Should I fast?

Who else has listened to the latest wonderful interview of Dr Jamnadas (world leading cardiologist) by the amazing Dr Chatterjee on his #FBLM podcast?

Fasting can work in so many incredibly powerful ways to REDUCE OUR RISK OF CHRONIC DISEASE and HELP MANAGE IT. A growing body of evidence is certainly shaking up the myth that we all need 3 square meals a day + snacks, and that eating “little and often” is the way to go for most of us. It seems going without food, done right, could be the key to a longer, healthier life.

There a some IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS and fasting does have its pitfalls so ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE TRYING ANY KIND OF FASTING. It isn’t suitable for everyone, especially if you have long-term medical conditions, chronic fatigue, history of an eating disorder, certain hormonal imbalances, thyroid issues etc. You should never fast when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Main types of intermittent fasting:

Alternate day fasting: Most popular is the 5:2 (eat normally for 5 days then <800 kcal for 2 days). Has been used ALONGSIDE DRUG THERAPY in cancer & autoimmune with promising early results

Time-restricted feeding: Not eating for 12-18 hours in 24 (fitting all your food into the remaining hours) eg 16/8 diet

So what are the benefits?

Essentially, fasting is a kind of hormetic stress. Hormesis refers to the idea that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”…and biologically this is true. Fasting stresses the body just enough to impact how certain genes are expressed, reduce inflammation, impact our metabolism etc. This controlled stress can extend healthspan and make us live longer too.

1 Better blood sugar control

As most of us know, too much sugar and insulin in the blood is common – but definitely not healthy! As humans we are not designed to be constantly grazing. Our blood glucose – and our insulin – should rise when we’re eating and fall when we’re not.

We’re also hardwired to survive and thrive limited periods of harsh/stressful conditions – which includes famine. It is only relatively recently – evolutionarily speaking – that food scarcity has become relatively rare. For most of us, the reverse is what stresses our biology day-to-day: vast amounts of calorie-dense (but often nutritionally poor!) food, available 24/7, whether or not we are hungry.

With continual consumption of sugary foods & starchy carbohydrates, and constantly high/spiking blood glucose, insulin levels too become chronically high. Our cells gradually become resistant to it such that ever more is needed to drive glucose (sugar) into our cells – and keep it out of our blood, where too much is toxic!

Eventually the insulin-making cells in our pancreas can wear out and become unable to make enough insulin to overcome our cells’ resistance to it…which is how type 2 diabetes occurs. This is why fasting may help prevent type insulin resistance, 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.

2 Upregulate autophagy

This is where our cells selectively remove & recycle old, damaged or broken inner parts. Mitophagy is the same thing, but happening within our mitochondria* specifically.  This could be why certain types of fasting have shown promise in autoimmune diseases.

*The mitochondria is the “powerhouse” or battery of each of our cells, where most of the energy we take in from food is transformed into energy the cells can actually use (ATP).

3 Help our gut bugs

We now understand the MASSIVE impact our gut bugs (microbiome) have on our health, impacting everything from gut health and our wider immune system to the brain & mental health and metabolism…

Also, our gut needs to be empty to have a proper clear-out! Something called the “migrating motor complex” – which we can think of as the street-sweeper within our intestine – ONLY kicks into action when we’ve been several hours without food. It sweeps any remaining food, bacteria and other debris out of the small intestine. If we’re snacking all the time, this can’t happen and SIBO (an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine) with lots of horrible digestive symptoms can result.

4 Encourages apoptosis

Which is nearly as dramatic as it sounds! It’s the process of programmed cell death, used by the body to get rid of cells that have been damaged beyond repair. This plays an important role in cancer prevention.

5 Boosts stem cells

The stem cells we are born with play a critical role in repairing and regenerating damaged tissues. Although stem cells reproduce, we have fewer of them as we age – and those we do have become less effective. Research shows that stem cells proliferate more quickly and more efficiently in a fasted state.

6 More efficient energy production

During fasting, there is no sugar available so your body can switch to during fats and ketones for energy (you’ve probably heard of the ketogenic diet, bad breath and all!) Being able to easily switch energy source can lead to more efficient energy production and greater resilience to stress

7 Lowers inflammation

Having less glucose and insulin floating around + making ketones (as discussed above) can reduce harmful inflammation.

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