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The Power of Fasting-Part 2

Updated: Mar 11

I outlined in my last post the amazing ability of the body to adapt and be prepared for times of scarcity. The body is able to do this because humans have a very flexible metabolism. Metabolism is simply the body's process to turn the food we eat into the energy to sustain our life and allow us to do the things we want to do. In times of calorie excess, eating more than we need to sustain life, our metabolic process will take advantage of these abundant calories and store them for later. The body is planning ahead. Throughout history, there have been times of feast and times of famine. This can happen on a very dramatic or cataclysmic scale when caused by natural disasters. It can also occur on a cyclical scale with the seasons. Our bodies are designed to endure and, I would like to suggest, even thrive during these seasons of feast and famine in our lives.

Often the word famine is associated to the idea of starvation. It is a misconception that fasting is just a glorified version of starvation. Fasting can be defined as the absence of caloric intake or a period to time where the body transitions from using your last meal for fuel to using stored fats to make energy. Whereas starvation can be described as a state where the body has used up the fat stores and it breaking down protein (muscle) to make energy. Starvation is damaging to the organs, fascia and skeletal muscle whereas, with fasting, the body is using the energy it stored previously to function and can be very regenerative and cleansing.

There are cases where the body will turn to breaking down muscle when stored fat is still available. This happens when the body is in a state of distress and inflammation. Keto-acidosis is one condition where the body is not producing insulin. The body is breaking down fat and protein to make energy but blood sugar remains high because the person is still eating regularly. When the body systems are not working together properly, the body is not in a relaxed state, and the sympathetic nervous system is activated (flight or fight). Other conditions can occur where a person is not eating much but the body is not functioning in balance and still has an activated sympathetic nervous system. It will resist moving to healthy lipolysis or fat burning and turn to muscle to make energy instead. These conditions need evaluation and support in order to activate the parasympathetic nervous system so that nutritional ketosis can be achieved. These situations can be very complicated and trained medical professionals can be very helpful to help individuals navigate the path out of chronic inflammation so the body can begin to relax and heal.

When the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is active, then extended fasting can initiate some truly amazing processes in the body. During fasting, when insulin levels are low, fat stores are accessed to make energy, ketone bodies increase in the blood stream as well as growth hormone, and Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). All of these compounds have really important regenerative functions in the body.

When the body does not need to spend energy digesting and processing food, it can activate more routine maintenance processes such as autophagy. Autophagy a word that means "self-devouring." It is the natural, targeted degradation of parts of the cell that are dysfunctional and regenerates and rebuilds them. Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is another process that occurs under the direction of autophagy that will direct cells to self destruct when the cell is so damaged that is can no longer function normally. In this way the body removes damaged, partially functioning cells that in a pro-inflammatory state would promote disease progression and could lead to chronic illness and tumors or other types of cancer.

In a fasting state, the body can more effectively remove toxic waste it has been storing and collected in times of harvest and feasting. Just one 5 to 7 day fast can dramatically reduce our risk of developing cancer. It has great benefit to reverse aging and rejevinate the body. Once your fast is over and you are refueling on nutrient rich and low inflammatory foods, the elevated growth hormone and BNDF will signal muscle growth and tissue regeneration, neurogenesis or brain repair, and increase cognitive function. This is the best anti-aging and anti-cancer drug we have available to us today and it is absolutely free!

I am offering you a mindset shift around fasting from something to dread to a necessity for our body to be efficient and healthy. During the first 2 days of fasting your feelings of hunger will typically increase. The hunger hormone, ghrelin, will be activated as your carbohydrate levels decrease. This is only temporary and ghrelin will naturally decrease as the body transitions to fat burning. I want to emphasize again that a relaxed state (activated parasympathetic nervous system) is an important step to suppress ghrelin and you may need try several shorter fasts for your body to transition more easily into nutritional ketosis.

I hope you have found this discussion informative and encouraging as you consider your health goals for 2024. Review the tips in the previous post on fasting as you think about what will work for you in your goal to revitalize and rejeuventate your metabolism. Reach out to us through if you would like more information on our coaching packages to help you in your quest to live the life you want.

Yours in Health,

Renee Williams

Biochemist and Certified Health Coach


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