They say history repeats itself and we’ve seen that happen on more than one occasion. Whether it’s fashion, lifestyle, or music, the best trends always make a comeback. One of those trends is fasting. Even outside of religious and political circles, people have started to adopt fasting to improve their lifestyle.
Health Benefits of Fasting for Whole Body Wellness
With gym memberships and dietary prescriptions becoming a regular thing these days, sometimes, the best course of action can be not eating at all. Here are few of the advantages of fasting.
1. Promotes Weight Loss
This is the reason most people incorporate fasting into their lifestyles. It reduces caloric intake and also forces the body to use up its fat resources to power itself. Ketosis or fat-burning is a state that is achieved faster through fasting than traditional low-caloric diets while preserving muscle tissue.
2. Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is the hormone responsible for allowing glucose to enter cells. A healthy cycle involves the increase in insulin production after meals and the decrease during the time between them (4-6 hrs). However, snacking in between meals and erratic eating habits disrupt this cycle and force the body to secrete more insulin. Constant exposure to high concentrations of insulin promotes resistance to insulin, which leads to chronic and problematic conditions, like Type 2 Diabetes.
3. Fights Off Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural immune response to adversity. However, chronic inflammation is something that nobody wants any part of. Chronic inflammation is a factor in heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer. Studies have shown that fasting could decrease several inflammation markers and can even be used to treat some autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
4. Promotes Greater Satiety
Hormones are responsible for a LOT of things in our system. The urge to pee and the feeling of thirst are also caused by hormones. Similarly, the feeling of hunger follows suit. The fat tissue produces a hormone called leptin that affects the feeling of hunger and satisfaction after a meal. Erratic eating habits and an increase in accumulated fat contributes to leptin resistance. Fasting and weight loss, therefore, greatly affect post-meal satisfaction. The more responsive you are to leptin signals, the more full you feel. This way, when you do eat, you can enjoy it.
5. Improves Metabolism
Metabolic disorders have increased in incidence over the last fifty years. Some of the reasons for such an increase include erratic eating habits, unbalanced diets, and stress. Fasting has been shown to boost metabolism by increasing norepinephrine levels, which increase the amount of fats for the body to burn. This also promotes weight loss. Leptin also promotes the production of the thyroid hormone, which, in turn, improves metabolism.
6. Provides Resistance to Oxidative Stress
One of the major causes of ageing is oxidative stress. The free radicals generated in the body are responsible for this damage. Though the response does have many functional applications, an increase in oxidative stress can cause premature ageing. Fasting reduces oxidative stress by improving hormone signalling and normalising blood composition.
7. Provides a Clean-up from Within
Our body is home to an immeasurable number of cells. Some of those cells are damaged or go astray from their intended path. Others are just old. When you fast, the idea is that you are denying the system fresh nutrients and forcing it to use up its reserves, which are primarily in the form of fat. However, fat is not the only thing the body turns to during a fast. Autophagy is the process by which a cell begins to digest parts of itself to meet the nutrient demand. This occurs at a cellular level. In short, the body not only breaks down the fat but also all the old and malfunctions cells. The healthy cells are selectively protected as they respond much differently to hormones and adversity in general. So what you’re left with is a body of healthy and well-functioning cells.
8. Protects Your Skin
As mentioned above, autophagy is responsible for the removal of old and malfunctioning cells. This results in much healthier and clearer looking skin over a period of time. It is known that a healthy diet is a very important factor when it comes to your skin. And this is how fasting helps it too – collagen is the largest protein, and it’s found in many places and in different types. Collagen is affected by increased blood glucose levels and results in loss of fibre strength. Fasting causes a reduction in blood sugar, which greatly benefits your skin.
9. Lowers the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease
People with metabolic disorders stand a high risk of cardiovascular problems. Fasting could help reduce those risks by mitigating certain contributing factors, like blood pressure, blood glucose levels, triglycerides in the blood, and cholesterol concentration in blood. The decrease in blood pressure is actually associated with the reduced salt intake during the fast and increase in salt output through the urine.
10. Helps Fight Cancer
Like metabolic disorders, the incidence of cancer has also skyrocketed over the last five decades. The reasons for this are the change in lifestyle, daily stresses and environmental exposure to numerous toxins and the general declining health of our collective gene pool.
In vitro studies have shown that exposing tumour cells to cycles of fasting had the same effect as chemotherapy on tumour cells. There was a reduction in tumour growth and an increase in the effectiveness of the chemotherapy employed.
However, it should be also noted that there is limited research conducted on this aspect and the current laboratory studies that don’t involve human beings.
11. Improves Brain Function
Lots of laboratory research in mice and other animals show that fasting can actually improve both brain structure and function. There is an increase in nervous tissue generation and better brain health. Fasting promotes the production of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) that causes increased neuronal production and protects the neurones from damage from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
12. Stimulates a Healthy Stress Response
Stress is always made out to be a bad thing. However, mild stress once in a while is a good stimulant to the body to face the challenge and get stronger. Fasting induces moderate stress to the brain that activates signalling pathways that improve brain function and neural health while also protecting against damage and death.
13. Promotes Growth
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a very important hormone that regulates growth and many other facets of your health like muscle strength and metabolism. Fasting could improve the body’s HGH levels, according to many studies. HGH is a hormone that requires careful regulation and optimisation. Lifestyle changes could affect the cycle and have a negative impact on your health.
14. Helps Athletes
Many athletes are now incorporating intermittent fasting into their regimen. Intermittent fasting is a pattern of fasting where the athlete alternates between periods of fasting and eating. For example, on training days, the athletes fast for 24 hours and then on game days, they consume a high protein diet for fat loss and HGH boost. The athletes need to maintain a low body fat percentage and also build lean and strong muscle. Both these targets can be met by intermittent fasting. Lean muscle causes you to burn calories during rest which is very useful when it comes to shedding fat.
15. Helps Achieve a Lighter Body and a Clearer Mind
Fasting has helped many people develop a new outlook towards life. It provides a refreshing exit from the mundane and unfulfilling cycle of constant snacking where one feels the need to keep eating even though the satisfaction is hardly worth looking forward to, not to mention the guilt that follows. It acts as a periodic reset button to your body and gives you a taste of things you were missing. The brain also has more energy to work with as the digestive system (one of the largest “consumers” of energy in the body) is not hogging all of it.
Precautions to Take While Fasting
Take the following precautions if you are planning to fast.
- Hypoglycaemic and diabetic patients should avoid fasting until their blood glucose levels have been normalised. They must still keep a close eye on the values.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should NOT fast as it can have negative effects on the child.
- If you have any chronic medical conditions or are under any medications, it is best to consult your doctor before drastically altering your lifestyle.
- During the fast, stay hydrated. During your ‘eat’ periods, consume nutrient-rich and dense foods. Also, get plenty of rest.
Fasting is not for everyone. Go ahead with it if you are comfortable with it. Do not force yourself into it, it may do you more harm than good.