Traditionally, fasting is not uncommon, in fact it was the norm a couple of hundred years ago as it was difficult to produce or catch food three times a day. Now we eat as many times as we can, because we can just buy the food!
So, the human body can actually, easily adapt to fasting, in fact we have been doing it for the better part of our existence. Its only now, since some 20 to 30 years in developing countries like India, and since some 50 to 60 years in developed countries, that most of us are not compelled to fast at all. If you are reading this article following could be the question in your mind:
Anyway, what does happen when we start fasting?
Are there any health benefits?
Why do so many religions allow for fasting?
Should we do it?
What happens when your last meal is long gone?
What is the scientific perspective on fasting?
Read below for the complete perspective on what you can achieve with fasting.
The Power of Fasting: What our Yogi’s knew and we don’t
Well, once your cells have used up all the sugar in your bloodstream from your last meal, and when no other meal is forthcoming, your body has to find another source of energy.
The liver and muscles store sugar in the form of glycogen which can be broken down to glucose when required. When we miss a meal or two the body uses this energy derived from the sugar in the liver and muscles to produce energy for their regular activities.
If you are on a water-only fast, the glycogen stores are depleted within about 24 hours to 32 hours. Now after all the sugar from the liver and muscle is used up, the cells start burning fatty acids for energy – these fatty acids come from your body’s fat reserves. (Meanwhile I discourage anyone from a water only fast. The best kind of fasting would be intermittent fasting as described later on.)
Coming back to the topic in hand, the red blood cells and the brain cells – cannot use fatty acids to fuel their energy needs. The red blood cells and brain function primarily on glucose, and once the glucose from your muscles and liver are used up, they can get get their glucose from the following two sources:
1) From your muscles tissues – amino acids from the muscle tissues are broken down to produce glucose for your brain and red blood cells.
2) From the glycerol component of your fat tissues.
But utilizing the muscles to meet the bodies every requirement is not a long term solution, and the body knows this. So after 2 or 3 days of your water-only fast the liver starts to produce ketones. Ketones then become the primary source of fuel for the body. Ketones are produced by breaking down the fatty acids of your fat tissues.
Ever heard of the ketogenic diet?!
So as soon as the liver starts making ketones the wasting of muscle for cell food slows down. The body and all organs can now function efficiently on ketones.
However the red blood cells still can’t function on ketones so they will still be dependent on the muscle tissues for the same. But since the muscle breakdown will now only occur for the red blood cells, the muscle wasting slows down.
The idea is to spare the muscles as much as possible. It is actually a survival mechanism that is built into human physiology to deal with times of famine.
Animal Studies have shown that fasting (intermittent fasting) and can extend the lifespan. It has even shown to protect against lifestyle diseases of today, namely diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neuro-degenerative disorders and cancer.
Other benefits include:
- Decreased plasma insulin
- Decreased blood sugar concentrations.
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
- Enhanced immune function
- Reduced body fat
- Normalization of ghrelin levels, also known as “the hunger hormone”.
- An increase in human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the ageing process.
- Lowers triglyceride levels.
- Reduces inflammation.
So now we know what the ancient Indian yogis were doing!
When you are on intermittent fasting, the longest time you’ll ever abstain from food is 36 hours, although fasting for 14-18 hours is more common. You can also opt to simply delay eating. Of course this totally goes against the “eat small meals all day” espoused by many, which is actually a diabetic diet.
So I will leave it at this and you, the intelligent audience can be the judge of what might be best.
To summarize just remember that all individuals are different and react differently.
And don’t even think of fasting if you eat the typical high glycemic (sugary) junk food as your body will require high quality nutrients when you are fasting.
Finally, the idea of fasting is to increase the intake of maximum nutrients from minimum food which will then lower your calorie intake.
Thanks for reading this far, hope you enjoyed it. If this has helped you in anyway, please leave a comment and share this article.