Did you know that fasting has the ability to change the functions of cells, hormones, and even genes? How? Through autophagy.
Fasting & Autophagy
Fasting is the most effective way to trigger autophagy. Autophagy is the body’s natural, regulated mechanism of the cell that removes unnecessary or dysfunctional cells (such as cancer) from the body. You can think of it as the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells. The basic idea behind it is that in the absence of external sources of food, the body begins to eat itself. “Auto” means self and “phagy” means eat. So the literal meaning of autophagy is “self-eating.”
While studies have confirmed that autophagy typically occurs within the first 24 to 48 hours of prolonged fasting, you don’t need to fast for this long to reap the other benefits that fasting can offer. That’s why I first suggest starting off with intermittent fasting.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
The thought of fasting for a whole day can be stress-inducing, so understandably, most people won’t opt for it. However, intermittent fasting—an eating pattern in which you adhere to a specific time window in where you may or may not eat—has been shown to offer many benefits for both the body and the brain.
How Do You Do It?
There are a couple ways to incorporate intermittent fasting into your weekly routine. Two popular methods I’ve tried are the 16/8 and 5:2 methods. The 16/8 method entails fasting for 16 hours each day so that your eating is restricted to an 8-10 hour eating window while the 5:2 method entails fasting for 2 days per week, essentially consuming around 500-600 calories during those two days. Choose an option that works for you, but don’t forget that eating healthy is a must throughout the fast. If you want to optimize your health, feed your body what it needs. Rather than looking at intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight (which you’ll probably experience along the way), view at as a means to enhance your hormone function, facilitate cellular repair, and reap some of the incredible benefits mentioned below.
What Does It Do?
When the body goes without food for a while, it begins to induce cellular repair, decrease insulin within the blood (which aids in fat burn), increase levels of the human growth hormone (which promotes muscle gain and fat loss), and can lead to changes in several genes related to inflammation and protection against disease.
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys revealed that each 3 hour increase in nighttime fasting duration was associated with significantly lower C-reactive protein (an inflammatory biomarker) concentrations in women. Due to its ability to reduce CRP levels, studies have shown that prolonged nightly fasting may in fact reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Furthermore, short-term fasting has even been shown to enhance certain cancer treatments, through diminishing treatment-related toxicities while increasing their efficacy.
Intermittent fasting also possesses the ability to promote brain health through improving various metabolic features that serve to reduce oxidative stress and blood sugar levels. Studies performed in mice have shown that intermittent fasting can increase the growth of new nerve cells in addition to the brain protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF plays a significant role influencing brain function as well as the peripheral nervous system, and helps stimulate neurogenesis—the process by which nervous system cells are produced. It also plays a critical role in neuronal growth and survival, and participates in neuronal plasticity—also referred to as brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to change throughout one’s lifetime.
Last but not least, intermittent fasting has a profound effect on the functioning of the gut microbiome, through cleansing the gut by removing toxic substances while also giving it a chance to rest. Studies performed on mice have even shown that intermittent fasting protects against inflammation through protecting the gut against the impacts of stress. Research has only just started to reveal the ability of intermittent fasting to restore microbe diversity in the gut, as well as restore the intestinal epithelium (the layer of cells that forms the lining of the small and large intestines). One study found that intermittent fasting led to a heightened immune response in mice that were exposed to salmonella, and helped to clear the pathogenic bacteria more quickly from their systems.
Consult with your doctor prior to partaking in any serious fasting activity.