Many people ask me what I think of intermittent fasting, and others ask about what “ketosis” is all about. If you are new to these terms, or confused, I hope to try to clarify these terms and explain their purposes and advantages. I’m not saying that everyone should fast, in fact, there are people who definitely should not fast. This is simply to let you know what all the talk is about, and weight the benefits to decide if you would choose to do one of these.
Fasting is a term used to describe a time of not eating. The confusing part is when people talk about “juice fasts”, but that may not be what people are talking about when they say they are “fasting”. Juice fasts are great, but that is a complex subject for another article. I want to talk about times of not ingesting food, even in liquid form.
What is meant by fasting?
When talking about types of fasts, they tend to be more descriptive in what is consumed, or when food is consumed. For a definition, we can turn to Wikipedia for help. They define fasting in this way:
“Fasting is the willing abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. An absolute fast or dry fasting is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period. Water fasting refers to abstinence from all food and drink except water, but black coffee and tea may be consumed. Other fasts may be partially restrictive, limiting only particular foods or substances, or be intermittent.”
I prefer to think of fasting as a time without food. Break-fast, means the time of day when you end your night time fast. Technically, your first food of the day is your breakfast, whether you choose to eat it in the morning or in the afternoon.
Types of Fasts
The main types of fast are Intermittent Fasting, Extended Water fasting, and Dry Fasting.
Intermittent fasting is more of a way of life than a short term, one time activity. The idea is to get the person into what is called a “state of ketosis”, or “fat burning, and stay there for a long period of time, if possible. The term “ketosis” means the body burns fat for fuel because there is no easily available glucose to use. This is the same goal for extended fasts, but for intermittent fasting, it’s meant as a lifestyle, or for a long period of time.
The main goal of intermittent fasting is to limit the frequency of meals and extremely limit the amount of carbohydrates consumed. The term intermittent simply means not continuous or steady. Basically, they limit the frequency or the “window of time” when they eat their meals. Some will eat only one meal a day; others will more meals, but only between certain times, such as noon to 6; others will fast two days a week; or a combination of all three of these stratgies. Dr Fung uses a combination of these to achieve different goals, or give the patient choices based on their lifestyle. This is a fairly flexible plan but the one constant is the strict limitation of carbohydrates, because ketosis will not occur when glucose is available to use.
One of the benefits of intermittent fasting is the quick results of weight loss, which can be very encouraging for those struggling with weight issues. However, one of the drawbacks is the severe restriction of healthy foods, such as legumes and starchy vegetables. Research done on ketosis over an extended time, such as several years, has yet to be done. Some say it is best to use the flexibility of this program to allow oneself to go in and out of ketosis, ensuring stable health. This would mean sometimes adding more carbohydrates into the diet, and other times severely restricting them.
I believe the initial benefits of reducing non-healthy carbohydrates, sugars, and other foods can be the best benefit of this diet, as it would be in any diet that had that goal.
Water only fasts:
A water fast is essentially purposeful non eating, and drinking only water or water and perhaps tea and coffee for different durations. An extended water fast is usually for more than a day, often 5 days or more. Three days or less would be considered by most fasters as a short fast.
The duration of a fast also needs to be specified. Usually a water or dry fast are done for a specific period of time, such as 3, 5 or 40 days. The interesting thing here is it used to be considered “scientific fact” that if someone went for 7 days without food, they would die. These people don’t seem to be dying; in fact they are doing it to improve their health. Many people have been able to lower their AIC, get off blood pressure medications because they no longer need them, and heal an assortment of illnesses and relieve symptoms.
What are the benefits of fasting?
Fasting centers that supervise fasts for extended times have found tremendous results. Symptoms of diabetes and hypertension can be eliminated to the point where the patient can come off all their medications. However, keep in mind that if they go back to their unhealthy diet, they will need to go back on their medications. Fasting is a jump-start back to health, not a one-time fix.
