Have you ever tried fasting?
To many, it sounds unappealing, but I am here to tell you there are a lot of health benefits that go along with this.
It can help to boost your energy, protect your cells and reduce oxidative stress, to name a few.
For how long am I talking, and how often? Well, that’s really up to you, but anywhere from 48-120 hours can be very beneficial.
As we talk some more about the benefits, you’ll see why you should consider prolonged fasting every couple of months, at least.
What is the difference between intermittent fasting and prolonged fasting?
Intermittent fasting lasts for between 12-24 hours, prolonged fasting is anything beyond that.
The biggest difference between the two is complete glycogen exhaustion. Glycogens are the carbohydrates that are stored in your muscles and liver.
If you fast for 12-24 hours, you might come close to exhausting the glycogen in your liver, but not the non-hepatic glycogen, which is in your muscles. That would take longer than 24 hours to accomplish.
When that fuel is exhausted, your body starts using alternative sources, like fatty acids or ketone bodies.
Have you heard of ketosis before? It is described as follows: “When glucose isn’t readily available via the diet (in the form of carbohydrates) and the glycogen stores in the liver become depleted, the body could break down muscle to get it. But ketosis is an adaptation that will spare muscle during times of shortage by instead breaking down fat stores and manufacturing ketones for brain fuel. It is said this state is attained at approximately 48 hours of a water fast for women and closer to 72 hours for men.” (2)
This is part of the reason for weight loss as a result of fasting.
It might seem weird, but we actually have more energy when we’re hungry…
You might think that hunger = tired, but that’s not quite right.
When you feel hunger, that’s your body telling you to focus on getting food. Therefore, your body provides you with the energy you need to track that food down. It focuses your brain on the task too.
Makes sense, right? This is why people have so much more focus and energy during fasting.
When you feed the hunger and your body is satiated, it goes into a resting mode. There is no urgent need that sparks your instincts, so there goes your energy and focus.
Let’s talk about the other benefits of fasting…
When you’re fasting, your body goes into a protective state. Your body’s cellular resistance to toxins is increased during fasting.
Why is this? Simple: your body is working to protect itself in case you don’t get access to food in the near future. Since your body isn’t dealing with the processes that follow an intake of food, instead, it channels energy to protecting cells.
There is also a lot of hormone activity. Don’t think about the calories for a minute. Calories are not the only form of useful nourishment for your body.
When you’re fasting, your body produces hormones. One such hormone is BDNF (brain derived nootropic factor). You can think of this hormone as a kind of brain fertilizer; it encourages your brain cells to grow and develop. So fasting can lead to helping your brain to grow.
Another effect of fasting is an increase in synaptic plasticity. This is basically a strengthening of the bond between neurons in your brain, which means that your brain is able to better communicate with your body.
You will also find that you experience an increase in stress tolerance when you fast. The idea here is that if your brain is focused on getting food during a fasting period, it’s not focused on daily stresses.
On top of that, fasting forces your body to detox, which can reduce mental stress: “A detoxification process also occurs, because any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body,” he adds, noting that after a few days of fasting, higher levels of endorphins – “feel-good” hormones – are produced in the blood, which can have a positive impact on mental well-being.” (6)
Next, we have everybody’s favourite fasting benefit: weight loss.
We already went over how ketosis can lead to fat burning, but there are other factors that can lead to weight loss.
When you’re fasting, your body has an increase in adiponectin. This is a protein modulator that helps your body determine what it will do with different energy sources. Typically, higher levels of adiponectin mean lower levels of body fat. The opposite is true of lower levels of adiponectin. This is because it burns body fat as an energy source.
Prolonged fasting can also affect your body’s levels of IGF (insulin-like growth factor). While many believe that IGF can help with muscle building, it is also responsible for faster aging, and can lead to cancer and other complications. When you fast, these levels decrease, having both disease preventing and anti-aging effects.
Lastly, fasting can hit the reset button on your immune system!
If you fast for 3 days, your white blood cells begin to die. This might sound bad, however at this same time, your body is creating new white blood cells. The benefit of this is that these fresh new cells help to strengthen your immune system and strengthen your body’s defenses.
Where do these new white blood cells come from? Studies are suggesting that they are produced by stem cells: “The scientists say prolonged fasting appears to shift stem cells of the immune system from a dormant state to an active state of self-renewal.” (1)
This stem cell wake up call works to give your immune system an overhaul.
So, how often should you fast?
If you try to do an intermittent fast once a week (or bi-weekly at least), you’ll quickly reap the benefit of it.
When it comes to prolonged fasting, aim for, at the least, once every couple of months. Even if you can only manage it twice a year, you’re doing good.
The thing is that when you get past the 24 hour point with fasting, the benefits start increasing exponentially. Try it and see, I can promise you won’t regret it!