The Health Benefits of (Intermittent) Fasting
From antiaging to the prevention of severe health conditions
“Fasting empties the stomach and the mind; freeing up space to refuel our bodies with the Bread of Life.”
Allene van Oirschot
Fasting has been used for centuries to treat or prevent health conditions. The word fast stems from the Old English expression fæsten, which refers to the voluntary abstinence from food.
It allows the body to rest and recover. While fasting is not for everybody*, it can be an effective method to cleanse the liver, colon, or kidneys.
Fasts that last 24 hours or longer have a wider range of health benefits, but even short (intermittent) abstinence from food can improve your health significantly.
This article will provide you with an overview of the major health benefits associated with fasting. And I will also share some tips and tricks that can help you to make your fast safe, effective, and successful.
The health benefits of fasting:
Fasting of 12 hours or longer can help to decrease inflammation.
Inflammation is an essential component of the body’s response to infections or injury. It helps the body to heal itself. However, if inflammation becomes chronic, it can cause chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, or cancer.
If you’re interested in learning more about inflammation and its dangers for your health, please also refer to the following article by Mark Heid:
Why Does Inflammation Seem to Underlie All Sickness?
It’s a culprit in diseases ranging from arthritis to depression
According to research by Dr. Miriam Merad, MD, Ph.D., Director of the Precision Immunology Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, fasting helps to reduce the release of monocytes, which are cells that promote inflammation and can cause tissue damage.
This effect does not only occur during prolonged fasts. A study conducted by the Department of Clinical Nutrition of the University of Hail, found that regular food restriction of 12 hours or longer can also help to decrease inflammation markers.
Fasting can increase the secretion of the human growth hormone
The Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is essential for growth, cell regeneration, and cell reproduction, which helps to repair organ tissues and muscles. HGH, therefore, supports and accelerates the healing of injuries. It also helps to build and maintain muscle mass, which has a positive effect on your metabolism.
A lack of this so-called “youth hormone” can lead to decreased bone density, reduced muscle mass, and increased body fat.
Human Growth Hormone is suppressed during feeding and can thus positively influenced by fasting. This has been supported by various studies: Research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation has shown that 5-days fasts can stimulate the secretion of the human growth hormone significantly.
Another study suggests that even a 2-day fast can lead to a 5-fold increase in the 24-h endogenous production rate of the Human Growth Hormone.
Fasting induces Autophagy
Autophagy is derived from Greek and can be translated as “eating of self.” In a medical context, it has been first was first coined by Christian de Duve in 1963.
Autophagy is the body’s response to nutrient stress, such as fasting.
Very simplified, autophagy occurs when your body runs low on sugar: as there is nothing else that can be easily converted into energy, you start to “eat” cell waste instead.
Autophagy can be a powerful anti-aging tool. According to Sara Gelino and Hansen, one aspect of aging is the decline in cellular repair and “housekeeping”. So, as you get older, your inner cell cleaning process slows down, which leads to the accumulation of damaged cells and, ultimately, to the deterioration of organs and tissues.
As autophagy helps to recycle cell waste, it can help to counteract this and thus to favor longevity.
Apart from that, Autophagy can support the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease and can lead to cirrhosis.
A study published in the Exercise and Sports Science Reviews by the American Colleague of Sports Medicine suggests that autophagy can help to improve non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Last but not least, a Brazilian study suggests that autophagy induced by Intermittent Fasting might also be beneficial for cancer treatment.
Tips and tricks for successful fasting:
“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals if
he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”
Regular intermittent fasting can help to prepare you for longer fasts
Jumping into a 3-day fast with no fasting experience whatsoever can be a physical and mental challenge. Starting with a 12-hour fasting window, on the other hand, can help your body and mind to “survive” without food for an extended period.
Once you have practiced the 12-hour fasting 12-hour feeding rhythm for a week, you can add an hour to your fasting window per day. If that’s too fast, you can stick to a 13 or 14-hour fast for the next week or until whenever you’re ready to move to the next level.
Listen to your body
Exercise during your fast can be beneficial to stimulate fat burning and to preserve muscle mass. However, it’s essential to listen to your body. If you feel like exercise, go for a walk, do a light resistance training session, or try low-impact cardio. Don’t force yourself and rest if needed.
Hydration is key
Drinking water or unsweetened tea can help your body to flush out toxins, help to fight low blood pressure, and aid digestion. Most fasting protocols don’t allow the consumption of coffee, but if you feel that it helps you to get through your fast, it’s okay to indulge in some black coffee.
Keep busy, but avoid stress
Starting your fast while working on a deadline might be not the best idea, because it’s hard to anticipate your energy levels if you haven’t done a fast before.
Instead, chose a day for which you have planned activities that you enjoy, to keep your mind from focusing on (not) eating.
Start your 20 or 24-hour fast with a protein-rich breakfast.
Your body can run efficiently with a low intake of fats and carbohydrates, but it needs protein to run smoothly.
Protein — THE Macronutrient You Can’t Live without
It doesn’t matter if you want to build muscles, lose weight or just stay healthy — protein should be your new best…
That does not mean that you cannot survive without this macronutrient for a couple of hours (or days), but it’s a good idea to include enough protein in your last meal before the fast.
Apart from that, protein keeps you full longer than fat or carbohydrates, which can make it easier to start fasting.
*A word of warning: if you are suffering from any (chronic) health condition, please consult your health care provider before going on a fast.
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In good health,