly the same time as a great improvement in health.
Obviously Taleb is talking about hunger caused by lack of food, rather than hunger caused by learned association (if you eat at noon every day you will become hungry at noon, if you eat every time you enter Store X, you will be come hungry when you enter Store X, the existence of this effect is why they are called appetizers). The Shangri-La Diet reduces your set point but only if your set point controls when/how much you eat is this going to make a difference. So to lose weight you need to do two things: 1. Lower your set point. 2. Lower your weight to your set point. While SLD certainly does #1, it does not do #2. You can make sure your weight is near your set point if you feel strong hunger if you don’t eat for a while.
Taleb’s comment suggests focussing on the outcome of fasting, rather than on its duration or frequency. Instead of fasting every other day (or whatever), fast until you feel strong hunger. How often you need to do this, how strong the hunger should be, are questions to answer via trial and error.
I’ve been doing alternate day fasting for about two months. I find it very easy. In several ways it’s easier than eating every day:
- save time
- save money
- less constrained on eating days
- a little more hungry than usual on fasting days (up to a point hunger is pleasant — when the Shangri-La Diet wiped out all my hunger, I didn’t like it)
- sense of accomplishment when I wake up after a fasting day (I did it)
- food tastes better
Maybe my friends are unusually tolerant but I have yet to encounter a serious negative. Yesterday, a fasting day, I happily watched a friend eat dinner. I had two bites out of curiosity. I saw nothing to suggest it made her uncomfortable I wasn’t eating.
However, a different friend has told me that alternate day fasting made her sick. She did it for about three months, felt worse and worse, and finally stopped. She believes it works less well for women than for men. I suspect a heavy exercise routine (she ran a lot) made alternate day fasting more difficult. But there is also the best-selling book The FastDiet. It has two authors, a man (Michael Mosely, a doctor) and a woman (Mimi Spencer, a journalist). The book contains a remarkably short and remarkably unenthusiastic description of Spencer’s experience with intermittent fasting. Maybe it didn’t agree with her, either.
Last week I blogged about a friend who derived great benefits from alternate-day fasting. There were several reader questions. I put them to my friend:
Q How does exercise fit in with all this fasting?
A I do Iyengar yoga every day, about 2 hours.
Q I assume he drank water. Did he consume any liquid calories or probiotics (Yakult?) on his fasting days?
A Yes, water. I replace electrolytes, but that’s for other reasons. (I don’t regulate electrolytes well.) There may have been 8 or 10 days in the last 9 months when I had a very small amount of food on a fasting day — a little yogurt or a little rice & sauerkraut, maybe.
Q What did he eat on non-fasting days?
A Breakfast of stir-fry + egg + some fruit & yoghurt & nuts & flax seeds. Maybe I break that into two meals or maybe not. Dinner of … veggies/rice/chicken or … something like that. [He didn’t change what he ate when he started alternate-day fasting.]
Q Something is missing in the story. He didn’t get to be an Ivy League math professor by being confused, exhausted, overwhelmed and depressed all the time. Were his indigestion and tiredness increasing in severity before he started the diet?
A I was severely ADHD all my life, and collapsed in the early 2000’s. I turned out to suffer from heavy metal poisoning: mercury, lead and a little bit of arsenic. I’ve been detoxing for a number of years with steady improvement. As to how I managed to become an Ivy League math professor, that’s not unusual. There are a lot of us. There is a subtype of ADHD called “with hyperfocus”. Hyperfocus is a mild form of the Asperger’s “little professor” syndrome, in which a person is completely consumed by one subject, at the expense of anything else.
A friend of mine named Dave saw the BBC program Eat, Fast and Live Longer ten months ago. The program promotes intermittent fasting for better health. It sounded good. Already he often went a day without food. Some Brahmins in South India had eaten this way for millennia – which suggested it made some sense. It wasn’t a fad. Alternate day fasting was simpler than the “fast 2 days per week” regimen the TV show ended with. He started alternate day fasting immediately. Continue reading “Benefits of Alternate Day Fasting”
Thanks to Patrick Vlaskovits, Steve Dworman and Alex Chernavsky.
This graph shows my HbA1c values in recent years. After a lot of variation, they settled down to 5.8, which was the measurement a month ago. 5.8 isn’t terrible — below 6.0 is sometimes called “okay”) — but there is room for improvement. In a large 2010 study, average HbA1c was 5.5. The study suggested that a HbA1c of about 5.0 was ideal.
Three weeks ago I started alternate-day fasting (= eating much less than usual every other day) for entirely different reasons. Continue reading “Does Alternate-Day Fasting Lower HbA1c?”
A few days ago, I gave a talk at a Quantified Self Meetup in San Francisco titled “Why is my blood sugar high?” (PowerPoint here and here). My main point was that alternate-day fasting (eating much less than usual every other day) quickly brought my fasting blood sugar level from the mid-90s to the low 80s, which is where I wanted it. I was unsure how to do this and had tried several things that hadn’t worked.
Not in the talk is an explanation of my results in terms of setpoint (blood sugar setpoint, not body fat setpoint). Your body tries to maintain a certain blood sugar level — that’s obvious. Not obvious at all is what controls the setpoint. This question is usually ignored — for example, in Wikipedia’s blood sugar regulation entry. Maybe Type 2 diabetes occurs because the blood sugar setpoint is too high. If we can find out what environmental events control the setpoint, we will be in a much better position to prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetes (as with obesity).
A few years ago, I discovered that walking an hour per day improved my fasting blood sugar. Does walking lower the setpoint? I didn’t ask this question, a curious omission from the author of The Shangri-La Diet. If walking lowered the setpoint, walking every other day might have the same effect as walking every day.
I was pushed toward this line of thought because alternate-day fasting seems to lower the blood-sugar setpoint. After I started alternate-day fasting, it took about three days for my fasting blood sugar to reach a new lower level. After that, it was low every day, not just after fast days. My experience suggests that the blood-sugar setpoint depends on what your blood sugar is. When your blood sugar is high, the setpoint becomes higher; when your blood sugar is low, the setpoint becomes lower. Tim Lundeen had told me something similar to this.
If you tried to lower your fasting blood sugar and succeeded, I hope you will say in the comments how you did this. I tried three things that didn’t work: darker bedroom, Vitamin B supplement, and cinnamon. Eating low carb raises fasting blood sugar, according to Paul Jaminet.