Regular Fasting Can Be a Safe, Natural Way to a Healthier, Longer Life
8 minute read
The thought of going without food doesn’t seem appealing and may even seem dangerous. After all, we need food to survive.
There is an important distinction between fasting and starving, however, and research shows that going without food for a controlled amount of time can actually be beneficial to your health and longevity. Before you trash your grocery list, though, here is what you should consider.
What Exactly Is Fasting?
The practice of fasting has been used for centuries and plays a prominent role in many religions, such as the month of fasting during Ramadan. For the most part, a fast lasts between 24 and 72 hours, and either all food or some foods are avoided.
Regular fasting involves switching between regular eating cycles and fasting through the year or even switching every few days.
Abstinence from food seems to go against our need to survive, but it turns out that it is actually good for you. According to recent studies with mice, all you may need to do is start fasting regularly. When mice were restricted to having only one meal a day, they were found to live longer than those that had access to food all day long.
Fasting was linked to less age-related damage to the liver and other organs and showed a significant improvement in fasting glucose levels. These results indicate that there is a link between caloric intake, feeding intervals, and length of feeding.
This particular study involved animals, but the idea certainly has been raised as to whether fasting can benefit people too.
How Fasting Fixes Your Health
Whether you fast every few days or every few months, or even once a year there are a number of benefits you can expect to see to your health.
Acute inflammation is a healthy part of your immune response, but chronic inflammation can damage cells and tissues. Inflammation is linked to the majority of serious diseases including heart disease, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.
Regular or intermittent fasting has been shown to decrease the levels of inflammatory markers in your body, thus reducing your risk for inflammatory-related disease and premature death.
Improved Heart Health
Heart disease is known to be the leading cause of death, which is unfortunate because it is often preventable. Lifestyle changes like exercising, quitting smoking, and losing w
eight can reduce your risk significantly and evidence now shows that fasting helps too.
Regular fasting leads to numerous health benefits, such as reduced cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, both of which protect you from heart disease.
Controlled Blood Sugar
Fasting helps to improve blood sugar levels, an important consideration for those at risk for diabetes. Because diabetes is a major factor in heart disease, keeping control over blood sugar levels benefits your health on both fronts.
Limited caloric intake associated with fasting also reduces insulin resistance, allowing diabetics to more efficiently manage their glucose levels. The control you gain over your blood glucose levels with fasting also prevents spikes and crashes that drain you of energy.
A common reason for fasting is to lose weight. By reducing caloric intake over time, you reduce it overall, which theoretically leads to weight loss.
In addition to this, short-term fasting speeds up your metabolism and increases production of norepinephrine, which aids weight loss. Fasting specifically allows you to reduce fat consumption without causing muscle tissue loss. Although, you should probably try something like this over the weekend to avoid any “hangry” moments at work.
Protects Brain Health
Studies with mice have found that fasting helps to preserve brain structure and function, as it contributes to the increase of nerve cell generation. This, along with the anti-inflammatory effects of fasting, helps protect your brain from neurodegeneration and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
When cancer cells are exposed to periods of fasting, there is a notable delay in tumor growth and chemotherapy is seen to be more effective. While additional studies are needed, these findings indicate that there is a potential role for fasting in the prevention of cancer and increased effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment.
How to Fast Safely
The most important thing to remember about fasting is to do it right. If done incorrectly or for too long, fasting can be dangerous. For these reasons, it’s not being overly cautious to consult with your doctor before starting a fast and get their advice.
Also, it is important not to conflate fasting as a justification for frequently missing meals. A formal fast is one thing, but be careful of anyone constantly fasting, as it could be indicative of a possible eating disorder.
The first few times you fast, you are likely to feel uncomfortable while your body adjusts to the changes. Headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue are all common symptoms.
Fasting can be dangerous if you are already suffering with certain health conditions such as diabetes. While it can help control blood sugar levels, fasting for too long can lower glucose levels to unhealthy limits. Those with health conditions, eating disorders, or young individuals should not fast.
It is also important to stay hydrated for the duration of any fast. When you do return to foods, or if you allow small meals only, make sure that your diet is full of nutrient-rich foods to ensure you get the most out of your fasting period.
When you decide to fast, you need to start slow, opting for only a day at a time. You do not want to shock your body by going too extreme, as this will undo any of the potential benefits that fasting has to offer.
It is also important to find a fasting program that works for you. There are many out there and you need to find what is easy and natural for you to follow.
Water fasting: Only drinking water for the set amount of time
Juice fasting: Drinking vegetable or fruit juices for the fasting period
Calorie restriction: Intake of calories is restricted for a few days each week
Intermittent fasting: Eating is restricted partially or completely for a few hours for the duration of a few days and then return to a normal diet for the other days
Partial fasting: Specific foods like processed foods, animal products, and caffeine are eliminated for a set period of time
The Bottom Line
The secret to a longer life isn’t a magical potion or mystical fountain of youth. It’s simply eating healthy, or sometimes, not eating at all.
Periodically abstaining from food can cause beneficial physiological changes. Not only will you feel better, but you can live longer. Evolution may have taught us that we need food to survive, but longevity depends on taking a few breaks from the food we love.