10 Benefits of Fasting That Will Surprise You
Fasting is not a new thing. For centuries, the practice has played a central role in several religions and cultures.
The month of Ramadan is known all over the world as a month of fasting for Muslims. Catholics fast on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. Jews observe six days of fasting, the most known of which is Yom Kippur.
Hindus observe a fast during the new moon and during festivals such as Puja, Saraswati and Shivarati. The Mormons observe a fast on the first Sunday of each month.
Several other religions, including Buddhism, Taoism and Jainism have their own fasting practices.
Many of these religions practice fasting because they believe that there is a connection between the physical and the spiritual state.
In the last few decades, there has been an upsurge in the popularity of fasting.
However, many of those who are adopting this age-old practice today are not doing so for religious reasons.
They are doing it for health reasons.
While people used to fast for spiritual reasons in the past, scientists and researchers have confirmed that fasting also provides numerous health benefits.
Below are 10 benefits of fasting that will surprise you and hopefully give you the motivation you need to get started with the practice.
FASTING HELPS YOU LOSE WEIGHT
For those looking to lose some weight, fasting is one of the quickest and safest ways to get you there.
Normally, when you eat, your body burns the food you ate to provide fuel for your body.
Any extra food that does not get used up as fuel is converted into fats and stored within the body for future use.
This is what leads to weight gain.
When you start fasting, there is less food to convert into energy, therefore your body is forced to start converting the stored fats into energy.
This occurs through a process known as lipolysis.
One of the greatest advantages of fasting as a means of losing weight is that it is more effective in burning through fat cells compared to regular dieting.
Fasting also burns through fat cells without affecting your muscle tissue, which is why many athletes use fasting as a means of achieving low body fat percentages prior to competitions.
In addition, fasting is incorporated as a lifestyle change, which makes it more sustainable and more effective compared to many ‘crash diet weight loss solutions’.
Actually, several studies have found fasting to be one of the most effective and most reliable long term solutions for weight loss and weight maintenance.
FASTING PROMOTES LONGEVITY
This might seem a little bit farfetched, but various studies have shown that fasting can actually help you live longer.
There are a number of reasons why fasting can help you live a longer life. The first one has to do with metabolism.
As you grow older, your body’s metabolism starts slowing down, which leads to the gradual loss of muscle tissue through a process known as sarcopenia.
Fortunately, fasting helps to speed up your metabolism, preventing these degeneration and loss of muscle tissue.
Secondly, as you grow older, your cells also grow older and their performance decreases. There is an accumulation of old cellular material within the cell.
The decreased performance of old cells and the accumulation of old cellular material within the cell is what leads to aging.
The deprivation of nutrients that occurs during fasting activates a process known as autophagy.
This is the process through which the old cellular material within the cells are identified and broken down.
Autophagy also allows the cell to recycle itself and rejuvenates the mitochondria, allowing the cells to perform optimally once again.
This helps slow down aging.
In addition, fasting also stimulates the release of growth hormone, leading to increased bone strength, better protein synthesis and increased muscle mass.
All these effects slow down the process of aging, both internally and in your physical appearance.
Research conducted by the University of Chicago has shown that fasting also prevents the early development of disorders that commonly lead to death.
According to Mark Mattson, the head of the neuroscience lab at the National Institute on Aging, cellular regeneration occurs during fasting since the body treats fasting as a constant threat.
In preparation for dealing with this threat, the body triggers powerful cellular defenses to protect the cells against molecular damage and also triggers the repair of damaged tissues, leading to a slower rate of aging.
Several animal studies have been conducted to test the life-span extending benefits of fasting.
In one study, a group of male Wistar rats were fed every day, while another group was fed every other day from weaning till death.
The group that fasted (fed every other day) aged much slower and had an 83% longer life span compared to the group that was fed daily.
It is good to note, however, that the effects of fasting on longevity have not been tested on humans, though it is believed that the effects still hold true for humans as well.
Another impressive benefit of fasting is that it promotes detoxification of the body.
Many of the processed foods we eat today contain lots of additives, some of which are toxic to our bodies.
As the food is digested and absorbed into the body, these toxins are also absorbed into the body and stored in fat deposits around the body.
During fasting, your brain treats the nutritional deprivation as a threat and reacts by activating adaptive stress responses to help it deal with the threat.
The brain also starts contemplating how it will provide the body with energy in the absence of food.
To ensure that metabolism keeps running, the brain triggers the conversion of glycogen stored within the liver into energy.