Some of the other benefits can be both emotional and physical. The addictive nature of food is so potent, that sometimes fasting can be used to release food addicts from the strong hold of overeating hyper palatable foods. See my article on Food Addiction. Some even use fasting as a way to release themselves from addiction to caffeine in coffee.
Both research and clinical work have shown the following benefits from fasting. Some are achieved through any type of fast, others are only from extended water only fasting.
Reduces insulin resistance
Type 2 diabetics will almost always show a significant decrease in their blood sugar levels. Even in intermittent fasting, as shown by Dr Jason Fung, a Nephrologist from Toronto (IDMprogram.com), who uses this with his diabetic patients to lower their requirements for medication, and often being able to take them off all medications.
Some studies have found that fasting could decrease several markers of inflammation and may be useful in treating chronic inflammatory conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
Improves blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels
In fact, the recommendation is for anyone doing a fast that is currently on medications, needs to do a medically supervised fast. Tests need to be done and medication doses need to be reduced to compensate for the lower blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels that occur.
Obviously by not eating, it would be expected that people would lose weight on an extended water fast. However, depending on how they eat after their fast, they could gain it back just as quickly as they have taken it off. Some clinics will say unless the person is willing to change their diet, it isn’t a good method of weight loss. Intermittent fasting is seen more as a way of life, so it may be better for sustained weight loss. If a short or long term water fast is used to help transition to a much healthier diet and lifestyle, it can be equally beneficial.
When the body is not required to digest food, that is a lot of energy it doesn’t have to utilize. Therefore, the body can use that energy for the healing process. This occurs naturally at night, but during a fast, it has more time to concentrate on healing. This is why when animals are injured, they cease eating and find a place to hide and rest. This is also why when you had the flu as a child, you may have heard “feed a cold and starve a fever”. A cold will just run its course, but a fever needs rest and allowing the body to heal. This is the overall arching reason people have fasted for centuries, simply to allow the body to heal. Now, with research, we find that healing comes from so much more than diverting the energy of the body.
Increases growth hormone secretion
It turns out that human growth hormone (HGH), is suppressed when food is available, because it increases glucose. If more growth hormone is desired, then an absence of food is required. What are the benefits of HGH?
“HGH helps to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs. This hormone can help to speed up healing after an injury and repair muscle tissue after exercise. This helps to build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat. HGH is also said to benefit the quality and appearance of the skin.” (https://www.healthline.com/health/hgh-side-effects)
Since there may be side effects to artificial growth hormone, it’s even better when we can get it naturally, and it’s even free!
Autophagy is when cells that are too old or damaged and need to be destroyed by the body, but for some reason remain in the body, are finally broken down and destroyed. During an extended fast of at least 4 days, our bodies will reach a state where autophagy can occur, and break down those cells that are damaged, including older immune cells, that can sometimes create inflammation or autoimmune symptoms. (See my article on The Benefits of Fasting Ketosis.) So reducing these cells will actually reduce inflammation, and can reduce autoimmune issues. That is a significant benefit for those who suffer with chronic diseases.
This is where the new research in fasting is making the benefits of fasting undeniable even in the medical community. Research is being done in reputable facilities and getting published in very reputable peer reviewed journals. It’s exciting to see where this research will lead.
If you want to read about some of the studies done in rats, here is a study you can review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/
Stem Cell creation
Stem cells are the cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are created. Stem cells are the only cell types which can generate new cell types. Given the proper conditions, stems cells can divide to form what are called daughter cells, which will become new stem cells or specialized cells with a more targeted function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or bone cells. In other words, stem cells are the basis for creation of all important cells, which could cause regeneration of organs or other body tissues.
Research by Dr Valter Longo is being done that indicates when autophagy is taking place, our bodies also start producing additional stem cells, which can stimulate the repair of our bodies in an impressive manner. In fact, it can stimulate immune system regeneration, which may be of particular benefit to those with autoimmune issues. So there is a double benefit on the immune system with extended water fasting; both the destruction of damaged immune system cells, and the regeneration of new cells. This is a significant finding for those who are looking for solutions to health problems.
