Is fasting good for our body? This is a question that humanity still has no answer for. One side, mostly nutritionists, claim that it is bad for us, while another, mostly religious, believes that it is healthy for us. Of course, what I said was the extreme ends of the debate.
Can science prove that fasting is healthy? Or to rephrase that, was it able to find any benefits to fasting? I think so, and below I’ve summarized the report.
The interesting thing about this study, it reports that fasting can regenerate our immune system if we fast for at least three days. I know you are saying a 3-day fast is not easy, I agree. I fast regularly and to go beyond a 24-hour period requires a certain set of mind and preparation (and conviction for that matter). But, science is science, right? Three it is then.
In this controlled experiment, scientists at the University of Southern California discovered that our body sends a signal to regenerate white blood cells, even in the elderly, in a breakthrough described as “remarkable”.
What are white blood cells?
According to our neighborhood wikipedia:
White blood cells (WBCs), also called leukocytes or leucocytes, are the cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders. All leukocytes are produced and derived from a multipotent cell in the bone marrow known as a hematopoietic stem cell. Leukocytes are found throughout the body, including the blood and lymphatic system.
In other words, our immune system relies on our white blood cells to protect all the systems in our body. A high count in WBC is usually a sign of an infection, our body generates more of it to fight back. While the lack of it means we will be prone to sickness.
With this new discovery, WBCs also have another purpose, it regenerates our immune system and to trigger that you and me have to fast for at least three days.
“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Dr Longo said.
“What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. So we started thinking, well, where does it come from?”
What are the benefits then? Surely there must be a convincing reason to starve ourselves for three days, right?
- It replaces the damaged or old parts of the system during fasting.
- Uses up your body’s stored glucose and fats, and WBCs — which then triggers regeneration of new WBCs.
- Also reduces the enzyme PKA — which is linked to ageing
- Less damage to the immune system when doing chemotherapy
Of course there are always those who are always anti-fasting and prefers that we keep on eating and eating, and take additional drugs too.
Fasting is good for our body. I’m not religious but I am a Messianic Apostolic Pentecostal (or Hebrew-Roots Christianity) believer, and fasting is part of our beliefs. Secondly, having so many interests I do forget to eat when I’m too concentrated on what I am doing — unintentional fasting.
From these, I personally can attest that fasting helped me to fight back. But before I included fasting in my “diet”? I get sick a lot, it was frequent, I already knew the pattern of when the next will be. In the past three years, however, I rarely got sick. When I did, it only lasted for a few hours, two days at most.
A fair reminder and warning: if you are not used to fasting, do not do it just because. As I’ve said earlier, fasting requires a certain set of mind and preparation. You do not fast whenever and wherever you like. There are other factors to consider like, medicines you are currently taking, your current health status. Even as mundane as, how much do you eat every single day. Trust me, if your body’s used to you eating a lot, you will find it hard.
How do you prepare for fasting? Well, it is a topic for another day.
Image: Fasting 4-Fasting-a-glass-of-water-on-an-empty-plate, CC BY 1.0 Jean Fortunet.