How the effects of fasting on our body and mind can help us lead a long, healthy and balanced life.
We have probably all heard a lot about fasting in recent years and how it can affect everything from our general wellbeing and weight loss, over improving focus at work to an effective strategy in fighting numerous diseases including cancer and achieving greater longevity.
Large scale scientific studies are still limited mostly due to a lack of funding.
After all, there is no money to be made from abstaining from food.
On the contrary, if fasting delivers on its promise to be a free remedy against a variety of illnesses, it very much goes against the financial interests of the Pharma industry as well as doctors.
Most likely you won’t hear your doctor recommend you fasting as a first line treatment for diabetes, liver disease or cancer.
After all, a healthy patient is a bad patient and a good patient is a patient who can temporarily be relieved from their symptoms, but who keeps coming back…
And the more that science uncovers the effects of fasting on animals and humans, the more fragmented the fasting landscape seems to become with numerous ways of different fasting techniques achieving similar outcomes.
Let’s take a look at what fasting does to our bodies, the most popular ways of fasting that have emerged in recent years and some strategies how we can effectively implement them in our daily lives, forming new habits that stick and can lead to great improvements of our health.
Fasting promotes Autophagy
Autophagy is the body’s natural process of removing old and broken components and is associated with lowering the formation of tumor cells.
During fasting, the body essentially eats itself by destroying dysfunctional cell parts and proteins.
This process essentially gets rid of damaged cell materials before they can turn to cancerous cells.
By not constantly loading your body with food, it has time to clean itself up and becoming more efficient, producing healthy cells that respond better to environmental stress.
A lot about the role and function of autophagy is yet to be discovered but it plays an important role in longevity and general health.
From an evolutionary point of view it makes a lot of sense, since a constant oversupply of food is a relatively recent experience in human history and our hunter and gatherer ancestors would often go days without eating.
Your body would then have to prioritise absorption of nutrients and storage of fat when food was available and maintaining your internal health by recycling cell components, when food was in short supply.
Fasting may help to prevent cancer
It’s probably false and even dangerous to claim that fasting alone can prevent or even cure cancer, but studies have shown that fasting significantly reduces a growth hormone, known as the insulin growth factor (IGF-1), produced by the liver.
Low levels of IGF-1 are associated with a significantly decreased risk of several cancers, including breast and prostate cancer.
The IGF-1 levels stay lower for a period of time even when returning to normal eating habits after fasting.
Fasting boosts your immune system
Fasting activates the stem cells of your immune system to regenerate themselves by producing new white blood cells. helping to fight off infections and better cope with the side effects of toxic stress on the body such as chemotheraphy treatments in cancer patients.
Fasting decreases insulin resistance
When we consume carbohydrates or sugar, our pancreas produces insulin, a hormone, which acts as a key for unlocking your cell to store sugar for later use.
In healthy people, insulin balances blood sugar levels by storing glucose in cells and in the liver as glycogen when blood levels are too high, releasing glucose back into the blood stream when blood sugar levels drop.
Caloric restriction has long been known to have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity but avoiding calories for extended periods of time, like in intermittent fasting has shown to be even more powerful in lowering overall insulin in the body and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Fasting helps you to make healthier choices
Prolonged fasts, such as a multi day water only fast is known to reset your taste buds.
After a water fast we are more sensitive to flavour intensive foods such as sweets and salty foods and tend to automatically make more healthy food choices, better appreciating the natural taste of healthy, unprocessed and unseasoned foods such as vegetables.
Fasting gives your liver time to re-generate
Abstaining from food altogether, gives your liver plenty of time to regenerate.
This is especially important after the festive season, where an overload of fatty foods and lots of alcohol can be a toxic stress to your liver, which can lead to fibrosis (scar tissue) and increases the risk of developing liver cirrhosis, an irreversible damage to the liver which impairs liver function.
The liver is a tremendous organ which is known to be able to completely heal itself in a relatively short amount of time, given that we give it enough time to heal, which means that we don’t continuously feed it with fat and toxins.
Astonishingly, 25% of the original size of the liver, can regenerate back to its full size in around 30 days.
Fasting boosts mental focus and clarity
Need a mental performance boost at work without experiencing the afternoon slump that can easily make your working day feel like it will never end? Try getting as much mental work as possible done in a fasted state and delay your first meal to as late in the day as comfortable for you (more on this in a later article).
Again, thinking back to our hunter and gatherer ancestors, it makes total sense for your mind to become sharp and alert in a fasted state so it was able to take care of getting more food supplies.
I simply love to plough through a pile of work when fasted. It enables me to focus for prolonged periods of time and get into flow state more often, while I still feel physically energised when I go for my lunch run.
Fasting can boost your metabolism
You will sometimes read that fasting slows down your metabolism, thus leading to weight gain when eating normally again. However, a nearly 20 year old study has shown that the opposite holds true.
The metabolism of the test subjects increased by up to 14% on the 3rd day of a 3.5 day fast, which suggests that fasting can significantly contribute to weight loss, without the negative implications that many short term diets are associated with (think Yo-yo effect)
Fasting can help you to loose weight (duh!)
Which leads us to the most obvious benefit of fasting.
Yes, fasting can make you loose weight. Depending on the type of fast you practice, fasting can help you control your weight and keep it off as well.
That said, it is probably not going to lead to sustainable health benefits, if the rest of the time we stuff ourselves with junk food and candies all day long.
Fasting is one piece of the puzzle that enables us to lead a healthy and balanced life.
All Rights Reserved for Wanja Stier