However, glycogen is not a very great source of energy, and after about 12 hours, the glycogen deposits gets depleted.
At this point, the body must find an alternative source of energy, and it therefore turns to the fat stored within various parts of the body.
As the fat deposits are burnt to provide energy, the toxins stored within the fats are released.
These toxins are then removed from the body with the help of the liver, kidneys and other organs, leaving your body free of accumulated toxins.
SPEEDS UP METABOLISM
Fasting also helps boost your metabolism.
A weak digestive system normally affects your ability to metabolize food and burn fat.
By fasting intermittently, you provide time for your digestive system to get some rest.
When you eat next after your digestive system has rested, your metabolism receives a boost, which means that your body burns calories more efficiently and gets more energy from the food you eat.
This is one of the reasons why fasting also contributes to safe weight loss.
A study conducted by researchers from the Department of Internal Medicine IV at the University of Vienna found that fasting can increase your metabolism by up to 14%.
Another study also found that fasting may lead to increased levels of neurotransmitter norepinephrine in your bloodstream, which also contributes to increased metabolism.
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to encourage healthy bowel function.
BOOSTS YOUR BRAIN FUNCTION
Not only is fasting great for your body, turns out it is good for your brain too! Fasting improves your brain function in a number of ways.
First, fasting boosts the production of a brain hormone known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Release of BDNF activates stem cells within the brain and converts them into neurons.
BDNF also triggers the release of several other chemicals that are good for your brain’s health.
Increased production of BDNF has been shown to protect the brain cells from the degenerative changes that are associated with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, while low levels of BDNF have been associated with depression and several other brain problems.
Apart from the production of BDNF, fasting also improves brain function by reducing over-activity in the brain.
Sometimes, depending on the type of food you have eaten, the energy from the food can result in your brain going into a bit of an overdrive.
In this state, there is too much firing off in the brain, which is not generally a good thing.
It also makes it hard for your brain to focus properly.
When you fast, your brain goes into survival mode, leading to increased ability to focus on the tasks at hand.
Fasting has also been associated with a reduction in oxidative stress, reduced insulin resistance and blood sugar levels, as well as reduced inflammation, all of which are good for the health of the brain.
Several studies have been conducted to show the impact of fasting on brain function and health.
A 2015 study conducted on both humans and animals and tabled at that year’s Society for Neuroscience meeting demonstrated that intermittent fasting enhances memory performance, aids in the recovery following brain injury or stroke, and promotes the growth of neurons.
The study also found evidence that fasting may improve both cognitive function and quality of life for people living with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Several other studies have had similar findings.
IMPROVES YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Ever noticed that when animals fall sick, they stop eating? Have you ever wondered why this happens?
That’s a natural instinct through which the animals try to reduce the stress on their internal systems and focus their energy on battling the infection.
Therefore, next time you fall sick, resist the temptation to look for food and focus on fasting instead.
Fasting does a number of things to your immune system.
Remember, we mentioned that fasting triggers the regeneration of old cells within the body.
This includes cells that are part of your immune system.
This rejuvenation of the cells leads to improved immune function.
According to one study, a three day fast can lead to the regeneration of the entire immune system and the production of totally brand new white blood cells which have a stronger ability to fight disease.
As we saw earlier, fasting also triggers the burning of fats and the release of toxins from the body, which can also enhance the body’s ability to fight diseases.
Breaking the fast with fruits can boost your immune system even further by providing your body with a source of essential vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamins A and E which are great antioxidants.
Fasting also prevents the formation of cancer cells, regulates the likelihood of inflammation and helps reduce the occurrence of free radicals in the body, which cause damage to the cells, DNA and the body’s proteins, thus contributing to disease.
FASTING REJUVENATES THE SKIN AND PREVENTS ACNE
If you have been trying cream after cream trying to make your skin look better, you might be surprised to learn that you can achieve the look you want through fasting.
How does this happen? Fasting has a number of effects that help improve your skin.
First and foremost, fasting gives the body a break from digestion, allowing the body to expend more energy on regulating and improving the function of others organs such as the liver, the kidneys, and the skin.
Fasting also helps the body to get rid of toxins that might be contributing to skin conditions.
We have also seen that fasting contributes to autophagy.
This happens to all the cells in the body, including those on your skin.
When you fast, your body regenerates the cells that make up your skin and cleans old cell material from existing cells, thus contributing to a better look.
This regeneration can even contribute to faster healing of scars.
Remember, we also saw that fasting helps reduce inflammation, which is one of the culprits behind some skin conditions like acne. In addition to improving how your skin looks, fasting also contributes to healthy and strong hair and nails and whitens your eyes.
