Facebook Icon Twitter Icon

Is fasting good for you?
by Dr.Ashraf Girgis N.D.

Fasting is practiced in most religions in one form or another. I remember as a kid that I was always looking forward to the month of Ramadan. Despite my parents forbidding me to fast as a kid because I was too young and too skinny, I insisted on being a participant. So my mom made me a deal that if I could fast without eating anything until noon, then I would get a prize. My prize was usually a special cookie, baked for Ramadan called zoolbia. This is a very delicious ancient Iranian pastry made of starch and egg soaked in sweet syrup, now consumed all over the world

For me, Ramadan had a magical air to it. I remember always being so proud of not giving in to the temptation and being able to control my desire, even if it was for short hours. In our house these days, I fast during Ramadan, but the rest of my family fasts in Christian Coptic tradition of eating fish or sustaining from any meat or dairy(naturally for me I try to avoid dairy in general and meat on special or rare occasion anyways).


Milk and Cookies

Food on scale

But, the question stands, is fasting good for you? The answer is, fasting has been scientifically proven to be good for us.

The benefits actually go beyond simple self-control. There is large body of scientific evidence suggesting that lowering caloric intake to 200-500 a day for a month or 7-21 days is effective in treating Rheumatic diseases, chronic pain syndromes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome. I remember asking a Japanese scientist, who was well known around the world for his progress in treating his patients using alternative approaches, what his most successful approach in treating cancer patients was. He response was “fasting”, noting that he himself fasts for seven days once a year.  

Fasting is known for:|
1.     Being a biomarker of diseases
2.     Reducing oxidative stress
3.     Preserving learning and improving memory

According to Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, who has studied the impact of intermittent fasting on cardiovascular disease and the brain in animals, said that “The one that we’ve studied a lot, and designed experiments to test, is the hypothesis that during the fasting period, cells are under a mild stress, and they respond to the stress adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and, maybe, to resist disease”. Mattson suggests “well-controlled human studies” in people “across a range of body mass indexes” (J Nutr Biochem 2005;16:129–37).

In another study conducted by Mark Mattson, published by Free Radical Bio Med, participants who consumed only 20% of their regular diet on alternate days and adhered to it, lost 8% of their body weight over an 8-week period. There was a reduction in  markers of oxidative stress and inflammation. These patients had asthma and following this diet improved their symptoms and overall quality of their life. Mattson observed that intermittent fasting or restriction to be effective in improving a healthy gut and insulin sensitivity. ( Int J Obesity 2011:35:714-27)

Scientist working in lab
Scientist working in lab

Scientists have shown that caloric restriction prolonged survival in animals. This was observed in the effects of intermittent fasting on animals with prostate cancer.

In another study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma in June of 2011, scientists reported every other day fasting in rats after spinal cord injury promoted effective recovery as well as reducing the size of the lesion. In addition, the animals subjected to  every other day fasting exhibited a 14% reduction in overall body weight.

 In another study by Dr. Longo, Director of the USC Longevity Institute, published in The Journal of Cell Metabolism, they gave mice low protein, low caloric  intake 2-4 days a month, and the rest of the month they let them eat whatever they wanted. At the end of the experiment, these mice outlived the others by 3 months, had overall better health, and shed 45% of their body weight while their insulin blood level and blood sugar level was lower. Despite their age, their mental health stayed in good shape. Lango stated “That’s the most exciting finding”. In addition to this, he stated, “regeneration of the liver was quicker in the fasting animals, and the balance of different types of cells in their blood was more youthful. The numbers of certain stem cells also soared in the dieting rodents”.

In a study of a group of 19 individuals, Longo and his group asked participants to follow a caloric restriction for 5 days a month. For five days a month they were required to stick to a menu that included energy bars, soups, and chips, consuming about 700 to 1100 calories a day. The rest of the month, the participants could eat whatever they liked. The results showed that with three rounds of alternating diet and regular eating, participants were able to reduce blood glucose, improve their physical condition, and trimmed abdominal fat in addition to slight rise in stem cells in blood. This suggests that the diet may promote regeneration in humans.

Longo stated “We think that what the fasting mimicking diet does is rejuvenate”. Molecular biologist, Christopher Hine of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, noted about these studies, “This single dietary change can counteract all these variables of aging, and I think that’s very impressive”.  While biochemist James Mitchell from the Harvard School of Public Health said, “Intermittent periods can have lasting effects”.

While there are others who point out that it is caloric restriction over all that is good for your health, not necessarily fasting, it is important to keep both in mind as an option. If you can fast a few days a month or one day in a week, (as long as your health permits; dieting in some can be dangerous, such as individuals with diabetes) or simply follow a caloric restriction diet for a few days a month, your physical well-being will feel the benefits. Fasting is also a mental exercise, proving to yourself the power of self-control.


Additional Articles

5 Rules To Follow For Gorgeous, Clear Skin

Read More

Killing cancer softly: New approach halts tumor growth

Read More

Remedies to Increase Your Hair Volume

Read More

Coughs – And How to Treat Them

Read More

10 Natural Ways to Recover Faster After Exercise

Read More

Did You Know That Yummy Mandarin Oranges are Good for Us?

Read More