Fasting can be defined as “making a conscious decision to abstain from eating food for a specified period of time”. Research has shown there are significant health benefits to abstaining from food for relatively short periods of time.
Fasting can take a variety of formats including the “8 hour fast” to “alternate day fasting” and now the “5:2” intermittent fasting diet is very popular, especially in England. This whole concept is known as “intermittent fasting”. By not eating the digestive system has a chance to completely digest the food in the stomach, rest, and then is “forced” to go elsewhere for energy and is freed up to put energy into repairing and rebuilding old and damaged cells.
Scientists now theorize some of this phenomenon is based in our ancestral heritage of “feast & famine”, whereby hunters and gatherers would go from having abundant foodstuffs to having to go without food. They also now believe when the stomach is empty the brain goes into a heightened state of “survival mode”, increasing brain activity and efficiency. Animal and human studies seem to indicate fasting can help a person be happier, more alert, live longer, lose weight, rejuvenate the immune system, lower cholesterol, and help prevent diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, dementia, high blood pressure and others.
Science has recently discovered it is not so much what you eat, as the length of time between eating that can make a significant difference in a person’s mental, physical and spiritual health.
Life In The “Fast” Lane
The biggest weight loss concept to come along in a long time is what is known as the “Intermittent Fasting Diet“. Using a method known as the 5:2 diet, people are losing weight and keeping it off. The plan calls for restricting caloric intake 2 days of the week, and eating “normally” on the other 5 days. It has become known as the 5:2 diet, for obvious reasons. The icing on the cake is research has discovered significant amounts of health benefits to this type of simple, fasting method.
11 Benefits Of Fasting For Health
For centuries, various religions have promoted fasting as a means to improve spiritual clarity. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests some amazing fasting for health benefits beyond just losing weight.
A pilot trial found mice following bi-monthly, four-day reduced calorie fasts experienced improved immune system functioning, reduced incidences of inflammatory diseases and had slower rates of bone mineral density loss.
- Prevent Diabetes
Fasting also decreases blood-sugar levels and triglycerides which helps reduces the chances of getting diabetes.
- Reduce Cancer Risk
Fasting lowers growth hormones a known factor in causing cancer.
Any type of fasting reduces IGF-1 levels. IGF-1 has been shown to have a direct correlation to increasing the likelihood of getting a number of different cancers.
- Weight Loss
Weight loss is just a side benefit from fasting. Fewer calories lowers insulin levels in the body as well as increase growth hormone production and norepinephrine, three processes that help your body burn fat for energy. The key is to avoid binging when it is time to eat again.
- Mood Improvement
Mental wellbeing may increase because the body produces a greater amount of endorphins, a chemical in the brain responsible for pleasure, after a few days of fasting.
- Lower Cholesterol & Blood Pressure
Reducing the risk of heart disease is important to healthy longevity. Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting improves these risk factors by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels, as well as triglycerides and inflammation in the body.
- Increase Metabolic Rate
A faster metabolism can result from periodic fasting. Allowing the digestive system a temporary break can improve the body’s ability to process food more efficiently, lead to healthier bowel function and greater overall energy.
- Recalibrate Hunger Signals
Fasting teaches the body to know real hunger. Real hunger is all but impossible to experience when we eat every three to five hours. Fasting allows the body to regulate hormones that send the brain the proper signals for hunger. Studies have shown individuals that struggle obesity and excessive eating do not receive the proper signals that control feelings of hunger and fullness.
- Improve Brain Health & Function
Brain function has also been known to improve with intermittent fasting because it increases the production BDNF, a protein known to activate the conversion of cells in the brain into new neurons. BDNF is also known to protect brain cells from damaging changes linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Enhanced Immune System
The immune system is vital to day-to-day health and wellbeing. A University of Southern California study reported that two to four day fasts may clear out old or damaged immune cells to make way for new ones. This might slow aging down and increase a person’s ability to fight off disease.
- Extend Lifespan
That’s right, fasting can prolong someone’s life. Scientists discovered that reducing calories and also activating the body’s “survival” mode, mice lived an average of 30% longer.
- Protect the Brain from Dementia
Fasting increases the protein, growth hormone known as BDNF. BDNF has been shown to stimulate stem cells to turn into new nerve cells in the brain which research has shown reduces the onset of dementia.
