Is it a good idea to starve yourself every now and again?
A significant amount of scientific evidence1 is beginning to suggest that timed periods of fasting may be a good thing. While conventional wisdom tells us that we need to feed our body with a constant supply of nutrients to keep it running steadily at all times, the truth is that fasting has been recognized for its benefits for hundreds, even thousands of years.
By switching out your diet with regular fasting, you can potentially improve your weight management, boost the performance of your cardiovascular system, and enhance your cell-recycling process all at once. On top of that, there are many different fasting solutions2 to choose from, depending on your needs and preferences.
With fasting3, you can access the benefits of caloric restriction in a way that doesn't starve your system or leave you craving extra food. According to one study, when lab animals were allowed to eat freely on every other day, they consumed the same total number of calories as a group that was allowed to eat freely every day. In other words, we naturally know exactly how much energy our bodies need.
Here, we'll take a look at the benefits of fasting, and three different fasting methods you might consider exploring for your own digestive, and overall health.
As you'll discover in the following sections, there are many different types of fasting that are available for people to choose from today, and each one offers its own unique benefits. However, whether you choose to engage in intermittent fasting or you rid your body of food for several days at a time, you can achieve many of the same benefits just by giving your digestive system a break.
Some of the health benefits that have been linked to fasting4 include relief from epilepsy, detoxification, reduction in obesity, minimized issues with arthritis, and more. Some of the most common advantages of fasting include:
1. Fasting Allows for Better Weight Loss
Fasting can be a safe and powerful way to cut down on the extra inches around your stomach. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting — a process that involves reducing the amount of food you eat over a specific time period — can allow the body to distribute and use fat cells more effectively than they would with regular dieting.
Intermittent fasting teaches the body to use fat cells as its primary source of energy, rather than turning to the food you've just eaten. This is why many athletes use fasting5 as a way of achieving the ideal body/fat percentage for competitions.
2. Fasting Could Help You to Live Longer
According to some studies, the less you eat, the longer you'll live. Research demonstrates a distinct connection between the longevity of people in different cultures and the amount they eat. The good news is that you can reap the benefits of fasting wherever you live.
3. Fasting Fights Back Against Diabetes
Although more research is needed before we can say that fasting is a sure treatment solution for diabetes, many studies have shown that fasting can have a positive impact on insulin sensitivity. People who fast regularly can tolerate sugar better than their non-fasting counterparts. One study showed6 that after periods of fasting, insulin can become more effective at telling cells when to consume glucose from food.
4. Fasting Improves Brain Function
Experts suggest that fasting may be a great way to boost concentration and brain function because it increases the production of a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor7. This substance, otherwise known as BDNF, activates brain stem cells and tells them to transform into new neurons while triggering various other chemicals that help to promote neural health. The protein also helps to defend the brain against problems associated with diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
5. It Changes your Relationship with Food
Most people in western cultures don't know much about what hunger really feels like. If you're constantly eating every four hours or so, then you won't know how to recognize when your stomach feels full, or satisfied. Fasting helps to regulate the hormones in your body that inform you of when you need to eat. Since obese people generally suffer8 from an inability to recognize these signals, fasting could mean that you have an easier time losing weight.
6. Fasting Strengthens Your Immune System
Fasting can be a great way to enhance the immune system because it's good at reducing free radical damage as well as regulating the various inflammatory conditions9 that damage the body. Over time, scientists have begun to learn that inflammation may be the cause behind many of the chronic diseases we experience today. In the wild, if an animal gets sick, they stop eating and focus on allowing their body to rest. We human beings continue to look for food when we're ill, even though we might not need it.
7. Fasting Allows for Hormone Regulation
Finally, when you stop eating, even for a little while, the body focuses on repairing itself and protecting you from external factors. Because your system doesn't have to focus on digestion, it can look at other things, like improving hormone levels, and adjusting cellular repair. In people who fast intermittently, levels of growth hormone10 can increase by up to five times! This can improve muscle gain and facilitate fat burning.
At the same time, genes begin to change11 within your body that help you to fight back against long-term disease and improve your overall health.
Fasting comes in many different forms, depending on what you're trying to achieve, and what health problems you might have. Some people won't be able to stick to a water fasting diet, because they'll need at least a small amount of food to keep various conditions, like diabetes, in check.
One of the most common, and popular forms of fasting lately, is known as "intermittent fasting12", a strategy that involves eating at certain times in the day. While there are different schedules available for intermittent fasting, the most common is "Leangains13".
During the standard intermittent fasting process, you fast for between fourteen and sixteen hours each day, then eat for the remaining eight to ten hours. During the fasting period, you will not be able to consume any calories, however, you can drink water, and black coffee if necessary. Most practitioners find it easiest to simply extend the natural fast they use when they're sleeping through to a later stage in the day.
There are also short-term intermittent fasting "blocks" that can be used to give your body a more intense detox. During block fasting, you stop eating for periods of 24 to 36 hours at a time and then eat in between those blocks. After your fast is over, you can go back to eating normally or continue using your blocks to detox your body.
