Fasting for Health and Vitality
Fasting has been practiced for centuries across different cultures and religions for spiritual and physical purposes. Fasting improves the body’s vital energy to remove toxic matter more efficiently from the cells as well as the blood, lightening the load on the body’s organ systems. The Greek physician Hippocrates, who is often considered the father of modern medicine, prescribed fasting as a treatment for a variety of ailments and once wrote, "to eat when you are sick, is to feed your illness”, while Benjamin Franklin wrote, “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting”. Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that fasting can impart significant health benefits, both physical and psycho spiritual.
From a physical perspective, fasting has been used as a tool to promote health and longevity. When the body is in a fasting state, it switches from using glucose for energy to using stored fat. This can lead to weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity, which may reduce the risk of chronic health conditions including metabolic syndrome. Additionally, studies have shown that fasting can promote autophagy, a process in which the body breaks down and recycles old cells, which may lead to increased longevity and reduced risk of chronic diseases.
From a psycho-spiritual perspective, fasting has been shown to have various benefits as well. Many people report increased focus and clarity during fasting periods, as well as a heightened sense of inner tranquility. Additionally, fasting can help promote mindfulness and self-awareness, as it requires discipline and self-control.
Overall, fasting can be a safe and effective strategy for managing metabolic disorders, improving health and longevity, and promoting psycho-spiritual benefits. As wellness practitioners, it's important to be knowledgeable about this practice and its potential benefits for our clients. So, let's dive deeper into the topic and explore when it might be helpful to integrate fasting into our wellness plans.
As wellness practitioners, we are all too familiar with the prevalence of metabolic syndrome, obesity, and cardiovascular disease in modern society. A sedentary lifestyle and meals three times daily (with snacks in between) often leads to metabolic conditions that lead to a variety of chronic conditions.
According to the American Heart Association, approximately 34% of American adults have metabolic syndrome or prediabetes. Obesity is another common issue, with nearly 40% of American adults classified as obese. Worldwide, the incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity rates are approaching epidemic levels. More than 75% of adults in the U.S. are projected to be overweight or obese by 2030.
These conditions increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide. Despite our best efforts to educate our clients about healthy eating and exercise, many individuals struggle to achieve their weight management and heart health goals. Traditional approaches to weight management and heart health may not be effective for everyone. However, there is a growing body of research suggesting that intermittent fasting may be a safe and effective alternative for managing metabolic syndrome, preventing chronic disease, and even enhancing healthspan and longevity.
The Calorie Counting Treadmill – Is There Another Option?
A significant challenge facing individuals attempting to lose weight and improve their health is the difficulty of adhering to calorie-restricted diets. While this approach has been found to decrease body weight, cardiovascular risk factors, insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial function, the vast majority of individuals have difficulties using the calorie restriction approach day after day, for extended periods of time. Research has shown that, on average, only 20% of individuals who attempt to lose weight through calorie restriction are able to maintain their weight loss long-term.
In addition, calorie-restricted diets can lead to feelings of hunger, fatigue, and irritability, making it even harder for individuals to stick to their dietary goals. These challenges may contribute to the development of disordered eating patterns or weight cycling, both of which can negatively impact overall health and well-being.
Rather than constantly restricting calories, intermittent fasting is like a “banqueting mosaic” more so than a specific diet to follow. It is voluntary, has a fixed duration, is adaptable to individual preferences and lifestyles and is generally a safe alternative to calorie restricted dieting for most individuals. A study that compared the effects of intermittent fasting and continuous calorie restriction on weight loss and metabolic markers in overweight adults found that both methods resulted in similar weight loss, but intermittent fasting was more effective at improving metabolic biomarkers including insulin resistance HbA1c levels, and blood lipid profiles.
However, it's important to note that individual results may vary and the most effective approach to weight loss and improved health markers may depend on several factors such as individual goals, medical history, and lifestyle factors. In fact, research indicates that when the practices of intermittent fasting and calorie restriction are combined, metabolic risk factors for chronic diseases are greatly reduced. Moreover, intermittent fasting can boost production of enzymes and activation of signaling molecules that are associated with increased lifespan and reduced ageing.
Intermittent Fasting – What is it exactly?
Intermittent fasting is a type of fasting that involves restricting food intake for specific periods. It has gained attention in recent years due to its potential benefits on autophagy, a natural cellular process that helps the body remove damaged cells and regenerate healthy ones. Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting may help support a healthy inflammatory response, improve metabolic health, and potentially extend lifespan.
Intermittent fasting has emerged as a potential solution for managing metabolic syndrome, preventing chronic disease, and promoting longevity. Intermittent fasting involves alternating periods of eating and fasting, in which individuals go extended periods of time (16-48 hours) with little or no energy/caloric intake, with intervening periods of normal food intake, on a recurring basis.
Common variations of intermittent fasting include periodic fasting or fasting for up to 24 hours one to two times weekly with ad libitum (eating as much or as often as desired) food intake for remaining days. Time-restricted feeding includes eating for only 6-8 hours then fasting for the other 16-18 hours of the day; and alternate-day fasting, which alternates feast and fast days, where either <25% of daily calories or no calories are consumed. Additional research is needed to determine which variation is appropriate for achieving specific wellness goals, whether it is weight loss goals or enhancing optimal health or longevity.
