Research from all around the world is coming up with various results that all point to the same thing; fasting is a safe and highly effective way to improve your health and overall well being. In documentary created by BBC Horizon Michael Mosley gives an introduction to the art and lifestyle choice that is fasting. The video documents various types of fasting and also details the copious amounts of benefits involved, with scientific proof and documentation, in an easy to watch, entertaining format.
*Update 3/3/13: The documentary has become so popular that Michael Mosley is writing a book. The link is now to an interview with him.
What is Fasting?
Fasting is age old. The first question people ask when I tell them I am fasting is “is there a religious reason?” Various religions have historically incorporated some form of fasting, most notably for the spiritual and emotional benefits of the practice.
Although there are many types of fasting, fasting in general means abstaining from consuming food. More specifically, abstinence from caloric ingestion. The practitioner should stay hydrated by drinking water and/or tea, but that’s it.
The hardest part of fasting is the psychological hurdles. You realize with full force that hunger in a civilized society is far more about the tongue than it is about actual nutrition. I am currently on day 2 of a 5 day fast and have been without food for approximately 40 hours. I am not hungry in the slightest bit, but I can’t get food off my mind. My stomach is quite content, but my thoughts betray me! This is where tea becomes especially handy. It allows my taste buds to be satiated while refraining from ingesting any actual caloric substance.
Why Should I Fast?
Fasting is one of the healthiest and most beneficial things you can do for your body and your mind. Although a low calorie, nutrient rich diet seems to be the optimal way to eat, even with a very poor diet, fasting leads to dramatically positive changes in health. As a quick overview of some of the benefits of fasting, I, and medical professionals can safely say it will lead to:
- Dramatic anti-aging effects
- Weight loss
- Increased amount of brain cells
- Higher good cholesterol/lower bad cholesterol
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Stable blood pressure
- General detoxification and drug detoxification
- Clearer skin
- Positive diet changes
- Better resistance to disease
- Reduction of allergies
- Rest for digestive organs
- Better sleep
- Change of habits
- Clearer planning
- Better attitude
- Creativity/ new ideas
- Improved senses (vision, hearing, taste)
- More clarity (mentally and emotionally)
- More energy
- More relaxation
- Purification, rejuvenation, and revitalization
- Spiritual awareness
While filming the BBC documentary, Michael Mosley discovered that even eating unhealthily, by practicing intermittent fasting, his health improved markedly in a wide range of areas. Most notably, after a 4 day fast, his bad cholesterol was significantly lower, his unhealthy triglycerides were nearly halved, and most importantly, his levels of IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor) were more than halved.
Interestingly, fasting in mice, and potentially humans, also leads to an increased number of brain cells. Researchers believe this is evolutionary, as, if you are without food, the number of synapses grow and neural networks expand to increase awareness and perception in order to more efficiently remember sources of food and to find new sources.
What is IGF-1, and Why Don’t I Want it?
IGF-1 is a hormone produced in the body which is predominantly responsible for growth. When you are young it is essential, but as we grow older it becomes one of our greatest enemies. According to the BBC study, “The IGF-1 hormone (insulin-like growth factor) is one of the drivers which keep our bodies in go-go mode, with cells driven to reproduce. This is fine when you are growing, but not so good later in life.”
A great amount of research has gone into monitoring the effects of IGF-1 on the human body. Low levels of IGF-1 seem to correlate directly to an extended life span, less age related illnesses, and better overall health. IGF-1 can be kept at low levels through a proper nutrient rich, low calorie diet. It can also be dramatically lowered through fasting.
High levels of IGF-1 are directly related to obesity, cardiovascular disease, greater risk of age related illnesses, and higher rates of morbidity.
Fasting and Diet
Unfortunately, fasting once will not ensure long term health. If you fast, and then go right back to the high calorie, low nutrition diet you ate before, you are guaranteed to have unhealthy levels of unwanted chemicals within a day or two. They key is persistence and diet.
A nutrient rich diet filled with raw vegetables, leafy greens, fruits (especially berries), nuts, legumes, lentils, grains and oils high in poly and mono unsaturated fats like coconut oil will ensure long term, overall health. There are many tips and tricks to attain a truly nutrient dense diet. An example of this is eating only the skin of an apple, since 95% of the nutrients are found in the skin. The rest is sugar. This holds true for many fruits and vegetables.
Drop the sodas, diet or not, and start eating natural, life supporting foods. Food can be the greatest medicine in the world.
For further information regarding nutrient dense foods head over to the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition website to help get you started.
Cron-o-meter is a site that will help you track your calories, and nutrients down to the single amino acid and/or phyto nutrient!
As a final note, I love fasting. I usually fast 1-2 days each week, with a lengthier fast every couple of months or so. I feel lighter, freer, happier and more aware. My senses become heightened, and the world seems more at peace. The health benefits are just a bonus!
Sources and Resources to Take the Next Step:
Raw Food Explained: History of Fasting
All About Fasting: Types of Fasting
All About Fasting: Benefits of Fasting
BBC News: Proof Mounts on Restricted Diet
PubMeg.gov: Insulin-like Growth Factor-1: Compartmentalization within the somatotropic axis?
IGF-1 Receptor Regulates Lifespan and Resistance to Oxidative Stress in Mice
PNAS: Intermittent Fasting Dissociates Beneficial Effects of Dietary Restriction on Glucose Metabolism and Neuronal Resistance to Injury from Calorie Intake
Chicago Tribune: Can it! Soda Studies Cite Stronger Link to Obesity
Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition: Achieve Better Health: Your Guide to Nutrient-Rich Eating