All in all, fasting not only improves how you feel, it also improves how you look.
IMPROVES INSULIN SENSITIVITY
In the last few decades, Type 2 diabetes has become increasingly common.
This conditions is characterized by reduced insulin sensitivity, which leads to increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Normally, when you eat, the food leads to a spike in the levels of sugar in your blood.
In response, the pancreas produces insulin, which triggers the absorption of glucose (blood sugar) from the blood by fat and muscle cells, which then use this glucose for energy. In so doing, insulin helps reduce blood sugar levels to the normal range.
In some cases, however, the body’s sensitivity to insulin may reduce, which means that the body needs more and more insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels.
The cells of the pancreas that are responsible for insulin production become overworked and start wearing out.
Eventually, it becomes impossible for the body to produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels, leading to increased blood sugar levels and the eventual development of Type 2 diabetes.
Fortunately, people with insulin resistance can increase their sensitivity to insulin through intermittent fasting.
When you fast, the body uses up the glucose in the blood and the liver since it has no other source of energy, thus helping to lower your blood sugar levels.
In addition, insulin becomes more effective at triggering the absorption of glucose by the fat and muscle cells after you break your fast, since some of the excess glucose stored in your body has already been used up.
At this point, your body does not need as much insulin to absorb glucose from the blood, therefore your pancreas stops producing a lot of insulin, which in turn leads to lower levels of insulin in the bloodstream.
All these contribute to a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and better overall health.
Various studies have been carried out to demonstrate the effectiveness of fasting on insulin sensitivity.
One study carried out by researchers from the University of Illinois in Chicago found that fasting reduces insulin levels by 20-31% while reducing blood sugar levels by 3-6%.
Another study conducted on diabetic rats found that fasting can help prevent kidney damage resulting from diabetes.
What all this means is that fasting can be very beneficial for people who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
FASTING MAY HELP PREVENT CANCER
This may sound too good to be true, but fasting can actually help reduce the growth of tumors and the spread of cancer through the body.
Cancer is a disease that is characterized by the uncontrolled cellular growth.
Researchers have found out that some of the beneficial effects of fasting on metabolism can help bring down the risk of developing cancer.
We also saw earlier that fasting helps the body eliminate some toxins from the cells.
The absence of toxic substances within the cells reduces the risk of formation of cancer within the cells.
Fasting can also be quite helpful for people undergoing chemotherapy. It can help to suppress many of the negative side effects associated with chemotherapy.
Since fasting also helps boost your immune system, it can help battle against some of these side effects.
A study carried out by researchers the University of Southern California found evidence suggesting that fasting is beneficial for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Several other tests have also found out that fasting is good for preventing or fighting against cancer.
One study conducted on rats by a Brazilian university found that intermittent fasting can help prevent the formation of tumors.
Another study conducted on cancer cells inside a test tube showed that exposing the cells to intermittent fasting delayed the formation of tumors the same way chemotherapy did.
It also increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs in preventing the formation of cancer.
FASTING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEART
At a time when more people are dying from heart diseases than from any other disease, it is great to know that you can reduce the risk of developing heart diseases through fasting. Fasting has a number of benefits for your heart.
First, we already saw that fasting can help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
This is important because people suffering from diabetes have an increased risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
During fasting, the body also burns up some of the LSD cholesterol in the body to provide fuel.
This is good on two fronts because LSD cholesterol is a major contributor to decreased insulin sensitivity and diabetes, and because it also contributes to increase in blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for developing heart disease.
Fasting also helps reduce several other risk factors associated with an increased risk of developing heart diseases, including blood sugar levels, inflammatory markers and blood triglycerides.
One study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois found that alternate day fasting for a period of about 8 weeks reduced levels of triglycerides in the body by 32% and reduced the level of LDL cholesterol by 25%.
Another study also found that fasting leads to reduced blood pressure and reduced levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the body.
Yet another study found that fasting leads to reduced risk of developing coronary artery disease.
All these show that fasting is good for your cardiovascular health.
Whether you are a religious person or not, incorporating fasting into your daily routine can be a great way for your to give your health a boost.
As you have seen above, the benefits of fasting for your health are numerous.
Like any other major lifestyle change, getting started with fasting might be a bit hard as you get started, but it will become easier on your body with time.
If you want to reap all the benefits discussed above, you should consider getting started with fasting today.
The earlier you get started, the earlier you can start reaping the benefits.