WHAT IS FASTING?
Chances are high you asked yourself questions like „What should I eat to be healthy“ or „How much should I eat“ before. But have you ever thought about when you should eat?
A genuine fast cleanses the body, mind and soul. It crucifies the flesh and to that extent sets the soul free. -Gandhi
We may have an innate belief that if we don’t eat 2,000 calories in a day, that we might be extremely weak and this fear can prevent us from learning and experiencing the fullest extent of what our bodies are really capable of!
Fasting is the practice of abstaining from eating food or drinking liquids for a set period of time. It is a powerful tool that today is still widely misunderstood as dangerous, extreme, or simply regarded as a diet fad to lose weight. Despite this, fasting is an amazing mechanism that we can use for healing the body from the inside out, facilitating cellular repair, and even goes hand in hand with deep spiritual practices.
When we eat food, our bodies have to spend energy breaking down and digesting the meal. Depending on the type and quality of food, such as heavy meats or incredibly processed snacks, it can take even more energy for your body to turn that food into the various nutrients that your body then uses for fuel.
However, this means that when our bodies are busy digesting, there is significantly less energy spent on the multitude of other processes and functions that the body normally does, such as cellular repair (autophagy), turning excess fat into energy, and fighting off disease.
Fasting then (at least on a physical level), allows the body to relax the digestive system and apply 100% of its energy to the rest of the body where needed.
The benefits of fasting are a rather long list of physical benefits, from helping our brains ward off neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, to inducing cellular repair processes, lowering the risk of diabetes, reducing stress and inflammation and even preventing cancer.
There is many different ways to approach fasting. Some people recommend several intermittent fasts a week, some practice a 24 hour fast once a week and some people go without food for more than 5 days to get all the benefits of fasting.
The most popular one is intermittent fasting. It is the practice of limiting calorie intake to a certain time period, usually between 8 and 12 hours per day.
It does not say anything about which foods to eat, but rather when you should eat them.
Most people already "fast" every day, while they sleep. Intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that fast a little longer. You can do this by skipping breakfast, eating your first meal at noon and your last meal at 8 pm. Then you are technically fasting for 16 hours every day, and restricting your eating to an 8-hour eating window. This is the most popular form of "intermittent fasting", known as the "16/8 method". No food is allowed during the fasting period, but you can drink water, coffee, and tea.
Not only are we now discovering just how tremendously healing fasting can be on the body, it has also been a key spiritual practice across many world spiritualities for thousands of years. This is not a practice that is exclusive to any single world faith, but is found to be a very significant role in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Taoism, and many, many more.
Humans and other animals often instinctively fast when sick. Looking at natures rhythms you can see that there is nothing unnatural about fasting, and our bodies are very well equipped to handle extended periods without food.
All sorts of processes in the body change when we don't eat for a while, in order to allow our bodies to thrive during a period of famine.
Fasting is one of the most powerful tools on the planet for reversing insulin resistance, improving metabolic health, stubborn weight loss, and has long terms protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinsons. It helps protect against liver disease, heart disease and even cancer. It also helps our immune systems get stronger, revs up our metabolism, and helps increases the natural secretion of growth hormone, making us more energetic, more youthful. At its very core, fasting simply allows the body to use its stored energy - by burning off excess body fat.
HOW FASTING AFFECTS YOUR BRAIN
When we eat, glucose is stored in our liver as a form of fuel called glycogen. This takes up to 10 – 12 hours to become depleted from our system. Once it’s all used up, our body starts burning fats which are converted into ketones, a natural chemical that our brains use for energy.
Ketones play a vital role in shifting the structure of our neural synapses to promote heightened learning and improve our overall brain health. However, when we are constantly introducing new food into our system, our bodies don’t have the chance to deplete the glycogen in our liver and, thus, ketones aren’t able to be produced.
With lower levels of insulin in the blood, your kidneys also get rid of excess water, as glycogen is stored with 3-4 molecules of water. So when your glycogen goes down, you loose the water bloat that often goes along with it = Fasting will cause weight loss by accessing stored fat as energy, and it promotes excess water loss.
Mark Mattson, a professor of Neuroscience at the John Hopkins School of Medicine has conducted numerous studies showing the benefits of intermittent fasting.
