You need food for several reasons. It provides your body with the nutrition it needs to regenerate cells, it provides a steady source of energy, and it can even balance your mood. However, some studies suggest that going without food may do the body good. This raises the question: is fasting good for you?
Fasting is a term used to define the act of going without food for a period, whether the fast lasts eight hours or several weeks. People may fast during certain sicknesses to allow their bodies time to heal, they may fast prior to surgeries to negate certain risks, or they may fast to lose stubborn weight that they can’t seem to otherwise shed. While fasting is certainly necessary in some cases, most nutritional experts are strongly against it for the long-term, claiming it can wreak havoc on the body, slow down metabolism, and cause nutrient deficiencies.
Despite the chorus of nutritionists claiming that fasting should be avoided except when absolutely unnecessary, a groundbreaking study out of the University of California wants to answer the question “is fasting good for you?” once and for all. The scientists’ study shows that fasting may completely reset the immune system. In fact, fasting for as little as three days can trigger a response in the human body, much like flipping a switch, that forces stem cells to create white blood cells – the very epicenter of the body’s immune system. This is especially helpful in patients who have compromised immune systems due to chemotherapy, old age, and even some immune disorders.
Professor Valter Longo, who is the Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California, even goes as far as saying that fasting cycles can completely regenerate the immune system from scratch, which could be extremely beneficial in patients who are ill due to poor immune responses. Patients undergoing chemotherapy, especially, would be better equipped to fight off everyday infections that sometimes prove fatal during cancer treatment.
While most of the individuals in the study were asked to fast anywhere from two to four days, researchers also found that prolonged fasting – or fasting longer than just a few days – could also be beneficial. Scientists found that longer-term fasting reduced the amount of an enzyme known as PKA, or protein kinase A, in the body. This enzyme has been linked to a hormone which may increase cancer risk, and it’s also been shown to accelerate the aging process. Is fasting good for you? It could not only help rebuild your immune system, but it could also keep you cancer free and youthful.
Fasting is essentially starvation, whether it’s short-term or long-term. Over time, as you go longer and longer without food, your body compensates by trying to save energy. Therefore, your metabolism slows down significantly; your body doesn’t want to burn more energy than it absolutely must. It’s also why fasting can reset your immune system. The body can simply break down and recycle the immune cells that it doesn’t need, and because the body is such a remarkable thing, it can choose damaged immune cells first.
Although the results of the study are certainly staggering, there is still skepticism in the medical world. Several other doctors and professors claim the evidence is “improbable”, while still others believe that it is best to duplicate the results of the study with medications rather than asking people who are already ill to fast. Taking nutrition away from unhealthy bodies may just do more harm than good in these cases, according to some experts. Nonetheless, Dr. Longo claims there’s no evidence to support the dangers of fasting for up to 72 hours, even though there’s plenty of evidence to support its benefits.
Is fasting good for you? According to some recent research, it just might be, though the findings are met with some opposition. Regardless of the outcome of the study or the opinions of the medical community, one thing remains clear: more research is needed.
For more information, read our article on intermittent fasting.