Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting – Why Intermittent Fasting Works (Part 2 of 3)

In Part 1, I emphasized that the human body evolved not only to survive, but to thrive on periods of fasting. This is one of the reasons why among the many cultures and religious traditions around the world, all of them include observances of fasting in their practices. This is a connection with our humanity itself, and a way to achieve spiritual and physical cleansing, clarity, and health.

Of course, everyone is different, and even with religious observance, exceptions are made for certain individuals who are elderly, frail, or have other conditions that require modifications. It is always a good rule to use common sense when approaching this. However, most people not only can do this, but once they do, find the benefits to be exhilarating, and the approach to be a sustainable and enjoyable way of life, not a diet.

The balance between fed and fasting

The simplest way to explain why intermittent fasting is beneficial is this: When we fast, we allow our bodies to use energy we have stored (fat) as fuel. Of course, this allows us to lose weight, but that is not all. The energy from fat burning is clean and constant, unlike the ups and downs that happen when we are constantly eating. If the body is used to seeing food at frequent intervals, it will only be prepared to use that food for fuel, rather than tapping into the stored energy. In fact, in most cases, it will store even more fat. Why would it go through the trouble of burning fat when there is a surplus of food that needs to be stored?

Another way of saying this is that when we eat, particularly foods that contain sugars and carbohydrates, the body releases insulin. Unless we have already developed Type II diabetes, insulin allows us to control the level of sugar in the blood, essentially by using the liver to to sugar into fat, and then transporting that fat to storage sites around the body. When those storage sites get full, the only place left to put it is in the visceral (belly) fat which is basically a throw away storage area, and the one that is most difficult to open up and release. So insulin is the hormone that causes us to store fat in the closet and hide the key. When we fast, insulin levels come down, and the key magically appears.

This balance between eating and fasting is inevitable. No one is eating literally all the time, so the flow between fed states and fasting states is always a back and forth. However, for most of us, the flux is unbalanced in a direction that is ultimately unhealthy.

Autophagy

In addition to burning fat, fasting triggers another beneficial process called autophagy. This term comes from the Greek word “auto” (self) and “phagein” (to eat). So literally this means to eat oneself. While that may sound problematic, the beauty is that the process of autophagy works by scouring the body for all of the broken down machinery and parts that are no longer functioning optimally, and in fact may be contributing to low energy and inflammation. This includes organelles (tiny little organs inside of your cells), parts of organelles, cell membranes, proteins, biofilm, and other cellular debris.
In order to create new cells, cellular machinery, and organelles, you first have to break down the old parts. You can’t organize your garage or bring in new equipment until the old, useless stuff is cleared out. Without fasting, you can’t initiate this cleansing process and are constantly running with inefficient machinery. With fasting, once you eat, you then stimulate your body to produce new cells and cell parts. In essence, autophagy clears the way for self-renewal.

This self-renewal process is essentially an anti-aging process, and is one of the many reasons why intermittent fasting can be beneficial across such a wide spectrum. It increases the efficiency of cellular metabolism, helps prevent neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, improves energy levels, enhances the immune system, and reduces aches and pains. Because balance is being restored even issues like anxiety can decrease, and sleep can be deeper and more restorative.

Intermittent Fasting and the Gut

In addition to all of the systemic benefits described above, not surprisingly it is the gut and your microbiome that typically experiences the most benefits. As described in part one, it takes a lot of energy to digest food, and giving the gut itself a rest can often lead to rapid relief from bloating, reflux, pain, and other symptoms.

Furthermore, the gut is separated by a very small distance from something called GALT, or gut-associated lymphoid tissue. Essentially this is the immune system surrounding the gut, and comprises the large majority of the entire body’s immune system. Since the gut is technically the outside world, we do need a defense system surrounding it. This defense system is charged with the unenviable task of trying to recognize the difference between friendly and unfriendly resources entering our system. Toxins versus nutrients? Proteins from food, or bacteria cloaking itself as a food?

With fasting, the gut is able to wring itself out and go through its own process, not only of autophagy on a cellular scale, but also of wholesale cleansing of debris in the lining that may cloud the GALT’s ability to see clearly. Thus the GALT, or gut immune system, functions better, performing its functions without overreacting or causing unnecessary extra inflammation.

Fasting has even been shown to quickly benefit the balance of microorganisms in the microbiome. The explosion of digestive issues related to SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is influenced not only by the type of food we eat, but by the frequency with which we eat it. Often, medicines which are prescribed for indigestion or reflux (i.e. PPI’s such as prevacid) can further contribute to imbalances that predispose to SIBO.

Instead, often with the simple steps of changing some of our foods and initiating an intermittent fasting protocol, we might be able to avoid the escalating doses of medicines, or even supplements, necessary to control these problems.

And there’s more, much more! But let’s move on to Part 3 so you can have a practical outline of how an intermittent fasting protocol could work for you.

Posted by Dr. Rob

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