Healthy Beginnings

Fasting — and its rise to the forefront of regenerative medicine

There is plenty of evidence to suggest fasting — done responsibly — can have positive impacts to your health. Photo: Shutterstock

Fasting has been discussed, debated and practiced for millennia. Various peoples, cultures and religions have recognized the benefits of fasting long before those benefits could be scientifically explained.

An article published by the GreenMedinfo Research Group reported: “Fasting has been one of the anchoring rituals in a variety of spiritual denominations … all the major world religions … espouse religious doctrines that prescribe fasting on designated calendar days.”

Humans have experienced times of food scarcity requiring an adaptation to, and the development of, alternative biological pathways to maintain high levels of functioning when calories and nutrients were scarce.

Today’s society and its constructs force-feed (pun intended) the notion that, to stay healthy, we must eat three meals a day and never be hungry. Advertising for unhealthy foods bombards us daily beginning in early childhood.

According to the American Psychology Association, “Food ads on television make up 50 percent of all the ad time on children’s shows. These ads are almost completely dominated by unhealthy food products.”

This ingrains habits of overeating beginning in early childhood and has led to the current epidemic of chronic diseases that are killing us slowly. Fasting and caloric restriction have recently come to the forefront of regenerative medicine in the USA, and they are thought to be some of the safest, cheapest and most natural ways to increase longevity.

Research on fasting dates back to the late 1800s, with the first recorded medical literature on fasting and its benefits published in 1910. As stated by Goldhamer et al. in the Textbook of Natural Medicine, “While fasting, the body primarily uses fat stores from adipose tissue for energy while recycling nonessential tissue for maintenance.”

Turning to fat as the main source of energy safeguards the more essential structures such as nerves, muscles and organs. This self-protective mechanism has many other health-promoting benefits by the, “Marshaling of our metabolic potential as cellular systems manage internal resources more efficiently. The body thus can restore structure and function in a way analogous to rebooting a computer that has stopped working,” Goldhamer wrote.

More than 112,000 scholarly articles on fasting can be found on PubMed, and most of the articles on fasting demonstrate benefit in almost every organ system. Specific changes during fasting include decreases in blood pressure, pulse and body weight.

EKG changes similar to animals that hibernate are also observed. In June 2001, Goldhamer et al. wrote a paper reporting on 174 patients with hypertension who fasted and noted that, “All patients were able to achieve BP sufficient to eliminate the need for medication and more than 90% became normotensive.”

Research on fasting shows promising effects on autoimmune disease, stem cell growth, longevity, chronic disease and cancer. A 1991 study by Kjeldsen-Kragh et al., showed improvement in all clinical parameters, and significant improvements in labs correlated with RA disease severity (erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP).

It is hypothesized that the improvements seen with the rheumatologic disease after fasting may be from decreased intestinal permeability, thus allowing a reduced number of antigenic molecules to cross into the circulation.

The 2012 paper by Yimaz, et al., “Reported that calorie restriction promotes self-renewal of intestinal stem cells (ISCs) in mice.” The research showed the fasting mice had a twofold increase in the regenerative capacity of intestinal stem cells. Human trial on the effects of fasting on stem cells is in progress.

Dr. Valter Longo, an award-winning researcher and professor and director of the Longevity Institute at The University of Southern California, is one of the premier authorities on the health benefits of fasting.

A 2009 case series report authored by him and his colleagues noted a marked decrease in the adverse effects associated with chemotherapy (nausea, vomiting, fatigue, etc.) with no reduction in the efficacy of the treatments. Additionally, fasting made the cancer cells more susceptible to chemotherapy.

Dr. Longo is a proponent of fasting in its many forms. He recommends a fasting mimicking diet and periodic fasting, such as one day a week or 48 hours a month. If interested, his book, “The Longevity Diet,” has more information.

Many people employ an intermittent fasting program where they fast 16 hours a day and only eat during an eight-hour window. If you are interested in prolonged fasting, then you must consult your physician or participate in an in-patient fasting program where your health is continually monitored for your safety.

Robert Floyd, MD, is a board-certified family physician practicing integrative and functional medicine at Gerber Medical Clinic in Reno. He is now accepting new patients. Visit www.DrFloyd.org or call 775-826-1900 for more information.