20 Apr Optimize Immunity with Fasting
Ever wonder why breakfast is called breakfast? How about why breakfast has been deemed “the most important meal of the day?” This is because breakfast is just “breaking your fast.” This fast of course referring to the fast the occurs while your body is asleep and since you last ate presumably at dinner. We know sleep is critical because it gives our bodies a chance to reset and recharge, so we feel fresh and energized for the next day. In the same way, fasting can be looked at a way for your digestive system to “sleep” or rest. This can be especially beneficial if you are the type of person who tends to enjoy those midnight snacks. If you eat before bed and eat regularly, when does your digestive system have a time to rest? This rest in the digestive process is important as it can provide your body with an opportunity to boost your immune system increasing its capacity to fight off disease and viruses.
On an evolutionary scale, our bodies are not meant to eat three scheduled meals a day let alone snacks. As former hunter- gatherers, we were not guaranteed a meal at a given time each day, let alone three. Often now, we eat when the clock tells us. However, bringing more conscious awareness to our eating habits may just be a better approach. This means that intaking only what is beneficial to us and whenit is beneficial can greatly improve our bodily functions.
I often refer to the idea that food is medicine. However, not eating or rather fasting can be a form a medicine as well. Fasting has profound abilities to regenerate cells and boost your immunity which is especially useful at this time of COVID-19.
While intermittent fasting has most recently been popularised for its ability to aid in weight control or weight loss, its benefits far outweigh any that can be measured by a scale.
Some benefits (1) include slowing down aging, increased human growth hormone for muscle growth, increased fat burning, relieving symptoms of asthma, allergies, and arthritis as well as hot flashes from hormonal fluctuations, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis.
One animal study (2) found that alternate-day fasting (ADF) had similar results in lowering diabetes, fasting glucose, and insulin levels as calorie restriction (CR). Overall, ADF showed lower total cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations as well as a lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved cardiac response.
Intermittent fasting even has the capacity to lower your risk of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’sand dementia and speed up stroke recovery since fasting is believed to protect neurons from kinds of damaging stress. Furthermore, increased focus, clear thinking and improved mood even reduced signs of depression can all be a result of fasting.
Fasting and Immunity
The digestive process demands a high level of energy to be exerted. The body carries a certain amount of energy with it at all times. This energy is directed to various parts of the body including areas related to mental focus, kinetics or physical movement, tissue regeneration, the digestive process and yep, you guessed it, the immune system.
Consequently, the more you eat, the more your body has to digest, and the more your body has to digest, the greater the exertion of energy towards the digestive process is. When more energy is being sent to aid in digestion it lessens the amount of energy available to be sent to the other systems including and maybe most importantly, your immune system. Therefore, eating lessens the body’s ability to heal and repair(3).
All illnesses can be associated with inflammation of some sort. Eating, even anti-inflammatory foods, causes inflammation since the actual digestive process is inflammatory in and of itself. While a healthy and balanced diet is better it does not guarantee an absence of inflammation in the body, it only decreases it.
Ever wonder why when sick we often lose our appetite as well? This is because the body needs to use the energy that usually would be used in digestion instead towards the immune system and tissue regeneration (4). Hippocrates, the father of medicine, even said, “when a patient is fed too richly, the disease is fed as well. Remember – any excess is against nature.” We should take from this is that food is not always the best medicine and sometimes it can make illness worse. Just like we need sleep, the digestive system needs to rest so that we are better able to function in other aspects of our lives. So, eat what is good for you and when it is good for you. The eating schedule should be tailored to the individual not a clock or society and if you are sick or trying to avoid sickness send your immune system the extra energy it needs by occasional fasting.
How it works:
Intermittent fasting works by switching the body’s energy source from glucose to fat burning. Normally, the body sources its energy primarily from glucose, a simple sugar found in many carbohydrates.However, intermittent fasting works by switching the energy source from glucose to fat burning. This state is referred to as ‘fat adapted’(5). This metabolic switch occurs when there are not enough carbs or calories to produce energy (i.e. less than 30 net carbs) meaning your bodies glucose storage is depleted. When there is not enough glucose to stimulate the body, the body has no choice but to find a different source of energy, so it turns to fat. When fat is burned, it is broken down into ketones or fatty acids, a heightened form of glucose molecules which in turn can stimulate weight loss as well as regenerate brain cells, provide greater mental clarity, and lower insulin levels. Fasting works by stimulating the body to send signals to the brain to activate DNA repairing genes and cells and produce more energy producing cells to make up for the lack thereof. The main point of IT is for its regenerative medicinal purposes that instigate autophage (self-eating). Ultimately, during times of food deprivation your body is able to rest giving it the necessary time to renew and regenerate healthier mitochondria and cells thus extending one’s longevity(6).
It has been found that women who practice intermittent fasting respond differently than men, meaning they may not receive the same benefits and could even do more harm to their body rather than good. This is because women tend to lose more lean body mass rather than fat. This by itself is counterproductive as it consequently decreases their metabolic rate. A decrease in metabolic rate means that later in their journey to a healthy weight, they will hit a plateau and begin to regain weight even while consuming less calories than before starting IT. Intermittent fasting may also cause adversely affect females in terms of their reproductive health (7).
Additionally,many people that have or are currently practicing IF eat whatever they please during the feeding window regardless of nutritional value. While this is attractive, it fails to address the perspective that a person's health reflects what they eat. If one consumes toxic or processed food during that eating period, they still may initially lose weight due to a simple decrease in calorie intake. However, after time these inflammatory foods will ultimately cause inflammation in the body reverting back to weight-gain and leaving your body in a more vulnerable state to developing disease or illness than when you had begun.
Fasting for too long is unhealthy and can cause health problems including but not limited to increased cholesterol, worsened insulin function, and pancreas damage. Fasting done in extreme manners may also be a symptom of an eating disorder so it is important to provide your body with sustainable life-giving foods during your eating period in order to optimize regeneration.
When I do recommend IT, I typically endorse an 18:6 method limited to 2 days per week. This means that for two days a week you may only eat within a 6-hour period of your choice and fast for the remaining 18 hours. Although, there is often an increase in weight-loss, it does not plateau like in the other methods as my patients still eat the other 5 days of the week. During those remaining 5 days, I suggest 3 meals per day, with a few healthy snacks in between, if desired. And the foods shall consist of low glycemic index carbohydrates, like greens and vegetables, along with moderate protein and healthy fats. Choosing organic, humanely and naturally raised animal protein, like grass fed beef and wild fish, or non-processed foods, will ensure optimal immune benefits.
Not enough sleep or water could also contribute to the lack of effects(8). Drinking plenty of water during a fast is also imperative as it cleanses out the system allowing new and healthier cells to form thus improving gut health. When you are on a fast you can still enjoy tea or coffee but make sure you are getting at least a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day. Tea or Coffees can also be naturally sweetened with Stevia.
You should always be mindful of your eating habits and how the food you are eating makes you feel. While it is neversafe to severely limit your food intake or stop eating all together, a simple fast can drastically improve your overall mental and physical health. If you feel as if you are falling ill or just under the weather, see for yourself how fasting can help.
Whatever approach you choose it is also important to remain patient and forgiving with yourself. If you took a break or if one day did not go as planned, do not feel guilty or mad with yourself. Simply acknowledge what could be done differently and get back to your commitment. Take each day as it comes. It is time we start looking the potential of our bodies to function and even thrive in new ways. Our bodies on their own are capable of more than we know!