I will be honest, when I first heard about intermittent fasting I was more than a little bit sceptical. In fact, I largely forgot about the subject to continue my research elsewhere.
But, the subject kept cropping up where you least expected it. So, gradually it has crept back to the forefront of my mind.
I first came across intermittent fasting after watching a documentary series by Dr Michael Mosley. It was entitled “Eat, Fast & Live Longer” and it was very interesting.
But, there was one point that stuck in my mind! Fasting could rebuild your immune system.
I have an autoimmune disease so this statement immediately resonated and made me sit up and start paying much more attention.
There was one other small benefit that Mr Mosley mentioned, fasting could slow the ageing process. This also piqued my interest as it has been rather a long time since I was a teenager.
The nearest I get to my teen years is when our granddaughter pops in.
I have been reading a lot more about intermittent fasting and there now seem to be some definite evidence supporting the claims made by Michael Mosley.
Intermittent Fasting and Autophagy
Autophagy is the process of cell replication in our body. This is a biological housekeeping function that weeds out old and infected cells and replaces them with new cells.
Nutrient deprivation is the key trigger of autophagy. But, fasting does more than stimulating autophagy. It produces the growth hormone to signal the production of new cells.
It is this autophagy process that makes sense of the notion of fasting to rebuild your immune system.
Intermittent Fasting for Beginners
Fasting is not starvation. Fasting is a voluntary process of restricted eating for health or spiritual reasons.
It should not be done by someone who is underweight because the person who is fasting must have enough stored body fat to live off for the periods of the fast.
You will choose not to eat for a period of time. Perhaps for a few hours or a few days.
Whichever period you choose to fast, is your period of intermittent fasting. This will be followed either by a period of normal eating or a period of feasting. It very much depends on the pattern of intermittent fasting you have decided upon.
You already fast every day, between your evening meal or supper and your breakfast. Breakfast is so named because you are breaking your overnight fast.
This is one of the reasons that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Intermittent fasting is not something unusual. It should be part of your everyday life.
One should realise that humans have evolved to fast for, relatively, short periods.
Fasting allows the body to use its stored energy by burning fat reserves. Body fat is stored energy so, when you have a period of fasting, your body turns to your fat reserves for energy.
Insulin is the key hormone used in the storage of food energy. When we eat, more food energy is ingested than we can use at that time.
Insulin rises when we eat, allowing us to store the extra energy in two different ways.
- Glycogen stored in the liver or muscle.
- Body Fat
Two complementary systems exist in our bodies for food energy storage. The first is easily accessible but, with limited energy storage. The second is harder to access but, has almost limitless storage.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Jane Brody is the personal health columnist for the New York Times. After writing an article on the health benefits of intermittent fasting, she changed her attitude completely from a very sceptical non-believer to a fully-committed intermittent dieter.
In preparation for writing her article, Jane had a meeting with Dr Mark P. Mattson a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
From her discussion with Dr Mattsone, Jane learned our livers store glucose which is the first port-of-call for energy when the body requires it. Only when the glucose-energy from the liver is depleted will the body begin converting fat into energy
The calories obtained from the liver glucose will sustain the body for 10 to 12 hours. Thereafter a metabolic shift occurs and the body starts converting fat into energy.
During periods of fasting the body depletes the liver of glucose energy before beginning to break down the stored fat.
People who turn to an intermittent diet to lose weight should aim for 16 hours without food.
So long as you don’t eat after 8 pm in the evening, all you need do is skip breakfast and you will have fasted for 16 hours. Tea or coffee without sugar or sweeteners is permitted during periods of fast.
While there have been a few studies of the benefits of intermittent fasting in humans. The studies have not been long-term.
Animal Studies show great results
But, there have been many animal studies evaluating the disease-related findings.
In an animal model of stroke, the study found that animals fed only intermittently had less brain damage because they could better resist the stress of oxygen deprivation.
Other animal studies concluded that intermittent fasting had immense disease-modifying powers in cases of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurodegenerative brain diseases.
Human studies, while not conclusive, show that intermittent fasting improved insulin resistance, blood fat abnormalities, high blood pressure and inflammation. Patients with multiple sclerosis followed the intermittent fasting diet for two months and showed significantly reduced symptoms.
Back in the animal kingdom, predators hunt for prey in the fasting state. They are more agile and quicker to respond because their senses are sharper. They will also recover from the inevitable injuries more quickly.
Even our human ancestors didn’t enjoy three steady meals a day. They were hunter-gatherers and weren’t guaranteed a good dinner. Neither did they live a sedentary lifestyle.
These ancestors evolved in a feast or famine environment and would not have survived unless their bodies could survive long periods of fasting.
Researchers have concluded that most if not all of our organs respond well to intermittent fasting.
Whilst we are not eating, our bodies are unable to produce new proteins. Therefore our essential cells rob non-essential cells and break down these proteins to obtain amino acid to build new proteins. Then, when we resume eating we produce new proteins to restore our body balance.
How safe is Intermittent Fasting
The process of fasting prompts the body to start burning fat. When we use fats for energy, we produce a substance known as “ketone bodies” that regulate cell activity. Ketones are known to be good for our health and they limit the effects of ageing.
How easy is this eating plan
At the outset, some people will feel hunger, irritability and a drop in thinking ability. These are all symptoms of adjusting to a new lifestyle and will pass within a few weeks.
People with a known disposition for developing eating disorders should be aware that fasting can be a trigger.
Rather than beginning to fast immediately. Dr Mattson suggests that starting gradually may be easier. Slowly increase the hours or days of fasting over a period of two months.
Reset your Immune System
A few years ago, a study was published and it claimed that a 3-day fast can, essentially, reset the immune system. Possible benefits could include better cardiovascular health, greater endurance, lower blood pressure, and diminished inflammation.
From the 2014 study, Valter Longo and his team at USC discovered that fasting lowered the white blood cell count. This caused the immune system to begin replacing the lost cells with new white blood cells.
When you resume eating normally, your stem cells are activated and will produce new, healthy cells. Therefore, this fast and feast cycle replaces the white blood cells,
The strategy requires you to fast for two or three days, to fully deplete your glycogen energy store.
Now, this may sound like an enormous undertaking but, you may only be required to do this twice per year.
In a much more recently published paper, Rafael de Cabo and Mark Mattson reviewed the intermittent fasting plans.
They now believe that you can get the benefits of fasting without going through the hardship of the 3-day fast.
Instead, a much easier form of fasting can be accomplished with “time-restricted” fasting.
This involves fasting every day. You should allocate a 6 to 8-hour eating time-slot. All of your daily calories must be consumed within the time windows. The remainder of the day is the fast period.
Alternatively, you could choose to fast for two full days per week. Each of these intermittent fasting plans has the same health benefits.
8 popular ways to do intermittent fasting Healthline
Intermittent Fasting Surprising Update Harvard Health
Intermittent Fasting for Beginners Diet Doctor
The benefits of Intermittent Fasting New York Times
Can intermittent fasting reset your immune system Forbes
Not all fasting diets benefit the immune system New Atlas
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