Abstaining from food for certain periods of time can actually improve your health, decrease your weight and help prevent diabetes? According to a number of recent studies and current information gleaned from these research techniques about fasting, it is an apparent health benefit.
There are certain guidelines a person should follow before jumping on the ‘Fast for weight-loss’ idea however. Benjamin Horne, director of the cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Medical Center’s Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, recently stated that “Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention.”
Part of his study included results of healthy individuals who have fasted on a regular basis for decades had a lower risk of diabetes and coronary disease. These individuals fasted once a month between 20-24 hours at a time. The cumulative effort of doing this for more than 40 years was a factor in their lower risk of the above mentioned health issues.
Coronary disease and diabetes are health concerns that need decades of time before their negative effects grow to an advanced state and become issues warranting intervention. Many of the studies conducted on fasting concluded that quick weight-loss isn’t a benefit for several reasons: while fasting your body goes into a starvation mode and conserves energy and slows metabolism. But after the fast when returned to a regular diet you may gain the weight back or even gain more weight. The human body recharges and hunger returns, sometimes with a vengeance.
However, it has been emphasized by these studies that abstinence on a regular basis is a healthy approach if one is consistent with the duration, and regularity. Your body will adjust when not eating becomes part of a constant routine on a monthly schedule over long periods of time.
Benjamin Horne’s group doesn’t recommend frequent food denial, long duration abstinence or changing your current schedule of refraining from eating. But their studies have shown an as yet undetermined fasting period helps decrease weight, bad cholesterol and insulin resistance.
Emphasis has been placed on fasting as a health benefit if it is one part of several healthy lifestyle ingredients: i.e. proper nutrition, exercise, adequate sleep, not eating consistently over long periods of time. It is also pertinent to consult with your physician before changing your health regimen to include periods without food.
Another aspect of abstinence has been the historically religious or spiritual component attached to it. Many great religious leaders from Christ to Gandhi have used lack of food to promote a sense of spiritual enlightenment and solidarity between people of different faiths. Some benefits proposed by health gurus are proclaimed but not cited with research studies include the following: Various health issues from high blood pressure, allergies, degenerative arthritis, acne, and psoriasis, to the shrinking of benign tumors. Other claimed benefits include: cleansing of toxins and waste products, restoration of a healthy digestive tract, protection of the inner organs from environmental toxins.
These claimed benefits are emphasized with the caution that a fast should be appropriate to your situation. Again the constantly stressed point is a healthy lifestyle and making proper food choices and how one responds after the fast. Refraining from eating may provide assistance as one component of consistently healthy behavior by those persons who choose fasting as part of their lifestyle. People also need to ask important questions about fasting before deciding if this is a good choice for them.
For example: Who should fast? Or rather who shouldn’t fast? People on medications, those with kidney problems or liver disorders, pregnant or breastfeeding women, cancer patients, children, and those suffering from malnutrition. What is a reasonable duration for fasting? The time of a fast is difficult to determine and may need to be experimented with by each person incorporating this regimen into their lifestyle. Times vary according to researchers; a common number is 20-24 hours at a time at the lower end and 3 to 30 days on the higher end. Those who refuse to eat for up to 30 days need to be individuals who have fasted for longer and longer periods, building up to a 30 day experience.
What types of fasting are there? There are two types of fasting: Water and juice fasting. Water fasting is the more severe fast and detoxifies the body much more quickly. It is not recommended for those already on a chemical program; say, detoxifying from drugs, as a water fast may damage the kidneys. Will weight be lost while fasting? You can lose weight while on a fast but research has shown, if one fasts only to lose weight and not incorporate fasting into a healthy lifestyle as part of a regimen; the lost weight will be regained. And now for another take on health regimen; intermittent fasting (IF). Intermittent fasting requires one to not eat anything for twelve hours or more on a regular schedule, with a typical period of fasting lasting 18-24 hours, twice a week. Those who are strong proponents of IF explain that once a person works through the first several weeks it is relatively easy to maintain this alternate cycle of eating and not eating. NASA may investigate IF as a way to improve higher brain function in pilots and UAV operators, as these are stressful assignments and research has shown intermittent fasting helps people recover better from exercise, helps retain lean muscle mass, protects one from diabetes and heart disease. Exercise during an IF session increases your body’s ability to burn fat. Research has demonstrated that our growth hormone cells search out fat cells and use them as a source of food to energize the body during a fast. This feast or famine approach seems to fit the hunter gatherer cycle of early humans who either had more than enough food or were constantly foraging for something to eat. Our bodies evolved to adjust to this cycle.
However, with modern processed and sugar loaded foods this is no longer applicable. After a fast many people crave the food loaded with sugar that are also high in carbohydrates, causing them to binge on these foods. Which is why IF proponents advocate eating healthier foods and exercise on a regular basis, even while fasting. Those who have taken up the IF banner are staunch promoters of this regimen, citing a wide range of benefits from killing cancer cells to a positive change in neural brain activity, to such things as protection against epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and strokes.
Everyone from Aristotle to Benjamin Franklin seems to have had a say on the art and science of fasting. If that’s the case, maybe the next meal 24 hours from now won’t consist of lasagna with garlic bread and have a vanilla-chocolate swirl ice cream dessert with a Hershey’s kiss chaser.
By Andy Towle