While even twenty-four hours can seem like a long time to go without food during a "block" fast, the good news is that you can gradually increase your fasting period with time to help your body adjust more easily. Another perk is that intermittent fasting with blocks means that there are no forbidden foods or counting calories to worry about. While you should still try to eat healthily, it's more about moderation, than attempting to cut out certain foods.
As one of the easiest and most popular methods of fasting, intermittent fasting has various benefits to offer the human body, including:
- It reduces levels of blood insulin14, which allow your body to burn fat more easily.
- Your levels of growth hormone15 begin to increase, improving your muscle gain and fat burning abilities.
- The body begins to engage in important cellular repair processes16, including removing waste and detoxing cells.
- Genes and molecules begin to change17 to better protect you against disease.
- Fasting blood sugar levels18 start to drop by up to 3-6%, helping to fight back against diabetes.
- The body starts to become more resistant to oxidative stress19.
- You begin to become less affected by various risk factors, including total cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers20.
- Promising evidence taken from animal research suggests that intermittent fasting could be effective at reducing cancer risk21.
- Animal studies further suggest that intermittent fasting can protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington's disease and Parkinson's22.
- Studies in rats have proven23 that intermittent fasting could be effective at extending the human lifespan in a manner similar to calorie restriction.
Another popular fasting option for people who want to break away from the various toxins in everyday food is "water fasting". Known to some as the water cleanse, this is a type of fast during which time you only consume water, and nothing else. While many cleansing diets are referred to as "fasts", with water fasting you will not take in any calories at all.
It's important to remember that you cannot live on water alone for the long-term. That means that a water fast should only last for a few days, or be medically supervised. However, in some cases, switching your diet to water only for a set period could help you to refresh your system, and fight back against numerous problems, including hypertension24.
Studies have found that water fasting, for anywhere up to seven days at a time, can have numerous health benefits, including the ability to lower stress levels and reduce your risk of heart disease25. Some of the most common benefits associated with water fasting include:
1. Quicker Weight Loss
While it might seem obvious that stopping eating will lead to a quicker reduction in body weight, the reason that water fasting is so effective may surprise you. Water fasting leads to a state called Ketosis, during which the body uses the internal fat stores for energy instead of food. Water fasting allows for quicker ketosis than standard dieting26.
A process called "autophagy" is responsible for naturally recycling the cells within the body. Water fasting forces your body into an autophagic state, where your system needs to be more selective about which cells it protects. Fasting can, therefore, encourage your body to make the most of its natural healing mechanisms, and rid itself of any damaging tissues. Some research suggests that fasting may be effective at reducing the risk of certain cancers27 for this reason.
- Increased insulin sensitivity thanks to fewer fluctuations in blood sugar levels
- Slowing down cognitive decline and aging, thanks to detoxification
- Solving digestive problems such as irritable bowel and gastritis, because dangerous or inflammatory substances are removed from the gut
- Enabling better immunity thanks to better cell resistance
- Decreased blood pressure and stronger heart performance
You'll need to plan carefully for a water fasting experience. Most people find that they cannot perform a water fast while still carrying out their regular daily activities, as the experience can be draining and exhausting to begin with.
If you're interested in fasting, but you want something in your system that feels more nutritious than water, you might be able to consider a bone broth fast. Bone broth is a nutrient-rich food, excellent for healing purposes. It's a fantastic solution for people who want to heal their gut microbiome and set the path for stronger health28.
A bone broth fast can either mean that you consume mostly bone broth and very few other foods, or it may indicate that you drink bone broth and consume no other solid foods. The intensity of your fast will depend on your ability to cope with a lack of food. The good news is that bone broth is full of micro and macronutrients29 that can help you to feel more energetic during your fasting experience. It contains substances such as:
Most people do best when they're fasting for a period of about three to four days. However, some people will fast for longer for a more intense detoxification experience. Usually during this time period you will need to consume several quarts of bone broth.
One of the things that make bone broth fasts so effective is the fact that they can introduce your body to more collagen — a substance needed to help create healthy tissue around the body. Collagen is found just about everywhere30 in your body, including bone marrow, throughout the digestive tract, and within the tissues that form your tendons, joints, bones, and ligaments. By fasting with bone broth, you can remove many of the toxins from your system that you're exposed to on a daily basis while boosting your health with extra collagen and minerals.
- The ability to maintain and improve weight loss31.
- The chance to promote the secretion of human growth hormone for burning fat
- Reducing fasting insulin levels
- Decreasing cholesterol
- Reducing the risks for diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease
- Improving appetite by controlling hormones like ghrelin
- Lowering triglyceride levels
- Slowing down the aging process
- Increasing lifespan32
In fact, the amino acids in bone broth have been found to have anti-aging effects33. They also boost muscle strength and push more nutrients into the cells that you use for energy throughout the day.
Finding the best fasting option for your needs will be a personal choice. However, many people find that trying fasting, even just short periods of intermittent fasting, can be enough to get their health back on track. If you're looking for a way to reduce inflammation, fight back against chronic disease, and enhance hormone control, then fasting could be the solution for you.
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