His experiments showed that practicing intermittent fasting for two days a week can drastically improve neural connections in the hippocampus – a part of the brain which regulates long and short term memories.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EATING LESS AND FASTING
In 1944, a study called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment was conducted to see the effects of caloric restriction due to the amount of people suffering from starvation as a result of the ongoing World War and to see what kind of aid should be provided to as a relief effort. The physical and psychological conditions of the men were extreme, from being very cold to completely obsessing about food. They only thought about food and exhibited neurotic behaviors like hoarding cookbooks, and even eating rotten vegetables out of desperation.
Dr. Jason Fund, a Toronto physician explains that reducing your caloric intake actually results in more difficulty losing weight, making it easier to lose more lean muscle mass. Those who do this are generally in a constant state of hunger. However while fasting, you are only hungry for the first few days during peak periods (usually the times when you normally have breakfast, lunch, and dinner), before the sensation completely disappears and your energy levels stabilize.
This is due to the amount of Ghrelin in the body. Ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone is responsible for the feeling of hunger and weight gain. Generally, ghrelin levels spike in the morning, at lunch, then dinner time because our bodies have been programmed to expect food at that time. A study conducted at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark found that in the first 84 hours of fasting, ghrelin levels continually decreased. Typically after the first 3 days, hunger disappears altogether.
What also happens after the first several days is that our bodies goes into a state called ketosis. This is one of the most important factors in fasting. Ketosis is when your metabolism switches to using mostly fat for energy, rather than carbohydrates and glucose.
This is why the subjects in the Minnesota experiment had very little energy and found themselves becoming very sluggish. They were eating just enough to keep their bodies out of ketosis, so they were unable to use their body fat for energy. When you restrict calories, your insulin levels drop drastically and your metabolism slows down, leaving you feeling tired and hungry.
On the other hand, when you cut out food entirely, your metabolism actually speeds up, and allows you to maintain a normal level of energy in your body!
WHAT ROLE DOES AUTOPHAGY PLAY?
One of the great benefits of intermittent fasting is that it promotes autophagy, the cellular self-cleansing process that breaks down and recycles damaged molecules and cellular organelles AND recycles those building blocks into new cellular compounds.
During the fed state, when insulin is increased, the rate of autophagy is low. During the fasted state, as insulin drops, autophagy increases dramatically, perhaps 5-fold.
Many of the anti-aging effects of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting come from the increase in autophagy . A high rate of autophagy is characteristic of young organisms; with aging, autophagy decreases, and this allows cellular damage to accumulate. By fasting intermittently, autophagy rates can be reset to that of a younger person.
If we do not give our body the time to do autophagy, theres more growth than there is „recycling“. And this is where the problem starts. You might think growth is always good, the truth is that, in adults, growth is almost always bad.
Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of too much junk protein (neurofibrillary tangles) in the brain. Heart attacks and strokes are caused by atheromatous plaques. These are excess accumulation of many things, but prominently, smooth muscle cells, connective tissues and degenerative materials. Yes. Too much growth of smooth muscle is instrumental in causing atherosclerosis that causes heart attacks. Polycystic diseases like kidneys and ovaries are too much growth. Obesity is too much growth. Cancer is too much growth.
Fasting will activate autophagy to counteract these problems and keep the cell in good working order. This process was initially thought to be non-selective, but was later shown to be able to selective target damaged organelles and invading pathogens.
This knowledge opens up an entirely new therapeutic potential. If we have many diseases of ‘too much growth’ (cancer, atherosclerosis, obesity, polycystic ovaries), then we have a new target. If we can shut down the nutrient sensors, we can stop much of this growth that is making us sick. A new dawn breaks.
FASTING IN CANCER THERAPY
The scientist Valter Longo, a Gerontological researcher at The University of Southern California has shown that fasting eases side effects of chemotherapy, and promotes health advantages to the body. His team found that reducing the amount of food in middle aged mice for two 4-day periods each month actually allowed those mice to outlive their peers by about 3 months.
They also saw that those mice were 45% less likely to develop cancer and their insulin levels were 90% lower. These mice were still able to retain their mental ability and beat the control animals in two kinds of memory tests.
In another study, short term fasting was as effective as chemotherapeutic agents in delaying the progression of tumors in mice. This study concluded “That multiple cycles of fasting promote differential stress sensitization in a wide range of tumors and could potentially replace or augment the efficacy of certain chemotherapy drugs in the treatment of various cancers.”