Part 2, of Our “Fastinating” Discussion
This week in part two of our fasting discussion we are going to dive into the benefits of fasting, tips for adapting to a regular fasting schedule, contraindications – possible reasons fasting may not be a good option for you – to fasting and “Feast-Famine” cycling. Let’s not mess around here and jump right in.
The Numerous Benefits of Fasting
There are numerous benefits to fasting and some of them may surprise you. Fasting, much like exercise, is a biological stressor that initiates metabolic process that promote overall health. Relating to the normal healthful functioning (physiologically), the benefits of fasting are numerous. First many people will notice that their blood sugar stabilizes.1 This is simply because they aren’t taking in calories. This results in blood glucose levels falling to normal fasting levels, well below 100. Due to blood glucose levels dropping, the body doesn’t need to release as much insulin to remove glucose from the bloodstream and move into the cells. This lowers insulin levels and improves insulin resistance.2,3 More benefits of fasting include that the gut and immune system get a chance to rest. Fasting allows the digestive tract to rest and regenerate its mucosal lining.4 And the immune system is not under continual stress of addressing a constant flow of food antigens. Allowing the immune system to participate in regeneration of the body’s organs.5 Another huge benefit of fasting is that damaged cells get a chance to be cleared out of the body. Fasting triggers autophagy, a natural cleansing routine the body uses to clean out cellular debris (including toxins). While it also recycling damaged cell components. Autophagy contributes too many important functions by helping our stem cells retain the ability to maintain and repair our tissues.6 These important functions include dampening inflammation, slowing the aging process, slowing the growth of cancer, and contribute to optimizing biological function.7
Even More Fasting Benefits
Two more potential benefits of fasting are its ability to reduce levels of hormones produced by the body that are thought to promote cancer and reducing the rate of aging. Taking regular breaks from foods not only reduces levels of insulin and leptin (hunger hormone), but also insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). This is a potent hormone that acts on the pituitary gland to induce powerful metabolic and endocrine effects, including cell growth and replication. However, elevated IGF-1 levels are associated with many cancers, including breast and prostate.8 In addition to boosting levels of human growth hormone, fasting decreases the accumulation of free radicals in our cells. This reduces oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids, and DNA, which is strongly associated with aging and most chronic diseases.9 Fasting also inhibits the mammalian target of rapamycin, which I’ve written about in a recent post. As I describe in that article mTOR is an ancient cellular signaling pathway that orchestrates insulin, leptin, and IGF-1. Inhibiting mTOR is precisely our goal if the intention is to up-regulate maintenance and repair, boost longevity, and reduce risk of cancer. Other benefits include increased ketone production, metabolic rate, and ability of the body to burn fat.
Fasting May Not Be Right For You
Next let’s go over some contraindications for fasting and who should not fast or would not likely benefit from fasting. I do believe that intermittent fasting is a powerful way to improve physiological function all the way down to the mitochondrial level. However fasting is not for everyone. For example, individuals taking medications, especially diabetics, need medical supervision. For diabetics run a much greater risk of hypoglycemia. Whether you are diabetic or not you still, especially if new to fasting, can get hypoglycemia. So, keep your eye on any signs of hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar), which include: light-headedness, shakiness, confusion, fainting, excessive sweating, blurred vision, slurred speech, feelings of an atypical heartbeat, and pins and needles sensation in the fingertips.
Fasting May Be Too Much of A Stress, If You’re Already Stressed
It’s important to remember that fasting is a stressor on the body. That’s why people those with serious adrenal challenges or chronic renal disease, are living with chronic stress (adrenal fatigue), or have cortisol dysregulation should resolve these issues before implementing fasting. If your goal is to build large muscles or engage in competitive sports such as sprinting that require glucose for anaerobic fast twitch muscle fibers. Than intermittent fasting is likely not your best strategy.
Pregnant Women and Nursing Mothers, Should Also Not Fast
For the baby requires a wider range of nutrients during and after birth, and there’s currently no research supporting the safety of fasting during this important time. This is also a good point to discuss why unfortunately many women see detrimental effects from fasting. This is because women can suffer from hormonal imbalances10 due to fasting and it could lead to fertility issues. How can intermittent fasting cause hormonal imbalance in women? Women are extremely sensitive to signals of starvation, and if the body senses that it is being starved, it will ramp up production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. So when women experience insatiable hunger after under-eating, they are actually experiencing the increased production of these hormones. It’s the female body’s way of protecting a potential fetus — even when a woman is not pregnant. Children under 18 should not fast for extended periods of time. Lastly, anyone with concerns about malnutrition, is underweight (with a BMI of less than 18.5), or who has an eating disorder should avoid fasting.
Tips & “Feast Famine” Cycling
Toughest part of any form of intermittent fasting is getting through the initial transition from burning primarily glucose (sugar) to burning fats as fuel. For some, this transition may take anywhere from a week to two months or even longer. The biggest complaint at first is hunger, of course. This is why it’s important to stay hydrated, for oftentimes people mistake thirst for hunger. Another factor that may trip you up is psychological. If you’re used to snacking in the evenings, it may take some time to break this habit. Another tip is to watch what you eat on none fasting days. For, if you consume excessive carbohydrates (more than 100 grams) it will only hamper you’re progress to becoming a fat-burner instead of a sugar-burner. After you have captured the ability to use fat as a primary energy source you can use “Feast-famine” cycling. This will allow you to reap the benefits of fat burning over the long haul without feeling deprived. How do we use “feast-famine” cycling? Simply by making seasonal shifts in your diet, much like our ancestors were forced to do. You could achieve this by spending your winters maintaining a fat-burning state, implementing some form of fasting 4-6 days a week. And then enjoying more carbohydrates such as berries, veggies, and tubers during summer. I find that regular variation in my diet helps encourage me to long-term compliance to a healthy lifestyle.
Fact of the week
A recent study,11 published in Nature Communications, demonstrates calorie-restricted diets play a role in aging and health for rhesus monkeys.
Because many anatomical and physiological aspects of rhesus monkeys parallel human beings, it is thought the study’s outcomes may be helpful in understanding the role of calorie restriction on humans. As would be the case when evaluating the effectiveness of human diet programs. This study noted that a monkey’s age and gender, as well as the type of diet eaten, influenced the research outcomes. There was no one-size-fits-all approach.
Book of the Month
Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia by Dr.Natasha Campbell-Mcbride, MD
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride is a medical doctor with two postgraduate degrees: Master of Medical Sciences in Neurology and Master of Medical Sciences in Human Nutrition.
She graduated as a medical doctor in Russia. After practicing for five years as a Neurologist and three years as a Neurosurgeon she started a family and moved to the UK, where she got her second postgraduate degree in Human Nutrition. She practices in the UK as a nutritionist and not as a medical doctor.
She is well known for developing a concept of GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome), which she described in this book, which is now in its second edition. Thousands of people around the world follow the highly successful GAPS Nutritional Protocol to help themselves and their families. You can learn about GAPS on www.gaps.me.