By: M. Tariq Miskin
People fast for many reasons, be it medical, religious, political or other, but few have an understanding of the benefits gained from it. If properly implemented, fasting can be beneficial in various health aspects. Fasting can improve immunity, promot
e weight loss, reduce blood sugar, promotes longevity, and even improve the efficacy of chemotherapy in cancer.
When the body is deprived of an energy source from digestion of food, it compensates by first converting the stored energy in the liver into glucose, the main nutrient which supplies energy for all cells. When the energy supply in the liver is used up the next source it uses is the fatty tissue stored in various parts of the body. Therefore, when fasting for longer than eight hours, the body is forced to systematically break down fat from the body until it too runs out. So if done properly fasting can be a good method of losing weight and improving our health overall. Moreover, fasting provides the digestive system a time to rest. Although normal digestive enzymes are still secreted in the stomach and intestines, they are done at reduced rates. These helps in maintaining the fluid balance in the body as well as promote healthy bowel movement.
Fasting also has shown to be beneficial to our immune system. Numerous studies have shown that fasting promotes regeneration of the immune cells. When the body is starved, it tries to save energy by recycling old cells, especially white blood cells. Old and damaged white blood cells, which extremely important in fighting disease, are destroyed and new cells are produced through recycling. Also starvation leads to increased production of stem cells. Stem cells are important in production of new cells in the body. Consequently, fasting leads to recycling of old, broken down cells through stem cell production. Thus fasting can stimulate healthy growth of body.
Fasting increases breakdown of glucose so that the body can get energy. It reduces production of insulin. This rests the pancreas. Glucagon is produced to facilitate the breakdown of glucose. The outcome of fasting is a reduction in blood sugar.
Fasting is one of the non-drug methods of reducing blood pressure. It helps to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is clogging of arteries by fat particles. Also metabolic rate is reduced during fasting. Fasting can help in balancing the hormone production in the body. A hormone is a chemical produced by organs called glands in animals that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behavior. The fear-flight hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are reduced when the body undergoes fasting for a period of time. The benefit is a reduction in blood pressure.
Studies have shown that fasting can help in improving health and increase the lifespan of a person. Reduced caloric intake can lead to increasing the lifespan almost 30 – 40 %. Fasting can achieve this by reducing the risks for diseases of the old age and increasing healthier part of the life. As mentioned, by fasting, it increases good health by improving immunity, reducing level of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol in the body, promoting good eating habits etc. The reduction in the risks in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and losing weight also leads to the reduction of potential for formation of cancer in the body. Therefore, fasting can prevent cancer to a certain extent.
Fasting also helps the body detoxify. When the digestive system undergoes a period of rest, it activates the body’s system of detoxification. The toxins, which the body accumulates from digestion of food, are temporarily store in fatty tissue. Therefore, when the body starts burning fat due to starvation, these toxins are removed from fat and the liver and kidneys break them down and they are released out of the body through the production of urine.
Recent studies have shown that fasting can help improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Cancer cells are out of control rapidly growing cells, which constantly are in need of a large amount of nutrients. So when fasting, the body undergoes a loss of nutrients for growth. Fasting affects cancer cells’ ability to reproduce. The starved cancer cells are easily destroyed by chemotherapy drugs. So the efficiency of the chemotherapy is improved.
Fasting has been observed by people of many religions for various reasons. It not only is good for the soul and improves our mental health, but it also brings with it many physical health benefits as well.