Health Benefits of Fasting, in addition to Weight Loss

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“Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work.  The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.  Our food should be our medicine.  Our medicine should be our food.  But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.” – Hippocrates

Fasting is not a new concept. It is not the latest fad!  Since the days of old, our ancestors routinely fasted.  That is, they abstained from eating food prolonged periods of time.   Those who chose to fast would do so for one day or possible even a few weeks. Fasting was sometimes done on purpose, other times as a result of lack of food.  For most of our ancestors, three meals per day was not a luxury they had.  Not incorporating routine fasting in our lives  has contributed in part to our excessive caloric intake.

Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC) and Plato (428-348 BC) discussed fasting in ancient Greek writings. Paracelsus (1493 to 1541), a Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer, considered along with Hippocrates to be one the fathers of Western medicine believed, “Fasting is the greatest remedy—the physician within”.

Many people fast, with or without their doctor’s consent.  Most who fast do so intentionally, but sometimes not.  When a person is ill, for instance, the body might “force” a fast. Think about the last time you had an infection such as influenza or perhaps an intestinal illness.  Chances are, you also had little to no appetite.  The loss of appetite during an illness or injury is the body’s attempt to restore balance to help regain health while present pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses,  are literally starved to death as the body’s repair mechanisms go to work full force.

Often fasting was chosen by our ancestors for two reasons. First, food was either in short supply or perhaps for spiritual reasons in most cases, in an attempt to “purify the soul” or reach a higher “state of being or awareness”.  Most major religions still fast regularly or during special feasts.

Recently, science has shown us that fasting does in fact have benefits for the mind as well as the body. We have all experienced how overeating, the opposite of fasting, can have a dulling effect on the mind. Further, animal studies over the last few decades[i]  have shown that calorie restriction, which occurs during fasting periods, can help with life extension.

Benefits of Fasting and Calorie Restriction

  • Weight loss
  • Anti-tumor benefits[ii]
  • Strengthens the immune system[iii]
  • Increases longevity[iv] (in animal studies)
  • Reduced insulin production
  • Increased Energy
  • Improved insulin sensitivity (those with diabetes need to consult with their doctor before fasting as blood sugar will drop and medications may need adjustment)
  • Reduces inflammation in the body
  • Improved mental health and reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms

Two common Intermittent Fasting (IF) protocols of which one should be aware are:

12:12 Plan

One eats all their meals within a 12 hour time period, then fast for the remaining 12 hours. For example, if one eats breakfast at 7 AM, the last bite of food should be consumed no later than 7 PM.    Pick any 12 hour time period that works best.  No food is allowed during the fasting period. Water, black coffee and herbal tea is allowed during the fasting period.   This can be challenge at first, but over time becomes easier as the body adapts.

Many use this as the starting point  before  progressing to  the 16:8 plan.  Eating using the 12:12  plan and eliminating snacking is a big accomplishment for many.   During this process, hormone levels change and cravings for  foods that initially could not be resisted may be reduced.  Once achieved, one’s confidence will grow and one will start to regain more control over their eating habits.

16:8 Plan

Once one has mastered the 12:12 plan,  the 16:8 plan can be considered.   During this eating plan, one will consume  meals only during an 8-hour window, the remaining 16 hours one is to fast.   Many will therefore eat their first meal around 10 AM and their last meal before  6 PM.  Alternatively, some start at 12 noon and eat no later than 8 PM.   One should  do what best fits one’s schedule.  It is however advised that one finish their dinner at least 3 hours prior to going to sleep at night.

During the eating period, many consume their usual diet while others consider a ketogenic diet or a Paleolithic diet.   For more information on fasting, I recommend reading The Obesity Code,  by Dr. Jason Fung.

I personally have fasted for up to 72 hours at a time.  Water and black coffee was consumed.  Prior to doing a 12:12 or 16:8 plan, missing a meal was a challenge for me.   Doing Intermittent Fasting and eating a ketogenic diet has allowed me to lose 50 pounds, increase my HDL cholesterol and lower my triglycerides, all within six months.  Many of my diabetic patients have also seen improvement in glucose levels and have been able to reduce or stop their insulin all together. One patient also reversed his sleep apnea.

I now frequently recommend Intermittent Fasting to most of my patients, being mindful that I will need to adjust medications once they start losing weight. Talk to your doctor if Intermittent Fasting is right for you.

Below is a video I made on Intermittent Fasting

DISCLAIMER:  If you are on diabetic medications or blood pressure medications, consult with your physician and medication requirements may be reduced. Also, pregnant women and those breastfeeding should not fast.

 

Sources:

[i] JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2018 Feb;16(2):507-547. doi: 10.11124/JBISRIR-2016-003248.

[ii] Woolf, Eric C., Nelofer Syed, and Adrienne C. Scheck. “Tumor Metabolism, the Ketogenic Diet and Β-Hydroxybutyrate: Novel Approaches to Adjuvant Brain Tumor Therapy.” Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 9 (2016): 122. PMC. Web. 25 Jan. 2017

[iii] Cheng C-W, Adams GB, Perin L, et al. Prolonged Fasting reduces IGF-1/PKA to promote hematopoietic stem cell-based regeneration and reverse immunosuppression. Cell stem cell. 2014;14(6):810-823. doi:10.1016/j.stem.2014.04.014.

[iv] Fasting increases longevity in Laboratory rats  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047637400001093

 

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