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The science, methods, and benefits of fasting

Fasting for your health, What you need to know:

Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, began this weekend for the world's 1.8 billion Muslims. The physically capable among them will fast from sunrise to sunset, abstaining not only from food but also from even a sip of water.

The pandemic has hit close to home in a variety of ways. So just the idea of being able to come back together during this special month — the month of fasting, the month of reflection, the month of, you know, self-development and all of that, the month of being charitable, etc — all of the things that Muslim love to do, desire to do, they will be able to do, at least to a greater extent than Muslim have been in the previous couple of years. So we at SGFIRSTAID is just overjoyed.

While it's easy to think of Ramadan as a holiday, it's not. Muslims go to work and school and carry on with their everyday life.

In that respect, the true purpose of the month is discipline and dedication. The fast extends to more than food. Muslims are expected to practice how to avoid impure thoughts and deeds.

Ramadan provides a constant physical reminder of God, as well as a reminder of all the people in the world who don't have enough food or water. "It creates an impetus of both gratitude and charity,"

But why fasting? what does it really do to your body? When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, good nutrition and adequate exercise are frequently mentioned as key pillars. While this is undoubtedly true, there is more to consider in terms of our relationship with food and healthy living.

Fasting is the voluntary abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink, or both for an extended period of time. Although it is sometimes perceived as unhealthy, depriving, or reserved for religious reasons, fasting for a short period of time can provide excellent health benefits. Fasting is becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate means of managing weight and preventing disease as research in this area of health advances. At the same time, it is critical that fasting be done properly and in a healthy manner.

The Science of Fasting

A large body of evidence now supports the benefits of fasting, though the most notable data has come from animal studies. Nonetheless, these findings are encouraging for humans. Fasting, in essence, cleanses our bodies of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not normally stimulated when a steady supply of fuel from food is always available.

When we fast, the body does not have normal access to glucose, forcing the cells to produce energy through other means and materials. As a result, the body initiates gluconeogenesis, a natural process by which it produces its own sugar. The liver aids in this process by converting non-carbohydrate materials such as lactate, amino acids, and fats into glucose energy. Because fasting causes our bodies to conserve energy, our basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy our bodies burn while resting) becomes more efficient, lowering our heart rate and blood pressure.

Ketosis, another process that occurs later into the fast cycle, happens when the body burns stored fat as its primary power source. This is the ideal mode for weight loss and balancing blood sugar levels.

Fasting places the body under mild stress, causing our cells to adapt by increasing their ability to cope. In other words, they grow in strength. This process is similar to what happens when we exercise and put our muscles and cardiovascular system under stress. As with exercise, our bodies can only get stronger during these processes if we give them enough time to rest and recover. That is why fasting for a short period of time is advised.

The Type of Fasting

In lab studies, these three types of calorie restriction, or fasting, have demonstrated positive effects on longevity:

  • Time-Restricted Feeding This is the process of limiting calorie intake to a specific timeframe that aligns with our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is often referred to as our “body clock”, the natural cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, eat, and more. Eating meals only during an 8 to 12 hour period each day while fasting — between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., for instance — is an example of aligning with our circadian rhythm. Body systems work better when synchronised with one another; midnight snacking when our body usually sleeps throws our natural repair system out of sync. In addition, giving our bodies more time to repair is beneficial for our health.

  • Intermittent Calorie Restriction The practice of reducing the number of calories consumed in a day. Research has focused on a two-day diet where calories are reduced in half and carbohydrates are limited for two consecutive days in a week. This approach puts the body through short and intensive therapy. The intermittent calorie restriction approach also reminds us that we do not need to consume constantly. When we do consume we can choose wisely and continue normal activities and exercise with reduced fuel.

  • Periodic Fasting with Fasting Mimicking Diets This means limiting calorie intake for three to five days, prompting the cells to deplete glycogen stores and begin ketosis. While this can be done without eating food, it isn’t considered the safest option. A specific five-day calorie-limited diet (around 1,000 calories per day) is sufficient to mimic fasting without depleting nutrients. It is speculated that this method is superior to the two-day fast, allowing the body to enter ketosis and begin a true cleanse.

Health Benefits of Fasting

Although fasting can be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable, the mental and physical benefits can:

  • Boost cognitive performance

  • Protect from obesity and associated chronic diseases

  • Reduce inflammation

  • Improve overall fitness

  • Support weight loss

  • Decrease the risk of metabolic diseases

  • Benefit cancer patients — A recent study with mice and cancer showed that fasting during chemotherapy jump-starts the immune system and exposes the cancer cells. Ridding the body of old, toxic cells and replacing with new, healthy ones may be just the answer. Traditionally, cancer patients have been told to increase nutrients and caloric intake while undergoing chemotherapy treatments but this approach might now be under review.

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