Cancer patients who fasted for 3 days prior to chemotherapy were protected against immune system damage that can be caused by the treatment, which they attribute to immune cell regeneration.
Fasting is a type of metabolic therapy that uses a mix of diets, enzymes and nutritional supplements to help the body remove toxins. In fasting, you voluntarily abstain from consuming some or all foods and liquids.
- A number of studies have suggested intermittent fasting has numerous health benefits, including weight loss, lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol.
- When the body has used up glucose stores during fasting, it burns fat for energy, resulting in weight loss
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A number of studies have suggested intermittent fasting has numerous health benefits, including weight loss, lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol.
In recent years, numerous studies have suggested that intermittent fasting – abstaining or reducing food and drink intake periodically – can be good for us, making it one of the most popular diet trends worldwide.
One of the most well-known intermittent fasting diets is the 5:2 Fast Diet – a plan that involves eating the recommended calorie intake for 5 days a week but reducing calorie intake to 25% for the remaining 2 days – to 500 calories a day for women and 600 a day for men.
According to Dr. Michael Mosley – author of The Fast Diet books – this eating plan can not only help people lose weight, but it offers an array of other health benefits.
In June 2014, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting periodic fasting – defined in the study as 1 day of water-only fasting a week – may reduce the risk of diabetes among people at high risk for the condition.
Another study, conducted by Dr. Valter Longo and colleagues from the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, found longer periods of fasting – 2-4 days – may even “reboot” the immune system, clearing out old immune cells and regenerating new ones – a process they say could protect against cell damage caused by factors such as aging and chemotherapy.
But what are the mechanisms underlying the suggested health benefits of fasting?
The potential benefits of intermittent fasting
Since the body is unable to get its energy from food during fasting, it dips into glucose that is stored in the liver and muscles. This begins around 8 hours after the last meal is consumed.
When the stored glucose has been used up, the body then begins to burn fat as a source of energy, which can result in weight loss.
As well as aiding weight loss, Dr. Razeen Mahroof, of the University of Oxford in the UK, explains that the use of fat for energy can help preserve muscle and reduce cholesterol levels.
When the body has used up glucose stores during fasting, it burns fat for energy, resulting in weight loss.
“A detoxification process also occurs, because any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body,” he adds, noting that after a few days of fasting, higher levels of endorphins – “feel-good” hormones – are produced in the blood, which can have a positive impact on mental well-being.
As mentioned previously, the study by Dr. Longo and colleagues suggests prolonged fasting may also be effective for regenerating immune cells.
“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 explains.
In their study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the team found that repeated cycles of 2-4 days without food over a 6-month period destroyed the old and damaged immune cells in mice and generated new ones.
What is more, the team found that cancer patients who fasted for 3 days prior to chemotherapy were protected against immune system damage that can be caused by the treatment, which they attribute to immune cell regeneration.
“The good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting,” says Dr. Longo. “Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
With the potential health benefits of fasting widely hailed by nutritionists worldwide, it is no wonder many of us are putting our love of food to one side in order to give it a try.