There was a time when most Americans associated the idea of fasting (abstaining from food and/or drink) with cultural or religious practices. Today, there is an increasing number of people fasting for health reasons, to lose weight and/or to detox the body. Whether the fast lasts for a week or more, three days or just twelve hours, the evidence-based benefits to the mind and body are numerous.
LOSE WEIGHT AND BELLY FAT
Fasting promotes weight loss and helps to shed belly fat the natural way. A 12-hour to 24-hour break from food (aka intermittent fasting) allows the body to burn fat cells more efficiently rather than using sugar or carbohydrates as its source for energy. Given this time of rejuvenation, the body will reset metabolically. Fasting also increases growth hormone production which promotes fat loss and muscle building.
REGULATES HORMONES, REPAIRS CELLS AND SURPRESSES APPETITE
Fasting regulates hormones and resets the body. The longer you fast, the more the body can release the correct hormones and you can feel hungry. When the body experiences real hunger, you can get full quicker and therefore eat less and eliminate the cravings. Cellular repair in the body kicks into action when fasting and ultimately impacts gene expression. This process involves breaking down dysfunctional proteins that have built up in our cells over time.
ESTABLISH BETTER EATING HABITS
Indulging in food as a source of comfort is one of the worst habits we have. Given our busy lifestyle, it’s easy to establish a pattern of binge eating. Eating at a set time allows you to choose healthier, more nutritious food options and control your caloric intake. Fasting helps to improve those eating patterns and gives the body a rest until the next eating period.
IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTION
When fasting, the body produces increased levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). This unique protein activates the stem cells of the brain to convert into new neurons. As a result, the neurons can impact multiple chemicals in the brain that promotes mental neutral health, improve cognitive function and work against the onset of depression. Studies have also shown that intermittent fasting protects the brain against damage resulting from strokes.
IMPACTS HEART DISEASE
Studies using animals have shown that consistent fasting can improve the risk factors associated with heart disease which may include inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels, total and LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood triglycerides. Losing weight alone can improve heart health. Fasting regularly has been linked with a lower incidence of heart failure.
IMPROVES THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Fasting can regenerate your entire immune system. The body is forced to renew its cells, particularly the white blood cells, and remove other toxins in the body. Fasting alone may result in decreased free radical production. By reducing the amount of free radical damage, your immune system is renewed through the regulation of stem cell production.
FIGHTS INFLAMMATION, MAY PREVENT CANCER
Fasting improves various metabolic features which may reduce inflammation, blood sugar levels and insulin resistance and oxidative stress. Fasting has been linked to curing cancer by exposing cancerous cells to a revitalized immune system.
As a preventative measure, periodical fasting can starve precancerous or cancerous cells and spare you the potential diagnosis. Studies have also shown that fasting may reduce various side effects of chemotherapy.
CLEARS THE SKIN
One of the most surprising benefits of fasting is its impact on our skin. Giving the digestive system a reprieve allows the body to focus on regenerative tasks and improve the function of other organs such as the liver, kidneys, and the skin. Fasting has been known to reduce inflammatory conditions that impacts skin health. According to one expert, occasional fasting spurs the production of antioxidant compounds known to reduce aging and wrinkling. Hair and nails have been positively impacted as well by intermittent fasting.
PROMOTES SPIRTUAL GROWTH
While fasting for healing, a healthier body, and mental clarity is good; fasting for spiritual growth can be profoundly impactful. One’s discipline may be heightened with a greater sense of resolve. Combined with meditation and/or prayer, the connection with your higher power, nature, and those around you has been known to improve. The humbling experience of fasting disconnects us from the food that binds us to the physical, and positions us to rely on the spiritual sustenance.
Studies have shown that dietary restriction and limited caloric intake (how much you eat) can influence how long you live. When the body is placed under stress (through fasting), this reaction creates changes at a cellular level, reprograms the body and promotes longevity. Of course, there are other factors that help extend your lifespan.
New evidence shows that allowing the digestive system to rest promotes a faster and more efficient metabolism and therefore slows the aging process.
While studies about the benefits and side effects of fasting are ongoing, the exhilaration one feels at the completion of a fast is worth noting. You’ve shed a few pounds, succeeded in one of life’s most challenging disciplines (abstaining from food), cellular rejuvenation has reset the body, you feel renewed, energized, and focused. Your receptivity in attracting the things you desire has improved, and life feels…good!