Why doesn’t my doctor know about this?
The medical community relies on peer reviewed research to show the benefits or not of any action taken for health benefits. However, research has to be funded, and there is no financial benefit to telling someone to not eat for 7 or 30 days. In fact, if people fast for several weeks and are able to stop needing their medications, I would say there is a disincentive to do research on the benefits of fasting. However, breakthroughs in research are being done.
Fortunately, fasting does have a long history, and researchers have been able to do studies to see if the benefits that are claimed throughout history are valid. Research is often ten years ahead of the medical profession, because the medical profession requires years of proof; which is understandable. We do want years of study when invasive or expensive new technology or protocols are brought forward. We want to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks. However, fasting isn’t invasive, nor is it expensive, nor is it new; and the risks are very low.
The more widespread acceptance of fasting protocols has occurred because quite a bit of excellent research has been done on this topic recently, from prestigious Universities. Peer reviewed and highly acclaimed research has been done that has shown so many benefits of supervised fasting; gaining credibility with the research community, if not the medical community as yet.
Recent History and Research of Supervised Fasting
Fasting is not a new concept, it’s been around since Hypocrites. More recently, though, fasting centers have been around in various forms for a long time. In fact, one of the water only fasting centers that is currently involved in much of the research being done has been around for over 30 years. The True North Health Center is currently involved in research with several reputable research universities, including Washington University in St Louis, MO. They have had their research articles published in some of the most prestigious medical journals available. Their credibility is becoming undeniable.
The benefit of having a center such as True North Health Center in existence, with a magnificent reputation, is it provides access to subjects who are willing to pay for the opportunity to do a supervised fast. In most fasting centers, the patients are provided round the clock medical supervision; vital signs and blood levels are monitored. With doctors experienced in these situations, medications can be reduced gradually as required without endangering the client; symptoms requiring the cessation of the fast are recognized immediately, and re-feeding protocols can be strictly adhered to. Extended fasts over 5 days need to be supervised for many of these reasons.
Can I do this at home for myself?
Absolutely! However some people should not do extended fasts. Those on medications should be medically supervised; as I said, medications may need to be altered. Even the fasting clinics require health histories and medical evaluation before they will decide if someone can fast. True North Health Center has programs for juice fasting and restricted eating. Some people should not fast. However, most doctors will say that if you are generally healthy and on no medications, most people can fast up to five days unsupervised. If you are in the no fast category, you may choose to look at Intermittent fasting, but you may want to talk to your doctor first.
If you are not on any medications, are fairly healthy and have done your research, there is no reason why a fast of up to 5 days can’t be done at home. The biggest danger with doing a fast at home without some amount of research is the fact that many people tend to overeat on the day they break their fast, which can cause digestive upset. If you choose to do something like this for yourself, do your research.
If fasting isn’t for you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, fasting historically has usually been done either for religious purposes or to heal serious illnesses. Plus, I feel that gentle approaches can also be very valuable, so just think of this as yet another possibility that is available.
I have listed some resources below to help you look further into this valuable health protocol. Also be sure to read my articles Five Day Water Fasting For Health, and The Benefits of Fasting Ketosis. There is so much information, I had to break it up in three different articles.
If you are interested in fasting, feel free to contact me. I can help you with more resources and answer most questions. I believe fasting may be a critical component to extending the health of our life. I don’t worry about extending my life, but the time in my life that I am healthy, and able to help those around me. How about you?
Here are some resources to get you started:
Fasting Day 1, Dr Pompa’s facebook live video: (note: Mrs Pompa deals with the spiritual aspect of fasting, so you can love it or ignore it)
The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting
by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore | Oct 18, 2016
The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight
by Valter Longo