Autophagy – Out with the Old, In with the New
Associated with immune system regulation as well as cell survival and ageing, autophagy is a process that plays a crucial role in cell detoxification during fasting. It is the body’s natural repair mechanism for recycling damaged or dysfunctional cellular components and waste material. Autophagy is activated during extended periods of caloric restriction such as fasting. This process is particularly important as we age, as it helps to reduce the accumulation of damaged cells that can contribute to age-related diseases.
During autophagy, the body breaks down and recycles damaged proteins, cellular debris, and other waste products, clearing them out of the cells and tissues. This process not only helps to keep cells healthy and functioning optimally, but it also helps to reduce the toxic burden on the body by eliminating accumulated waste material.
In addition to autophagy, fasting also promotes the production of certain molecules that can enhance detoxification processes. For example, studies have shown that fasting can increase the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that plays a critical role in cellular detoxification by binding to and eliminating toxins and free radicals from the body.
Intermittent Fasting - Mechanisms of Action
The proposed mechanism of action for intermittent fasting involves several biological pathways that are affected by the changes in the pattern of food intake, as the timing of food intake can affect the body's internal clock and influence various physiological processes. The circadian rhythm is the body's internal clock that regulates numerous physiological functions, including sleep-wake cycles, hormone secretion, metabolism, and gene expression. Maintaining healthy circadian rhythms is crucial to hormonal balance, which affects numerous biochemical processes. Disruptions to the circadian rhythm have been linked to various health issues, including metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.
- Cellular stress response pathways: Intermittent fasting activates cellular stress response pathways, such as AMPK and mTOR, which help to repair and rejuvenate cells.
- Autophagy: Intermittent fasting increases autophagy, a cellular process that clears out damaged or dysfunctional cellular components and promotes cellular renewal.
- Insulin and hormone levels: During fasting periods, insulin levels decrease, and glucagon and growth hormone levels increase. These changes in hormone levels are thought to activate cellular repair mechanisms.
- Inflammation and oxidative stress: Intermittent fasting reduces oxidative stress and modulates inflammatory response, which are both implicated in the development of age-related diseases.
- Mitochondrial function: Intermittent fasting may improve mitochondrial function, which is important for energy production and overall health.
These mechanisms are thought to work together to improve cellular function, promote cellular repair and rejuvenation, and reduce the risk of age-related diseases. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the effects of intermittent fasting on health and longevity.
Benefits of IF – What Does the Research Say?
Intermittent fasting (IF) has been studied in a variety of research areas, but some areas have shown more promise than others. Here are some examples of areas where intermittent fasting demonstrates the most potential:
- Weight loss and metabolic health: Human clinical trials have found that intermittent fasting can be an effective tool for weight loss and improving metabolic health markers, such as blood sugar control and cholesterol levels. For example, a randomized controlled trial published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that time-restricted feeding (a form of intermittent fasting) resulted in significant weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity in overweight and obese adults.
- Cardiovascular health: Clinical trials have also found that intermittent fasting may have potential benefits for cardiovascular health in humans. For example, a randomized controlled trial published in the International Journal of Obesity found that alternate-day fasting improved blood pressure and reduced oxidative stress in adults with high blood pressure.
- Type 2 diabetes: Intermittent fasting has been studied as a potential tool for managing type 2 diabetes in humans. A randomized controlled trial published in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care found that time-restricted feeding improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in adults with type 2 diabetes.
- Brain health: Human clinical trials have also investigated the potential benefits of intermittent fasting for brain health. For example, a randomized controlled trial published in the journal Nutrition and Healthy Aging found that time-restricted feeding improved cognitive function in healthy older adults. Other than providing energy, beta-hydroxybutyrate, a byproduct or ketone produced by gluconeogenesis, increases resistance to oxidative stress and is associated with neuroprotective effects as well as longevity.
- Longevity: Intermittent fasting may have potential benefits for extending lifespan and improving overall health span. A study published in the Journal of Cell Metabolism in 2017, found that intermittent fasting can improve health and reduce the risk of age-related diseases. The study involved 100 participants who followed an intermittent fasting diet for three months. The results showed that the participants had lower blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced levels of oxidative stress.
But how is all this possible? Well, from an evolutionary point of view, animals (and humans) have historically experienced involuntary periods of intermittent fasting when food supplies were scarce. In an effort to preserve the integrity and function of the muscles and brain, the body has learned to respond adaptively via the “Fed-Fast Cycle” of human metabolism when food is not available for extended periods of time by mobilizing stored fat to be converted into free fatty acids (FFAs) to use for cellular energy.
Overview of the Fed-Fast Cycle of Human Metabolism
Glucose, the primary energy source for the body, is utilized on a daily basis. During fasting states, (i.e., overnight) fatty acids are used as an alternate fuel source for most metabolically active organs, including the muscles, liver, and brain. In 1963, Randle proposed a theory of energy metabolism during the feeding and fasting states known as the “glucose-fatty acid cycle” where glucose and fatty acids compete for oxidation to be used as fuel for the body.
