Fasting in History
Since at least the 5th century BCE, this act had been used therapeutically when Hippocrates recommended abstinence from food and drink to his patients to treat certain illnesses.
In various ancient religions, abstinence was a practice to prepare priests and priestesses to approach their deities. In some cultures, it was practised to appease angered deities.
In ancient Peru, fasting was usually one of the requirements for penance after individuals confessed their sins before their priests.
Some members of Native American tribes fasted before and after vision quests.
In more recent times, abstaining from food and drink for special, sacred times is a characteristic of the major religions of the world.
For example, in Jainism, practitioners fast and practice certain types of meditation to enable them to dissociate themselves from the world and reach a transcendent state.
Buddhist monks and Hindu holy men fast as part of their meditation practices. Jews observe annual fast days like Yom Kippur, Christians traditionally observe abstinence during Lent and Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan.
Interestingly, fasting has been used as a form of protest. By Ganghi, for example.
The longest recorded fast was done by Angus Barbieri in the 1960s. He abstained from food and only had water, coffee, tea, soda and high doses of vitamin supplements for 382 days. He was checked daily by doctors and lost 125kg in weight.
Health Benefits of Fasting
For a start, if you fast for at least 12 hours, then ‘autophagy’ is triggered. This is a process where your cells perform a deep clean of themselves; by recycling and cleaning any damaged proteins, viruses and bacteria.
- Promotes your blood sugar control. A study by the University of Alabama indicated that insulin levels and blood pressure was greatly lowered in obese men with prediabetes who had their meals in an 8-hour time slot. Amazingly, they also had significantly decreased appetites.
- Fights inflammation in your body. In one study of 50 healthy adults after they fasted for one month, their inflammatory markers were greatly reduced. The same effect happened again in another small study of people who fasted for 12 hours a day for 1 month.
- Improves your blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels. In 110, obese participants who fasted for 3 weeks under medical supervision; their blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol were significantly lowered. Another study of 4,629 people associated fasting with a lower risk of coronary artery disease.
- Could help in preventing cancer and increasing the effect of chemotherapy. There is limited research for this but a test-tube study revealed that exposing cancer cells to several cycles of fasting, was as effective as chemotherapy in delaying tumour growth and boosting the efficacy of chemo drugs on cancer formation.
- It could improve brain function. Again, even though more research is needed, fasting can increase nerve cell synthesis and protect against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- It may help to lose weight. Short-term fasting may boost your metabolism by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which could enhance weight loss. 1 study showed that intermittent fasting over 3-12 weeks was as effective in causing weight loss as continuous calorie restriction and decreased body weight by 8% and fat mass up to 16%. Also, fasting has been found to be more effective than calorie restriction at increasing fat loss while simultaneously preserving muscle tissue.
Warning. Fasting isn’t recommended for older adults, adolescents, pregnant women and those who are underweight.
Types of Fasting
First of all, it isn’t about starving yourself. It’s an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.
There is a type known as the 5:2 diet. You eat a Mediterranean style diet for 5 days a week and then on the other 2 days, you eat no more than 500 calories if you’re a woman and no more than 600 calories if you’re a man.
Time-restricted Eating. You fast for 16 hours and have all your meals in an 8 hour time frame.
Eat-Stop-Eat. You fast for 24 hours for 1 or 2 days a week.
I have mentioned in an earlier post that I fasted a few years ago to help my IBS, which it did. However, I wrote this post to satisfy my curiosity to see if their are any health benefits of fasting.
If you decide you’d like to have a go at fasting, then seek medical advice if you have any health issues. And, remember to keep yourself well-hydrated.
Sources: healthline.com, aljazeera.com, webmd.com, health.harvard.edu, allinahealth.org, foodyourself.com, twentytwo words.com, britannica.com, historyof yesterday.com