Fasting is not eating or drinking for a certain period. There are many different types of fasting, explains Andrew Wang, MD, professor of immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine, and the most well-known is intermittent fasting, according to Russia Today.
The benefits of fasting
Fasting has many psychological and physical health benefits, the most important of which are:
1. Fasting reduces inflammation:
One of the most important benefits of fasting is that it reduces inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to infection and usually disappears after the damaged cells heal.
However, when the body is exposed to oxidative stress, a process caused by the accumulation of free radicals, it can enter a state of chronic inflammation. This is because these free radicals, which can come from external sources such as pollution and bodily processes like digestion, begin to attack healthy tissues and cells.
Chronic inflammation can damage healthy cells, tissues and organs and is linked to many diseases, including heart attacks and strokes.
There are several ways to reduce inflammation in the body by fasting:
When your body is in a fasting state, it cannot convert glucose from food into energy. Instead, your body must rely on an alternative energy source called ketone bodies, which come from fatty acids. Your body produces fewer free radicals when burning ketones, which helps reduce inflammation.
Fasting may also reduce inflammation by reducing the number of monocytes, a type of inflammatory white blood cell, in the bloodstream.
2. Fasting strengthens cognitive performance:
As we age, our organs are vulnerable to chronic inflammation, says Wang. Chronic inflammation can contribute to cognitive decline and possible dementia due to plaque buildup in the brain. Fasting helps counter this by reducing inflammation, Wang notes.
A growing body of research indicates that fasting can prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease in animals. A 2019 study found that intermittent fasting can slow cognitive decline and improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice.
Fasting can improve mental flexibility, which has been defined as the ability to switch quickly and efficiently between tasks.
3. Fasting regulates blood sugar levels:
Fasting may also regulate blood sugar levels, which is important for protecting against diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Wang says blood sugar increases when you eat, so it naturally drops when you fast. However, your body will prevent blood sugar from dropping too low by making glucose itself. This keeps blood sugar levels at healthy levels.
4. Fasting improves heart health:
While research on this topic is limited, Wang says it is reasonable to assume that fasting promotes heart health by reducing inflammation and protecting against diabetes, both of which are a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
5. Fasting helps lose weight:
Fasting helps you lose weight by limiting the number of calories you eat. Intermittent fasting, in particular, aids weight loss by keeping blood sugar levels low in the evening when you are less active.
However, there is mixed evidence about whether fasting for weight loss is more effective than following a calorie restrictive diet.
If you want to lose weight, talk to your doctor about the method that works best for you.
How do you fast safely?
While intermittent fasting usually includes fasting for 16 hours a day, the longest fasting can range from 24 to 72 hours.
There is no magic amount of time for you to fast, says Wang. The best thing you can do is listen to your body and determine the type of fasting that’s right for you. And if you feel nervous, nauseous or faint while fasting, you should consider breakfast.
Wang warns that there are specific groups that should abstain from fasting, which include pregnant women and those who breastfeed their babies as well as those with a history of eating disorders as well as those suffering from diabetes or blood sugar problems.
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