When glucose levels are low, the process of glycolysis shuts off. After approximately 12 hours without food, the process of gluconeogenesis is activated, and the body starts using ketones and fatty acids stored in fat cells, as energy sources. These free fatty acids are transported to the liver cells where they are further converted to acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate which are used as an energy source for cells. This energy switch is known as Glucose-Ketone switchover or Metabolic Switching. Metabolic Switching can enhance insulin sensitivity, increase HDL cholesterol while decreasing LDL levels, thus improving cardiovascular health by lowering risk factors for heart disease.
QRA Perspective on Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting fits into the QRA paradigm as a tool for promoting physical and emotional health. Intermittent fasting triggers cellular processes that enhance cellular repair and reduce oxidative stress. By giving the body’s digestive system a well-deserved rest for at least 12 hours without food, the body’s innate healing mechanisms can stimulate recovery and rejuvenation at the cellular level. This can have significant effects on metabolic health and overall vitality of mind, body, and spirit.
QRA practitioners can use intermittent fasting as part of a holistic approach to health, complementing other techniques such as acupuncture, energy healing, and nutritional therapy. As PRL practitioners, we use QRA as one of our key methods to assess each client's unique needs and develop a personalized plan that may include intermittent fasting as a tool for achieving optimal health. We believe in empowering our clients to take control of their health and well-being, and we are committed to helping them achieve their goals in a safe and effective manner.
Intermittent Fasting is Not for Everyone
Given the historical and modern context, we recognize the potential benefits of fasting as part of a holistic approach to health. However, QRA emphasizes that fasting is not for everyone and should only be undertaken with careful consideration of individual health needs and circumstances. It is important to acknowledge the potential risks and challenges associated with it.
Contraindications to intermittent fasting, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, underweight individuals, people with a history of eating disorders, and individuals with certain health conditions such as hypoglycemia, lor low blood pressure. Major risk is associated with hypoglycemic individuals who are also taking antidiabetic medications.
Additionally, those who are not accustomed to fasting may experience side effects such as hunger, fatigue, and lightheadedness. Hunger and fatigue are common side effects, but they can often be managed by staying hydrated and ensuring that the body is receiving adequate nutrition during the eating periods. Lightheadedness can also be a concern, particularly for those who are new to fasting. Starting with shorter fasting periods and gradually increasing duration can help minimize these effects.
Lastly, with intermittent fasting there can be a risk of malnutrition if individuals do not consume enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It is imperative to stay hydrated and to choose vibrant, nutrient-dense foods during the eating window to gain optimal health benefits.
Intermittent Fasting – A Potential Solution to Modern Metabolic Challenges
As wellness practitioners, it is important that we stay informed about the latest research and recommendations for improving metabolic health, preventing chronic disease, and potentially extending lifespan. While traditional approaches to weight management and heart health may not be effective for everyone, intermittent fasting is a safe and feasible alternative that can benefit many individuals. By educating ourselves and our clients about the potential benefits of intermittent fasting, we can help promote better health outcomes and a higher quality of life.
While more clinical trials are needed, there is promising evidence for the potential health benefits that intermittent fasting may offer for physical, emotional, and spiritual health. From promoting cell detoxification and stimulating autophagy to improving insulin sensitivity and modulating inflammatory response, intermittent fasting can enhance healthspan and longevity. It can also lead to improved mental clarity, increased energy levels, and a greater sense of overall well-being.
When implementing intermittent fasting, it is important to take a cautious and individualized approach. Consider factors such as your clients' age, health status, and dietary habits when recommending an intermittent fasting plan. Start with shorter fasting periods and gradually increase the length of time as your clients become accustomed to the practice. Also, stay hydrated and maintain a vibrantly balanced, nutrient-dense diet during non-fasting periods, and remind them to check in along the way with any questions or concerns. We encourage you to consider integrating intermittent fasting into your own life and, when appropriate, your clinical practice. You can offer insight and support, while safely guiding clients toward achieving their health goals.
Question: What is intermittent fasting?
Answer: Intermittent fasting is a type of fasting that involves restricting food intake for specific periods of time. It usually involves limiting food intake for a specific period of time, usually between 12-16 hours, and consuming all meals within a designated time window.
Question: What health benefits does intermittent fasting offer?
Answer: Intermittent fasting has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including weight management, improved blood sugar control, inflammation modulation, and enhanced cognitive function. It has also been linked to improved health span and longevity.
Question: Who should not practice intermittent fasting?
Answer: Intermittent fasting is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, underweight individuals, people with a history of eating disorders, and individuals with certain health conditions such as hypoglycemia or low blood pressure.
Question: Are there any risks associated with intermittent fasting?
Answer: There are some potential risks associated with intermittent fasting, including hunger, fatigue, and lightheadedness. It is important to stay hydrated and to choose vibrant, nutrient-dense foods during the eating window to gain optimal health benefits.