Does fasting improve your health?
Could fasting really improve your health? Fasting comes in a variety of forms, and people fast for different reasons - religion, dieting, health conditions, doctor recommended or simply loss of appetite.
At this time of year especially, during the period of Lent, persons fast for religious reasons - more so during Holy Week. Some persons will fast for days, a day or hours. Some will fast on Good Friday only or from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
Fasting also comes in different forms - strict fasting (consuming nothing at all), juice fasting (consuming only beverages), giving up certain types of food, or intermittent fasting (skipping one or more meals a day, skipping an entire day's meals or skipping meals for a succession of days).
Whether it's strict fasting or intermittent fasting, researchers have been exploring the potential health benefits of the practice. As a result, studies have revealed that reducing calorie consumption by 30 to 40 per cent - whether this occurs at each meal or cumulatively over a week that includes skipped meals - helps animals, insects and other creatures extend their lifespans by a third or more.
Far fewer studies have been conducted on humans, but there is a hypothesis that fasting could have similar effects on the human body.
RISK OF DISEASE
Fasting could also lead to other benefits, including lessening the risk for diseases ranging from dementia to diabetes. For example, in a study of mice at the United States National Institute on Aging, those who fasted regularly had greater insulin sensitivity, and lower levels of insulin and glucose in their blood. This led to a lower risk of developing diabetes.
According to the findings, fasting may set a variety of changes in motion that could benefit people's hormones and metabolism. Evidence suggests intermittent fasting, meaning either skipping meals or eating only 500 to 800 calories a day, may reduce levels of hormones linked to cancer, diabetes, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as rein in free radicals and inflammation.
In one small study performed by Professor Mark Mattson, head of neuroscience at the US National Institute on Aging, it showed that people with asthma had inflammation drop by as much as 90 per cent after eight weeks of intermittent fasting.
Researchers have concluded, however, that more testing needs to be done to determine the full benefits of fasting on humans, as well as to determine any negative side effects. At this stage, they are cautioning the effects of long-term fasting on the metabolism, as well as the potential implications for osteoporosis and infertility.
For some, though, fasting provides a welcome change from diets that restrict certain foods or cut calories every day at every meal.
- A number of studies have suggested that intermittent fasting has numerous health benefits, including weight loss, reduced belly fat, lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol.
- When the body has used up glucose stores during fasting, it burns fat for energy, resulting in weight loss. Many athletes use fasting as a means to hitting low body fat percentages for competitions.
- Fasting has been shown to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, allowing you to tolerate carbohydrates (sugar) better than if you didn't fast. A study showed that after periods of fasting, insulin becomes more effective in telling cells to take up glucose from blood.
- Intermittent fasting gives your digestive system a rest, which can energise your metabolism to burn through calories more efficiently. If your digestion is poor, this can affect your ability to metabolise food and burn fat. Intermittent fasts can regulate your digestion and promote healthy bowel function, thus improving your metabolic function.
- Studies have shown how the lifespan of people in certain cultures increased due to their diets. One of the primary effects of ageing is a slower metabolism, the younger your body is, the faster and more efficient your metabolism. The less you eat, the less toll it takes on your digestive system.
- Fasting helps to regulate the hormones in your body so that you experience what true hunger is.
Think of fasting as a reset button: the longer you fast, the more your body can regulate itself to release the correct hormones, so that you can experience what real hunger is. When your hormones are working correctly, you get full quicker.
- Fasting can be a helpful practice for those who suffer with binge-eating disorders, and for those who find it difficult to establish a correct eating pattern due to work and other priorities. With intermittent fasting, going all afternoon without a meal is okay, and it can allow you to eat at a set time that fits your lifestyle.
- Fasting has shown to improve brain function because it boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health. This protein also protects your brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
- Intermittent fasting improves the immune system because it reduces free radical damage, regulates inflammatory conditions in the body and staves off cancer cell formation. In nature, when animals get sick they stop eating and instead focus on resting. This is a primal instinct to reduce stress on their internal system so their body can fight off infection.
- Fasting has helped many people feel more connected to life during the practices of reading, meditation, yoga and martial arts, etc. With no food in the digestive system, this makes room for more energy in the body - the digestive is one of the most energy absorbing systems in the body.
Fasting for self-enlightenment allows us to feel better, both consciously and physically. With a lighter body and a clearer mind we become more aware and grateful for the things around us.
- Fasting can help clear the skin because with the body temporarily freed from digestion, it's able to focus its regenerative energies on other systems. Not eating anything for just one day has shown to help the body clean up the toxins and regulate the functioning of other organs of the body like liver, kidneys, and other parts.