At no time in the history of the mankind, human beings are so well fed and unwell at the same time! Regain the natural equilibrium of your health. Start fasting.  

Fasting Overview

Fasting is as common in nature as feeding. Animals do not go to see a doctor when they get sick, they simply fast and let their bodies heal before resuming eating. Our human ancestors also have been well clued on to the role of fasting in reviving healing power of the body and used it extensively. Most of the common ailments were simply treated by reducing intake of food or going on fast. All the major religions similarly understood the rejuvenating power of fasting and included them in their traditions. Many of these religious fasts are timed at the change of season when the body is more vulnerable to diseases and sickness and fasting helps in coping up with the change.

Fasting Vs Starvation

The view on fasting changed with the advent of modern medicine where fasting was equated with starvation despite the fact that these two are different concepts. Starvation is a process of depletion of the body of its essential nutrients whereas fasting is aimed at regaining the strength and balance of the body and it stops much before nutritional depletion starts.

Lately, with the increase in the incidence of chronic diseases, fasting and its restorative powers have come into focus again. At no time in the history of the mankind, human beings are so well fed and unwell at the same time. Most of the blame has to go to the modern medicine practitioners who advocate eating anything and everything during ailments disregarding the body’s inherent healing mechanisms.

Biology of Fasting

Fasting is the process of organizing factors of life in a way that the body’s innate healing processes are activated. Our brain takes fasting as a challenge and reacts by activating adaptive stress responses that help it to cope with diseases. When we go without food for a long period of time, our brain immediately starts cogitating about the future course of action. In order to support metabolism, it first starts mobilizing stored glucose in the liver called glycogen as a source of energy but glycogen generally lasts for 12 to 24 hours only. After depletion of glycogen, it goes for another rich source of energy namely fats that are a twice as rich source of energy as carbohydrates. The process of using fats for energy is called ketosis and it results in the concentration of ketones in the body. This switch from carbohydrate to fats as a basic currency of energy unleashes fundamental changes in the chemistry of metabolism, use of nutrients and excretion of waste providing an opportunity to the body to regain its balance. In the absence of digestion process, the body utilizes its energy in housekeeping functions of cleaning of the waste and repair of the cells and tissues.

Autophagy: The process of getting rid of cellular waste

The underlying biological processes involved in fasting is autophagy. While apoptosis is the process of getting rid of dead cell material from the body, autophagy refers to the process of identification and degradation of broken down old cellular material within the cell. Autophagy leads to rejuvenation of mitochondria, the cellular power plant of the body. It is the accumulation of these cellular junk that is responsible for aging. The process of autophagy ensures that the cellular build up does not impede the normal cellular functions. Nutrition deprivation is the key activator of autophagy. While fasting, insulin goes down and its opposite hormone, glucagon is activated which, in turn, stimulates the process of degradation and recycle of cellular components.  Fasting not only expedites the process of cellular cleansing but also stimulates growth hormone, which is responsible for the increased calcium retention, strengthening of bones, increased muscle mass and better protein synthesis and growth.

Benefits of Fasting

There are many benefits of fasting like weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, revved up body metabolism, improved immune system, and brain functions. According to many pieces of research conducted by neuroscientist Mark Mattson of John Hopkins, cutting energy intake by fasting helps our brain to ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s while at the same time improve memory and mood. The detoxification process during fasting further helps the body to get rid of any kind of accumulated toxins in the various organs like the colon, liver, kidney, lungs, and skin and thereby helps in rejuvenation and healing of the vital organs.

Types of Fasting

There are many different kinds of fasting like fruit fasting, juice fasting, water fasting, absolute fasting, mono diet fasting and intermittent fasting. Much would depend on the context of fasting. In Ayurveda, for example, the normative time period for fasting for different doshas are prescribed. A Kapha person can undertake longer fasts whereas a Vata dominant person must fast only for short durations. A healthier person can undertake more stringent fasting whereas a weak and sick should always undergo long fasting only under the care and supervision of an expert.

The ultimate aim of fasting is to achieve a state of functional excellence that allows to bring out best in us at physical, mental and spiritual level. To know more about benefits of fasting, you can go through our article on top 6 benefits of fasting.