Fasting is an age-old phenomenon, prescribed by many religions and practised by millions of people around the globe. Muslims fast for a whole month during Ramadan, Roman Catholics fast a forty-day period before Lent and Jews fast on days of penitence, especially on Yom Kippur. Similarly, Hindus and Buddhists also observe religious fasts.
According to Dr Mark Mattson, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, fasting has deep roots in evolution, religion and many cultures that have relied on their health benefits for centuries. Our bodies are genetically programmed to function effectively and efficiently for extended periods of time without food.
Numerous scientific studies have provided evidence to support the benefits of fasting; in this post, we will be exploring some of these advantages.
A Brief Introduction to Fasting
Fasting is the term given to purposely limiting food consumption or calorific intake, an activity that has been present throughout history. From a religious perspective, many of the world’s religions have festivals, celebrations or events which centre around fasting. Most famously, during the key Islamic month of Ramadan, Muslims undertake compulsory fasting during the daylight hours and are required to pay a charitable donation known as Fidya if the fast is broken.
In recent years, increasing levels of research have been done into fasting as a lifestyle choice and the results speak for themselves. There is no doubt that fasting does offer a range of mental and physical health benefits, so taking it seriously might be a viable healthy lifestyle option. Here are some of the most notable results and statistics to consider.
Fasting Improves Brain Function
Numerous studies have demonstrated the relationship of fasting with the health benefits for the brain. Fasting has been associated with an increase in the performance of the brain activity, promoting the growth of neurones and a reduction in levels of anxiety.
During fasting, the brain goes into survival mode, the body functions in a state of heightened awareness which increases the ability of the brain to focus and remain on task.
A study conducted in 2015 demonstrated that intermittent fasting increased memory performance, and reduced the risk of stroke, furthermore in cases of stroke or brain injury, it helped in the recovery process by promoting the growth of neurons and neural connections. The study provided further evidence associating fasting with the improvement of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Fasting Improves Heart Functioning
Fasting has been associated with the reduction of the risk in developing coronary heart disease by helping to reduce blood pressure, blood sugar levels, triglycerides and cholesterol levels of the body.
The National Centre for Health Statistics has identified heart disease as the number one leading cause of death. It is heartening to know that something as simple as fasting has the ability to significantly reduce the chances of heart disease. During fasting the body burns the low-density lipoproteins (LDL), this is good for our bodies as LDL’s decrease the body’s sensitivity to insulin and therefore, increasing the chances of diabetes. LDL’s also increase the body’s blood pressure which increases the risk of developing coronary heart diseases.
A study which investigated the effects of a three-week fasting diet concluded that fasting significantly decreased and normalised blood pressure improved glycol-regulation as well as increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin thereby regulating blood sugar level
Fasting Detoxes the Body
Fasting has been identified in promoting detoxification of the body by identifying old cells and breaking them down, this process is known as autophagy. Autophagy literally means self-eating; our bodies have the ability to cleanse themselves. The body cells create a membrane which hunt down, attack and break down dead, diseased and worn-out cells in the body, this process helps our bodies to function more efficiently.
A study provided evidence suggesting that autophagy helps in boosting our immunity system and in controlling inflammation. During stress, increased levels of autophagy allow the body cells to adapt to changing nutritional and energy demands which help in our coping mechanism.
Fasting has been linked to slowing down the body’s ageing process. Cell regeneration occurs during fasting, as our bodies treat fasting as a threat. Our bodies trigger the cellular defence system to repair existing damaged tissue and to protect cells against molecular damage. This is crucial in slowing down the rate of ageing.
Fasting has been shown to encourage healthy bowel functioning, it boosts metabolism which burns fat quickly by allowing time for the digestive system to get some rest. This allows us to lose weight and feel good.
Fasting Makes Us Feel and Look Great
Fasting has been demonstrated as an excellent means of weight loss and weight maintenance. Numerous studies have demonstrated that during fasting, the body converts stored fat into energy which helps in weight loss.
Fasting allows the body to direct its attention to efficiently regulating and improving the functioning of organs of the body other than the digestive system. The lungs, kidneys, heart, liver and skin all get renewed energy and attention. Toxins are eliminated from the body through the process of autophagy. Autophagy eliminates dead cells and toxins from the body, especially from skin and hair. Fasting helps in the healing of scars and greatly improves acne skin condition. In turn, fasting helps in not only the person feeling good but also looking good too.
Ultimately, fasting is very beneficial for the health and well-being of individuals. It helps in weight loss and its maintenance; it has a positive renewal effect on our physiological system and helps us to look and feel younger. Fasting is been encouraged by most religions around the world and now has scientific support on its benefits for our health and well-being.