When you fast, just as when you sleep, the body is focused on the removal of toxins and the regeneration of damaged tissues.
Fasting as a process of abstaining from food (and even drink in some cases) for extended periods of time is a practice that dates back thousands of years. Reasons for fasting can be both health and spiritual ones. In terms of religious beliefs, fasting is seen as not only beneficial to the health, but also as beneficial to the soul, since it is done to intensify our connection with our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why it has been “prescribed” in various biblical and ancient civilizations scriptures.
Fasting is considered to be taking place if you don’t eat for a period of at least 8-12 hours. So, technically, most of us fast every night when we sleep. In the morning, we break our fast, and have a ‘breakfast’.
Did you know that animals are also fasting, especially when they are sick?
Probably their animal instinct tells them to do so. In fact, humans are the only ones who eat when they are sick!
“Everyone has a doctor in him; we just have to help him in his work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. …To eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.” – Hippocrates
Fasting isn’t dangerous or unhealthy when it’s done properly. On the contrary, it’s actually healthy and beneficial.
This is what happens to your body when you fast
When you fast, the body is deprived of its normal source of energy – food, by turning it into glucose. In such case, the liver stores lots of sugar, in a form called glycogen, which is used for giving energy to the body when it isn’t taking in any food. Most of this stored energy is depleted within the first 24 hours of fasting. Upon this, the body switches into a state known as ketosis, which uses the body’s fatty acids as fuel in replacement of the depleted glucose levels. It usually begins on the second day, most likely ending on the third.
Then the body converts glycerol, which is available in the body’s fat stores, into glucose for energy -but it’s still not enough. The body gets the rest of its energy from breaking down the amino acids in muscle tissues, which are used by the liver to make more glucose for energy.
Upon this process, ketone production is sufficient enough to provide almost all of the energy the body needs, and the body begins to preserve large amounts of protein. The body is capable of preserving this protein to protect muscle tissue and vital organs from damage during a long period of food deficit. After prolonged fasts of more than a week, the body starts seeking out non-body protein sources of fuel, which include nonessential cellular masses like degenerative tissues, bacteria, viruses or anything else in the body that can be used for fuel.
The saving of the body’s protein is believed to be an evolutionary development that exists to protect muscle tissue and vital organs from damage during periods of malnourishment.
The benefits of fasting
The benefits of fasting have been outlined in numerous scientific studies. Studies show that short term fasting can extend your life span, strengthen immunity and regenerate stem cells.
One of the most recent studies published on the matter was in the Journal Cell Stem Cell. It found that fasting for 2-4 days at a time can actually cause a reduction in white blood cells. This means that fasting destroys the old and damaged immune cells, and when the body revives, it uses stem cells to create brand new, healthy cells.
“Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within.”- Philippus Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine
To be more precise, the study was actually conducted on patients who were receiving chemotherapy, where fasting showed effective in fighting cancer: “During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells. Prolonged fasting also lowered levels of IGF-1, a growth-factor hormone that has been linked to aging, tumor progression and cancer risk. Chemotherapy causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy,” says co-author Tanya Dorff.
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the heatopoietic system. When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged. What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back,” Valter Longo, corresponding author, reaffirms the thesis.
Moreover, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a scientific review regarding fasting in 2007. It re-examined a multitude of human and animal studies, and determined that fasting is an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also showed significant capacity of treating diabetes. This study concluded that fasting: “May effectively modulate metabolic and functional risk factors, thereby preventing or delaying the future occurrence of common chronic diseases.”
Scientists at the National Institute on Aging, led by Mark Mattson, have published several papers that discuss how fasting twice a week could significantly lower the risk of developing both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease: “Dietary changes have long been known to have an effect on the brain. Children who suffer from epileptic seizures have fewer of them when placed on caloric restriction or fasts. It is believed that fasting helps kick-start protective measures that help counteract the overexcited signals that epileptic brains often exhibit. Some children with epilepsy have also benefited from a specific high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Normal brains, when overfed, can experience another kind of uncontrolled excitation, impairing the brain’s function,” Mattson and another researcher reported in January in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.”
“Ifs” to consider before going on “hunger strike”
When you are coming out of a fast, it is important to do your research on how to best break it. You need to ease your body back by consuming food with fruits and vegetables (that is you need to make a “soft transition” to your normal diet).
Scientists are continuing to uncover evidence that short term fasting could achieve a number of health benefits. Despite this evidence, current medical opinion remains unchanged because there are many human studies that indicate a diet of at least 2000 calories a day as the best option.
- If you have pre-existing health conditions, fasting may not be good for you. Do your research before embarking on something like this.
- If you are definitely going to do ‘a water fast’, it is best to drink only purified and spring water.