Once-weekly habit helps avoid cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s

I started incorporating fasting about a year ago into my weekly health and fitness program. I had done a number of extended fasts over the years but the logic and practicality always escaped me…

You would fast in order to cleanse and detoxify but then what happens? Invariably most people would go back to the same old habits.

I wanted to incorporate fasting in a manner that would provide consistent and proven health benefits in a practical way that was also sustainable; so that’s how I started practicing what is called intermittent fasting.

For me the initial reasons I started intermittent fasting were fivefold:

  • I have a genetic disposition to prostate cancer;
  • I have a similar genetic predisposition to type II diabetes, so I needed to manage my blood sugar levels and keep them in a normal range;
  • I’ve had high grade PIN (prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia) for the last 12 years, which studies show can progress to prostate cancer in 30% of men;
  • I wanted something to help control IGF-1 (insulin growth factor 1), which is a marker for prostate cancer, aggressive prostate cancer progression and other metabolic disease; and
  • I have a genetic disposition to inflammatory disorders so managing inflammation is a key part of my exercise, lifestyle and nutritional program. If you’ve read my book you will know that inflammation has had me in a coma with Encephalitis, nearly cost me my left leg with Osteomyelitis, and nearly killed me with chronic Pericarditis. See a theme here? “..itis = inflammation.”

I was also fascinated with the anti-cancer benefits of fasting; especially through denying cancer cells one of the key ingredients they need for surviving and thriving – sugar. If you are interested in this, you can learn more watching William Li’s TED talk which has over 4 million views.

Through Dr. Li’s talks and research I became convinced that if you were at risk for prostate or other cancers, then intermittent fasting should be a fundamental part of a nutritional and cancer prevention program.

Fasting for me has nothing to do with weight loss, although fasting does have weight management benefits by activating fat burning over carbohydrates as the primary source of fuel/energy. Leptin, the hormone that regulates fat storage as well as hunger signals, and ghrelin, another hormone that tells your brain the body is hungry, are also normalized by routine fasting, so that’s an additional benefit for those looking to lose weight.

So what is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting involves fasting once or twice a week on a consistent basis where you don’t eat anything for a defined period.

I don’t eat for 24 hours once or twice a week – from evening meal to evening meal. Intermittent fasting is easier to do on a consistent basis and its health benefits outweigh the extremes of the longer-term fasts that leave you in a completely deflated, irritable and completely unnourished state.

Hundreds of health studies, clinical studies and research have been undertaken on the benefits of intermittent fasting (calorie restriction) including:

Contrary to popular opinion, intermittent fasting does not make you skinny, weak, give you brain fog, or reduce your energy or sex drive. To the contrary, after an intermittent fast you will feel stronger, think clearer, have more energy and generally just feel better! This is alongside all the other health benefits listed above!

Personally for me in the last 5 years since I’ve been fasting:

  • My blood sugar has decreased to an average of 90 mg/dl from a previously pre-diabetic level which was consistently above 110 mg/dl (over 100 is considered pre-diabetic);
  • My testosterone has naturally increased over 36% to ~900 ng/dl which is at the high end for a 20 year old (I’m 54);
  • My PSA (prostate specific antigen) has stabilized and I have still have no indications that my high grade PIN is progressing to becoming cancerous;
  • My body fat is at 11-12%;
  • My C-reactive protein (CRP) and other inflammation markers are down to below normal range.

So with all the positive health benefits why don’t more people do intermittent fasting?

Well people, we live in America, the land of the super-size! We love our food more than any other Nation so why would we not eat? That’s crazy talk!

But in case you ARE inclined to join me and millions of others who are convinced of the proven health benefits of intermittent fasting here are some tips to help get you through your first (of hopefully many) fasts…

Preparing for your fast

Choose a day that works for you on a consistent basis. For me that’s Tuesdays. It’s generally a less energetic day physically compared to my other training and exercise days.

And don’t overeat the day before thinking it will get you through your hunger on your first fasting day. Remember your last meal will be dinner the night before your intermittent fasting day – and you won’t be eating again until that following evenings meal. Have a light dinner – preferably vegetarian – and try to avoid meat and animal protein. Eat early in the evening (preferably before 6pm) and try and eat 25 percent less calories that you would normally. Skip the desert – you don’t want to load up on sugar when that’s exactly what you’re trying to manage during the fast.

Doing a fast

You’ve woken up the next morning and you’re already hungry. You’ve only got 12 or so hours to go, so “stay the course!” When you start feeling hungry my #1 trick is to just drink lots and lots of fluids; which gives me the feeling of fullness. I drink water and detox teas like “EveryDay Detox” but no caffeine or dairy. Avoid fruit juices (aka “sugar bombs”) as well as vegetable juices.

Positively reinforce the benefits of why you are doing intermittent fasting; including more energy, a feeling of lightness, better mental clarity and more restful sleep. You’ll go through waves of hunger and the trick is to get over these surges and push forward. Whenever you get the urge to eat, have a cup of tea or drink a lot of water – and get busy, take a light walk, do some yoga/stretching – so as to focus your mind on something other than your stomach. Avoid vigorous exercise.

Also, don’t take supplements on the intermittent fasting day. Most supplements should be taken with food. Skip them for a day unless you are on medications in which case always consult with your health care provider.

Try and push the intermittent fast as late as you can and don’t use it as an excuse for an “early dinner”. Eat at the same time as you had dinner the previous night and eat light. Your body is craving highly nutritious foods so don’t load it up with wine and red meat. Try and eat 25% less than you normally would. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register you are full so eat slowly, eat less and fuel your body with healthy and nutritious foods that your newly pure body craves!

Recovering from your fast

You’ve made it through your fast and it’s the day after. That wasn’t so bad was it? The focus here is very simple – don’t go back to your old habits. And experiment with eating less through the week. As you age, and for men in particular, you lose muscle mass so lean proteins becomes a greater percentage of your daily calories. But don’t go gorging down red meat. Animal proteins can take days to digest so you don’t want to overload your digestive system. Start to think “light and clean” – less food, more vegetables and more plant proteins and fish high in omega-3.

Like me, I hope you’ll come to look forward to your intermittent fasting. It’s never easy but it does get easier – and more so as you start to feel the health benefits of the program. Losing weight is a small part of doing intermittent fasting but it’s not a weight loss program. It’s a lifestyle program to help you feel better and help prevent chronic disease. And that’s worth a day a week any day of the week for me.

You can read more about staying strong and healthy in middle age in my book: “Your New Prime: 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength, and a Kick-Ass Life After 40

Craig Cooper

By Craig Cooper

Craig Cooper is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author, and TV host of CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists". He is an “Ambassador” for both the global men’s health foundation “Movember” and 2XU, the performance sportswear company. He is the author of the Harper Collins book “Your New Prime: 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength, and a Kick-Ass Life After 40“. Follow Craig on Instagram @craigcooperrrr and Facebook.