Could fasting help to boost the immune system?

Fasting, i.e. the practice of not eating for a specific time period, has been done for thousands of years by people for ritualistic or spiritual reasons, and some people believe it could be beneficial to your health, especially the immune system. 

A lot of criticism has been thrown at fasting, but research suggests that a carefully controlled fast can induce the body to produce more white blood cells aka leukocytes, which are the body’s front line of defence against infection from viruses and bacteria.

Medical trials* at the University of California appear to show that fasting can ‘reboot’ a damaged immune system in the case of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or with auto-immune disorders.

Professor Valter Longo has been studying the results of fasting since he published a paper on the astounding activity of starved yeast cells – if the cells were not ‘fed’, they would effectively ‘commit suicide’ in the form of apoptosis aka cell death, in order to feed the remaining 5% of living cells. This of course was a surprising outcome and makes us want to find out more about the potential benefits of fasting.

Could fasting be a good way to ‘reset’ some bodily processes and induce the body into allowing defective cells to die and creating new ones once the fast is broken?

What kinds of fasts can I do?

There are a few different ways of fasting, and all can give you the potential benefits of a fast.

Selective Fasting

This is not a complete fast, selective fasting involves abstaining from certain foods, or only fasting for certain hours of the day. This may be a practical way of trying fasting for the first time.

Water Fasting

This means that during a fast of up to 3 days, you only consume water. This sounds difficult, but drinking plenty of water will help to quell feelings of hunger and can help to cleanse the digestive tract. This type of fast requires preparation beforehand, and may be hard for beginners to fasting.

Intermittent Fasting 

If you are fasting intermittently, you are making a conscious decision to only consume food during certain hours. This could involve purposefully skipping a meal or having a cut-off time in the day after which you do not eat anything, e.g. not having breakfast and having your first meal at lunchtime, or having an early evening meal and not eating any more until breakfast the next day. This is the most popular type of fasting.

Working Out on an Empty Stomach

Many people choose to do a half-day fast and also do a workout before eating. The combination of exercise and fasting is thought to help your body to burn more fat without eating up muscle. Note: you might find it hard to complete your normal workout on an empty stomach. 

As with any change to your health regime, always contact a medical professional before trying fasting. Fasting will not be suitable for everyone, especially people with medical conditions.

*Source: Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system


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