Health, October 29, 2018

The research is mounting for the benefits of FASTING. I love that it ties in with my "be more, have less" and "get comfortable with uncomfortable" philosophies. Many of my athletes now practice fasting in a way that blends in well with their training. Read on for reasons why you should too.........

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a term for an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and fasting. It is not a diet, and it doesn’t describe what type of food to eat; instead it's an "eating pattern". Some common methods of implementing IF involves 16 hr fasts daily, or two 24hr fasts a week. You can still drink coffee, tea, and quality fresh juice (watered down), and off course water during the fasting periods. Some people I have talked too also have a spoon of coco-nut oil to help satisfy cravings.


From a scientific point of view, fasting promotes "Autophagy" which is where the cells in the body are rebuilding themselves, digesting and removing old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside the cell.  This happens more efficiently when the body is in a fasted state. The body literally rebuilds and strengthens the cells. Think of it as maintenance work. No matter how healthy our diet is it can be very stressful for the digestive system to be processing food continuously, and it's not designed to do so. Our bodies are designed to allow our digestive organs to take well deserved breaks. 


Some of the proposed changes that occur in the body due to fasting (and interesting these are also reported to happen with cold exposure therapy) are listed below...


1) Increasing levels of Human Growth Hormone (up to 5 fold#) having a benefit for fat loss and muscle gain.

2) Lowering levels of insulin (up to 30%*), improving sensitivity, making stored fat more accessible.

3) Cellular repair - Autophagy = system rebuild

4) Positive changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against certain diseases.


Shifting to an IF way of eating can help shift the mindset from food obsession to food freedom giving the body the digestion break it requires and deserves. Mounting research is showing that other key aspects of diet (apart from amount of kcal in and exercise) like WHEN and HOW often people eat can play a major role in health and wellness. Intermittent fasting is more aligned with how humans ate throughout most of our evolution and could help with many diseases of modern life such as diabetes (IF reduces insulin resistance), cardiovascular heart disease (IF may reduce LDL Cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers), Alzheimer’s (IF increases a brain hormone called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may aid the growth of new nerve cells) , and cancer (animal studies suggest that IF may help prevent cancer). Human beings have been around for around 200,000 years and apart from the last 5-10,000 or so we have been nomadic going without food for long periods and living in the elements.  Our biology is pretty much identical to our ancestors - our genetic code is hard wired to go without food for short periods between times of plenty, and cope with changes of temperature. 


"Fasting alone is more powerful in preventing and reversing some diseases than drugs........interment fasting helps the body to rejuvenate and repair, thereby promoting overall health" Associate Professor Satchidananda Panda (Regulatory biologist at Salk Institute for Biological studies in San Diego)


"I fast for greater mental and physical effiency." Plato


There are many ways to implement IF into your lifestyle, and it is very important to find a schedule that will work for you and your household. I personally complete an 18-22hr fast every Tuesday, and don't eat breakfast till 10am on the weekend to give my system more time between eating.  I will look to add another day of IF in the week as well when I have done this schedule for 6 months but not during periods of heavy training. I have chosen Tuesday as it's my REST DAY. I don't have any scheduled "training" apart from my usual daily habits (cold showers, meditation, using my standing desk, yoga inspired stretching, and slow push-ups). As always research IF yourself and only apply if it resonates with you. I enjoy the practice as it fits with my overall goals of "getting comfortable with uncomfortable", and "be more, have less".


Some new research (papers published from 2009 to 2015 in the AGING, BMC Cancer, Oncotarget, and Science translational medicine journal) lead by Professor Valter Longo (PhD) director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California; has shown that fasting for a 72 hour period (My wife and I complete a 3 day fast once a year) can drop the production of the enzyme PKA (a hormone linked with increased risk of cancer and tumour growth), and the immune system of the study participants appeared to get a "complete overhaul". The research showed that fasting forced the body to use its stores of glucose, fat, ketones, and break down a large proportion of white blood cells. The loss of white blood cells "flicked a switch" in the body to initiate a stem-cell based regeneration of the hematopoietic system (system of organs and tissues eg bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph involved in the production of cellular blood components), in turn regenerating new immune cells. Essentially when you fast your system must save energy, one way it does this is by recycling poorly functioning immune cells, especially those that are damaged. So theoretically when fasting for 72 hours then re-feeding with a nutrition packed plant based whole food diet COULD provide those who are struggling with a NEW better functioning immune system. This could have implications for those on chemotherapy or the elderly. I have read in Tim Ferriss's book "Tools of Titans" pg 31 Dr. Dominic D'agostino (PhD, associate professor in the department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida, College of Medicine) talking about fasting "sensitizing" cancer cells to chemo, and helping normal cells resist the toxicity.


There is some evidence that IF might not be as beneficial for women as for men, for extremely lean individuals, or people with disordered eating patterns.  Women with adrenal fatigue or hormone imbalances the risks of any fasting regime outweigh the benefits. For these reasons ease into IF with individualised medical advice if you have concerns. There are currently NO conclusive research studies to show that IF helps with "losing fat and gaining muscle". A lot of the research I flicked through were small in participant size, short in duration, or conducted in animals. I am more interested in the practise of fasting for general (mind-body-soul-spirit) wellbeing, cellular wellness, and longevity. There also seems to be a growing amount of research suggesting it can be beneficial for aiding immunity.  I also really enjoy that IF helps me appreciate my food more and going hungry strengthens my empathy for people around the world that struggle to get food on a consistent basis. Going without and having less is a powerful antidote to the constant cultural messages to have and consume more. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable by getting cold and going hungry to help your wellbeing. 


# Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man, Ho K.Y et al, The Journal of Clinical Investigation, Apr 1988 (81 (4) :968-975


*IF vs daily Kcal restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings, Barnosky A.R et al, The Journal of Lab and Clinical Medicine, Oct 2014 (Vol 164, Issue 4, pg 302-311)



Brad Dixon is a sports physiotherapist, coach, and wellness advocate based at EVERFIT Physio & Coaching. His passion is helping people strive for their potential with promotion of enhancing daily habits. Walking the talk helps deliver this message more authentically. The power is in your hands! If you want to connect with Brad he is at, and on Facebook, Strava, and Instagram (everfitcoach).

Please check out my book 'Holistic Human' for more information on expansive wellness habits