Intermittent fasting is the single most powerful, cheap, well researched, easy, drug-free, natural thing you can do for your wellbeing.
Fasting is also the best way to lose weight (and improve your health).
That’s a big claim I know.
I also know that it’s true. It’s well researched, observed and found to be true by the thousands of people who practice it regularly.
Fasting has been done for centuries. It has long been part of every major religion on earth. It’s as old as time.
Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2016. He unraveled autophagy related genes (ATG).
He was able to discover that this cleansing and recycling pathway has existed throughout the time of life on earth from single celled organisms to the humans of today.
We are well adapted for starvation. To spend a few days without food is completely natural for us as a species.
Our bodies have not only adapted to fasting, they have evolved to make the most of the time we spend without food.
In the absence of any nutrients, our bodies switch from growth to repair via a process known as autophagy.
Regular readers will know that I’ve written about autophagy before. So why write about it again?
Because it’s important.
The single most important thing that you can do for your health, and that can’t be said too often.
The benefits of fasting are amazing.
Fasting will help you to lose weight, even when other methods you have tried have failed. Fasting will also reverse type 2 diabetes, protect against liver disease, heart disease and certain cancers.
Fasting reduces our risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
It improves our immune system, and a fast of more than a few days can completely reset the immune system.
It increases our metabolic rate, and gives us extra focus and energy.
That’s an amazing list of benefits by anyone´s standards, and it’s all within your reach.
Fasting is amazing because it triggers autophagy, and autophagy is amazing too.
Autophagy has been around for as long as we have, and is one of the oldest processes we as a species have developed.
It has survived throughout our evolution for one very good reason – it is fantastically good for us.
Autophagy is the process which begins when we stop eating.
There are three main types of Autophagy, and each is in involved in the eradication or engulfment of damaged cells or proteins.
Also the engulfment of cytoplasmic material, eradication of pathogens and dealing with misfolded proteins.
Cells rid themselves of damaged and unwanted, misfolded proteins.
Much of these proteins are able to be reused to form new components for the cell. The rest are flushed from our bodies via the kidneys.
So when fasting we don’t just lose the old proteins, we make new ones from the old parts too.
Autophagy makes sure that our cells have a spring-clean and are put back into full working order.
This process makes sure that we don’t accumulate unhealthy masses of misfolded or damaged cells that accumulate over time.
Too much growth is not good for us. Obesity and even cancer are caused by too much growth.
There must always be a balance between periods of growth, and periods of cleaning and repair.
Why is too much growth (lack of autophagy) unhealthy?
We evolved at a time when food supplies were intermittent.
We are not designed to eat all the time, and autophagy which evolved with us, made these times of fasting, although involuntary, a necessary trigger to our cleaning and renewal systems.
Autophagy is triggered not just by fasting but by heat or cold stress and infection.
To learn more about the triggers for autophagy visit How to induce autophagy
We naturally enter autophagy less as we age, so it becomes ever more important to step up our efforts to induce autophagy more often as we get older.
The biggest single cause of us not experiencing enough autophagy is the fact that many people eat far too often.
There was a time in our ancient past when meals were intermittent, to say the least.
It is only fairly recently that most of us are guaranteed to have access to food all the time.
Now however, things have got ridiculous.
We’ve gone from occasional food to regular food, to almost non-stop food.
I have heard people (including nutritionists) say in all seriousness that we can’t miss breakfast. We can’t skip a meal, we will be sick if we do.
I’ve seen suggestions that we eat 6 times a day. 6 times?! Why? What will happen if we don’t? Will we die?
The real truth is that we face increased risk of dying early if we don’t ever miss a meal or two.
Let that sink in for a moment, because it’s very likely the exact opposite to what you’ve heard before.
Miss a meal or two, and you won’t die, you will improve your health.
Trigger autophagy too seldom by constantly snacking and you are going to increase your risks of being in for a long line of some very serious health issues.
Diseases caused by too much growth include:
- Alzheimers disease
- Heart attacks
- Parkinson´s disease
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
All caused by too much growth, not enough autophagy. Too much food, not too little food.
Your body can either grow or repair, it can’t do both things at the same time. There always needs to be a balance between autophagy and feeding.
In other words you need to eat well, and fast well. As always, the sweet spot is a healthy balance between these two things.
Can too much fasting for autophagy be a bad thing?
Autophagy has been described as a double-edged sword and with good reason.
The health benefits depend on there being a good balance between times of eating, and times of fasting.
Too much autophagy has even been implicated in the growth of some cancers.
More is definitely not better.
Fasting is amazing, but starving is not. As so often happens, a great thing like fasting can and has been taken to extremes by some people.
There is no need to fast for weeks on end. In my opinion daily intermittent fasts of between 16 to 18 hours are great.
From time to time, an extended fast of 36 hours or so is also a very positive thing you can do for your health.
There is evidence that the benefits of autophagy for the immune system peak at about 36 hours.
I don’t see the point in fasting for days on end. Why fast for 10 days when you can break this up into four or five shorter fasts, and still gain all the benefits.
Some people just have to turn every healthy thing into a religion, and go crazy. There is absolutely no need to do this.
Should some people not fast at all?
Probably, and I’m thinking here of people who have a very low body weight, have a history of an eating disorder or are taking medication.
Taking medication can be affected by fasting, so if you still want to do this, it is wise to seek the support of your medical adviser first.
Certain medications, especially those used for type two diabetes will need to be closely monitored while you are fasting.
Fasting will affect your blood/glucose levels and you would do well to have some blood work done beforehand too.
That isn’t to say you can’t fast, but you will need to seek extra medical support while you’re doing so.
People are still worried about the “dangers” of missing a meal. If you are at least a normal body weight or more, there are no dangers.
We have been fasting, albeit involuntarily, since the beginning of time. Humans were, and still are, completely adapted to periods of going without food.
It is over eating that makes us ill, not fasting.
There has been a sudden and catastrophic rise in many diseases in the last few decades.
The risk of developing many of these diseases can be reduced or even eliminated by making intermittent fasting a part of our normal lives.
We were simply never meant to be eating all day every day, and it is making us sick.
Of course good nutrition is essential. I’m no fan of fasting in a fanatical way, and there is no need to do this.
Reduce your daily eating window to between 6 to 8 hours. See here.
Add in the occasional 36-hour water only fast, you will be doing one of the most powerful and free things available for the improvement of your health.
Your excess weight will be lost, your health will improve and your risk of developing health issues in the future will be greatlly diminished.
All this for just missing a few meals.
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