Benefits of Fasting

by Jacob Hamrick, PT,DPT

When was the last time you were hungry? This is a very foreign concept, which has been demonized, in our country. Who would have thought that periods of hunger could be beneficial?

Fasting – it was a command and mark of faith in biblical times. Then, it was branded as a poor dietary habit by many health advocates in the 1900s. They claimed that no one should ever skip meals. Fortunately, views are changing, for there are dozens of benefits to intermittent fasting and dietary restriction. The list of benefits includes the following:

1) Fat is burned for energy. Blood levels of insulin drop, which helps facilitate fat burning and also releases toxins from the fat. Reduction of insulin levels optimizes insulin sensitivity, which helps prevent type-II diabetes.

2) Human Growth Hormone (HGH) production rate is increased. Blood levels of HGH increase. This hormone helps facilitate fat burning and muscle growth.

3) Inflammation levels are lowered. This is achieved in part from improved cellular repair. In a fasted state, the body induces cellular repair processes that work to remove waste material from cells, aiding in recovery. Inflammation is at the root of many disease processes including cancer, heart disease, and dementia.

4) Gene expression is increased. There are numerous beneficial changes in some genes and molecules that are related to longevity and protection against disease.

5) Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is improved. This factor is associated with neurogenesis. The more you do to stimulate this process – whether it is brain games, using your non-dominant hand, exercising, learning, or fasting – the more you help prevent degeneration of the brain. Fasting has been found to help prevent neuron cell death, which in turn helps to prevent shrinking of the brain and memory loss.

6) Calories and nutrition choices must be wiser. You are forced to go for quality over quantity.

7) Personal or spiritual edification and cleansing can be achieved.

Ready to try it? There are two primary forms of fasting outlined below. They are not definitions but more of a general guideline.

1) Intermittent fasting:

a. Eating for 6-8 hours then fasting for 16-18 (18:6 ratio or 16:8 ratio). Example: first meal at 7 a.m. and final meal at 1 p.m. or first meal at 12 p.m. and final meal at 6 p.m.

b. Eat, then fast for 12 hours, and repeat.

c. Fasting one or more days per week. Dr. Michael Mosley, the creator of The Fast Diet, explored a 5:2 ratio in which one eats normally 5 days/week and fasts 2 days/week by reducing normal calorie intake by 25 percent.

2) Prolonged fasting:

a. Fasting periods greater than 24 hours. Recommended only if under medical supervision and already healthy.

b. According to the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1984, prolonged fasting has been shown to help treat obesity, chemical poisoning (i.e. pesticides), rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, eczema, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, depression, neurosis, and schizophrenia.

Fasting does not have to be calorie restriction – unless you want it to be. One meal can be 500 calories or 2000 calories. You might only consume water during that time or just eat supportive foods. Many professionals recommend utilization of supportive foods and nutrition to help the body get rid of toxins and to offset cravings. Supportive foods include fresh vegetable juice, moringa, teas, parsley, coconut oil, broths, chia seeds, and other green foods.

If you are eating a diet high in processed foods, then suddenly try fasting, you may feel horrible for a few days as your body adjusts. Instead, slowly and incrementally fix the lifestyle. The body can only comfortably handle so much change at one time.

Consider frequency, duration, and type of fast. You should feel good about fasting. Get plenty of quality sleep, engage in leisure activities, manage stress, drink water, and laugh. Jesus said it first as recorded in Matthew 6:16 – people should not know that you are fasting. You should feel lighter, more energetic, have clearer skin, and sleep better. Something is wrong if you are feeling weak. Reevaluate the plan. Be sure to discuss fasting with your health care provider, especially if you take medications or have a diagnosis such as diabetes or are pregnant.

Jacob Hamrick, who resided in Hickman, Kentucky for 14 years, has had a passion for studying the human body and optimization of health since his early 20’s when his own health took a downward turn. He met the love of his life (the former Stephanie Bowers) in Union City, Tennessee. They moved to Murray, Kentucky, so he could earn his undergrad in Exercise Science; then to Nashville for his Doctorate in Physical Therapy. To this day, his practice is based on treating the whole person with prevention and holistic-minded therapy.