Fasting for Health – 5 Essential Fasting Tips
The fasting diet examined in research studies is an intermittent fasting diet that does not involve eliminating food from your diet. Instead, to improve general health with fasting benefits, caloric intake should be reduced by at least 30 percent and not much more than 50 percent for three days, twice a month.
Recommended fasting tips include:
- Always consult with your family physician before fasting, especially if you suffer from a chronic medical issue.
- Try planning your 3-day fast on days you know you will be busy and less likely to think about eating.
- Water, water, water! Staying hydrated is vital to staying healthy during an intermittent fasting diet.
- Stock up on fresh fruit, fresh (not frozen or canned) vegetables and lean chicken or turkey. Remember, this type of fasting diet is NOT a starvation diet. It is a significantly reduced calorie diet that is meant to last three or four days, twice a month.
- Stop fasting if you begin feeling ill. If returning to normal eating habits doesn’t make you feel better, see your doctor.
The “5:2” Intermittent Fasting Diet
Scientists may have found the answer to losing weight and other key health issues with what is known as the “5-2” diet. Under this plan a person eats “normally” 5 days of the week, and restricts their caloric intake ( 500 for women, 600 for men) calories on the other 2 days of the week. This plan seems to work because the body is taken off “automatic” and goes into a kind of “survival” mode of operation. Approximately 40% have been able to lose weight and keep it off following the 5:2 diet plan.
It’s important to note these alternating plans ( see alternate day fasting below) you don’t “starve” by completely going without any food on the fasting days. Rther you are allowed to eat a very calorie restricted diet of 500 calories for women and 600 for men.
“Eat & Go Fast” – Intermittent Fasting
Evidence culled from numerous research studies show that cycles of prolonged fasting, i.e, following a reduced calorie diet several days per week not only forces your body to deplete stores of ketone, fat and glucose but may also induce regeneration of the immune system by causing stem cells to shift from dormancy to an actively self-renewing state. In a human clinical trial involving chemotherapy patients, engaging in the fasting diet “significantly reduced white blood cell counts”, indicating their bodies were experiencing a decreased need for the anti-inflammatory properties provided by white blood cells.
In addition, the Longo team behind this investigation previously discovered that fasting reduced the PKA enzyme, a substance linked to potential extension of human life longevity and self-renewal of stem cells. Even more interesting is that the intermittent fasting diet lowered growth factor hormones associated with aging, cancer risk and tumor progression.
Intermittent Fasting – Deep In Our DNA
It is interesting to consider that the concept of three meals a day is a relatively recent development. Our earliest ancestors did not have the same luxury. Their food supply came in fits and starts; the odd woolly mammoth hunters snared to feed the clan or the seasonal berries and roots foraged by gatherers. Very often, however, food was scarce and people simply did not eat on a regular daily schedule. It turns out, there might be some health benefits to fasting from time to time.
Intermittent Fasting Diets for Weight Loss
Hundreds of diet programs currently circulate the Internet proclaiming to help anyone lose weight if they only “eat this, not that”. What you don’t see much information about is the fasting diet, a science-based diet receiving renewed interest by nutritionists, endocrinologists and consumers tired of fad diets based on unproven, commercially-fueled premises. One reason why the fasting diet has grabbed the attention of researchers is the diet’s apparent capacity to exert positive effects on the human immune system.
With over 70 million Americans suffering from obesity, the idea of losing weight is extremely appealing to a lot of people. The problem seems to stem from a person who loves to eat restricting their caloric intake to the extent it exceeds the number of calories they burn on a regular basis.
Alternate Day Fasting
Another fasting plan that has shown some significant health benefits is Alternative Day Fasting (ADF). As the name implies, a person eats in their normal way every other day, and then fasting on the other day. Dr. Krista Varady, University of Illinois, has become the leading authority on this particular concept. It is a more intense variation on the 5:2 plan, increasing the fast factor by 75%. This plan is slightly less complicated and offers a the rhythmic benefits of an “on again off again” to the body.
8:16 Fasting Plan – Eat for Eight Hours a Day
Undr the 8:16 plan, a person eats a normal diet for an 8 hour period and stops eating for the remaining 16 hour period. This plan is good for people who want to eat normally every day and still get the benefits of fasting. By not eating 66% of the time each day, the body is allowed to fully digest all the food intake and ten rest and put its energy into burning stored fat and repairing and rebuilding.
Always make sure to consult with your doctor about your health before starting a fasting diet.
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