Fasting 101

Fasting for Health

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Have you ever thought about fasting for health?

I talked about it in a recent nutrition segment you can access here.

Fasting is nothing new! It is a practice that has been around since ancient times. Fasting is practiced in some form by most religions. In Judaism, there is the Day of Atonement and several other fasting days throughout the year, in which you do not eat or drink anything. A dry fast, so to speak. In Islam, there is Ramadan, a form of intermittent fasting, where one would eat after sunset and until sunrise. In Buddism, fasting is a way toward self-control and observing the full moon.

Fasting for health is also practiced in ancient medicinal systems like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is a way to cleanse the body and mind.

As you might already have guessed there are several ways to do a fast.

One method of fasting for health is intermittent fasting by circadian rhythm. This entails eating during certain hours of the day, leaving the rest of the 24 hours as fasting time. Usually the hours are condensed into a short period during which one would eat, even their usual intake of calories. An example would be eating between 10 am and 5 pm.

Another method is calorie restriction. Researchers in the West have known that calorie restriction of 20-30% increases lifespan and health span of rats and monkeys since the 1940’s. But it may not be just calorie restriction, but rather protein and other specific nutrient restriction, that plays a bigger role in health and longevity.

Another type of intermittent fasting, 5:2 Fasting, involves eating normally five days of the week and fasting two days of the week. They don’t have to be consecutive days and you don’t have to choose the same two days every week.

Finally, there is the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD). This allows for one to eat while tricking the body into thinking it is fasting. This is better than a dry fast or a water fast because in both of those cases one can start to see breakdown of the gut lining. With the FMD, you are still consuming just enough calories and fiber, along with other nutrients that the gut lining is not impaired.

So if you were to start fasting for health, what would be some of the benefits?

Restriction of caloric intake, regardless of the type of fasting method culminates in real, measurable health-modulating results. Since most of the health effects are related to aging, slowed aging in itself is one such benefit. No one says you have to be sick the last twenty years of your life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if disease was postponed to just the last few months of life or the best scenario, no disease at all, just peacefully moving on in your sleep?

In addition to reduced obesity, studies show fasting can improve metabolic health (blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipids), delay the onset of lean muscle loss (very important as you age), delay age-related hearing and loss of brain function, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

According to another study, a fasting mimicking diet can also boost immune function, conferring protection against cancer and sensitizing cells to chemotherapy. In terms of chemotherapy, fasting before treatment protects normal cells while making tumor cells more vulnerable to treatment. Reducing protein, as shown in a recent study, reduces levels of Insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a common factor in cancer, as well as overall mortality.

The beautiful thing about doing a few days of intermittent fasting for health is that it’s not a diet you have to follow every day to get benefit from it and the benefits last long after you have finished a course (for example 5 days). Research shows doing two to three courses of fasting throughout the year will keep up those results.