Fasting dates back for centuries in every ancient religious text you can think of: the Old and New Testaments, the Kuran, the Vedas, Kabbalah and Upanishads. In recent years, the enthusiasm for fasting has gained ground again as mounting evidence supports its healing and restorative capacities. But the question remains: can it really aid in weight loss and boost longevity? It seems so simplistic- no counting calories, no shopping, no cooking. You just need to say ‘no’ to food and start fasting intermittently.
From an evolutionary perspective, the ‘three-square-meals-a-day’ rule is a strange modern day invention. No doctor could tell you why- it’s just is. Our ancestors rarely had a continuous food supply. They may have gone through days without food which researchers believe selected genes that strengthened brain areas that controlled learning and memory and improved survival.
Studies have shown that reducing daily caloric intake by 30 to 40 percent extends life span by more than a third in many animals. In the 1930’s, Cornell University nutritionist Carl McCay found that rats subjected to dieting with caloric restriction from an early age lived longer and were less likely to develop chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. In 1945, scientists at the University of Chicago discovered that rats fed on alternate days lived longer than rats on caloric restriction. Moreover, the scientists found that intermittent fasting delays the development of diseases that lead to death. Even if caloric restriction does not improve lifespan, evidence supports that limiting of food intake reduces the risk of diseases and lengthens period of good health.
Intermittent fasting is not about binge eating and starvation or any extreme dieting. It’s about timing your meals to allow for regular fasting periods. Intermittent fasting includes periodic multiday fasts, skipping a meal or two on certain days of the week which may promote the same health benefits of sustained caloric restriction. Intermittent fasting is more agreeable to most people because you don’t have to renounce the pleasures of feasting- healthily, that is.
Intermittent fasting is one of the most powerful tools out there for weight and health issues. One primary reason for this is that fasting brings your body into ketosis and shifts from burning glucose to burning fat for fuel. Your body takes several weeks to shift into fat-burning mode. Once it does, your body will burn stored fat and you no longer have to rely on carbs. As a result, your cravings for unhealthy foods will automatically vanish. Aside from turning you into a fat-burning machine, scientific evidence now reveals the many benefits of intermittent fasting.
A research presented at the annual session of the American College of Cardiology in 2011 shows that fasting can trigger as much as 1, 300% rise of human growth hormone among women and a 2, 000% rise in men. Human growth hormone promotes muscle growth, boosts fat loss and increases metabolism. It helps you lose weight without compromising muscle growth.
Joel Fuhrman, Md, author of Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Plan for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, claims to have supervised hundreds of fasts for detoxifying and medicinal purposes. The modern diet of predominantly processed foods contribute to the build-up of toxic metabolic wastes in cellular tissues, causing diseases like atherosclerosis and diabetes. By fasting, your body metabolizes fat, which is where these toxins are stored. Fasting gives the body the energy to more effectively remove these wastes.
Dr. Fuhrman combines fasting and proper nutrition to cure diseases like lupus, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease and hypertension. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2003 reflects with the results Dr. Fuhrman has achieved with fasting. The study shows that mice who fasted every other day and ate twice the caloric amount on nonfasting days, had better insulin control, resistance to injury and other health indicators compared to mice on caloric restriction.
Recently, scientists like Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, claimed that fasting lowers the risk of degenerative brain diseases and protects neurons against stress.
“The one that we’ve studied a lot, and designed experiments to test, is the hypothesis that during the fasting period, cells are under a mild stress, and they respond to the stress adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and, maybe, to resist disease… There is considerable similarity between how cells respond to the stress of exercise and how cells respond to intermittent fasting,” says Mattson.
In another study, overweight adults with asthma shed eight percent of their body weight by restricting their calorie intake by 80 percent on alternate days for eight weeks. Oxidative and inflammatory markers, asthma symptoms and quality of life improved.
Here are the benefits of Intermittent Fasting in a flash:
- Improves insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Normalizes ghrelin “hunger hormone” levels
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Improves biomarkers of disease
- Reduces inflammation and oxidative damage
- l Protects from degenerative brain diseases
In conclusion, there is growing interest for intermittent fasting but if you intend to follow the protocol, make sure you do it healthily. Proper nutrition before and after fasting holds a high predictive factor in the success of your fasting. Fasting is not advisable for everyone. It is not a one-size-fits-all tool and can be dangerous if not done with good nutrition.