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There is so much information out there, but it’s hard to know what is founded in science and what is just someone sharing their opinion. Intermittent fasting is one of those topics, where I hear people saying that they can’t discern the facts from the fiction.    What I’ve done here is put together an article on this topic, founded in science, because as I’ve noted in the article, I’ve pulled together this information from multiple trainings and podcasts I’ve listened to, that have been taught my mentor, Dr. Stephen Cabral, who is not only a Naturopathic Doctor, but also trained Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, Orthomolecular Medicine and Bioregulatory Medicine, plus he has nutrition certification and is a personal trainer and yoga instructor too! That’s alot of years of training, and I trust his expertise, and wanted to pull it together here in 1 article to share with you. 

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of intermittent fasting, perhaps you even practice intermittent fasting, but do you know why it is beneficial to your health, and did you know that too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing? Today I want to share with you the benefits of several types of fasting as well as the stages of fasting, so you can understand what is happening inside your body when you fast.

fasting health benefits

There has been a lot of research in recent years about the health benefits of eating less food and fasting in both mice and humans that show it is helping us live longer! Some have even coined fasting as “the closest discovery to the fountain of youth”! So if you want to feel and look younger, while also living longer and enjoying the quality of life, then keep on reading!

The key to properly fasting is putting the body into a state of “autophagy” or deep cleaning mode as I like to refer to it. When the body doesn’t have excess foods coming in, it will look to ‘clean house’ on the inside and use what it’s cleaned up as potential fuel. Digestion mode trumps everything, because we eat food for energy, so when we are constantly putting food or snacks in our mouth all day long, without even letting digestion of the previous meal finish, we are keeping our digestive system working hard, without ever allowing our little cleaners to come out and play.

When we stop eating for long enough our little cleaners get to do their job. Our liver is charged with over 500 chemical reactions in the body, including cleaning our blood every 6 minutes. Our small intestine likes to be sparkly clean and ideally will clean itself after completing digestion, as long as we give it time to do so and haven’t put something else into our mouth without fully digesting the last meal! Depending what you’ve eaten, an average meal will take 2-3 hours to completely digest, and if you had a steak, it could take 4 hours, so if you are eating your next meal/snack within those times frames, digestion of the first meal hasn’t fully completed, before it has to start digesting something new. So for most people (not those who are hypoglycemic), we want to ideally eat our meals and snacks every 3.5-4 hours and then a nightly intermittent fast of 12-14 hours. That way our body has time to complete digestion AND do some cleaning before the next meal, while having a longer period to properly detox overnight which is when our body & brain naturally detox.

Now this is where too much of a good thing can be a bad thing ‒ when we fast longer than 14 hours on a daily basis, we can start to put the body into survival mode in the morning, as we are demanding energy of our body and brain, for workouts for mental function as we start our day, but we aren’t fueling it. This can cause the body to go into survival mode, and turn on your sympathetic nervous system. Doing this day-in and day-out over time can have a domino effect on your hormones. Being in a constant “fight or flight” state, can cause “estrogen dominance”, where relative to the level of progesterone, we have too much estrogen and that can trigger other health issues in women such as low thyroid, Type II diabetes and even be a cause for breast cancer. So I do not recommend fasting longer than 12-14 hours for women on an ongoing daily basis. To learn more about hormone imbalances, you might like to read my article “Are Your Hormones Driving You Crazy?”

Now that I’ve given that important warning, let’s get back to the benefits of fasting and putting the body into a state of autophagy! When the body isn’t sick with chronic illness already, the immune system can focus on killing disease based cells. This process is helping to counter things like cancer and cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, infectious diseases, fatty liver, Type II diabetes, fighting against aging, while cleaning up dead and damaged cells in our system and boosting the strength of our innate immune system.

Functions of Autophagy

When we fast, our body cleans up waste. Every meal you eat creates metabolic waste, so there is always new waste coming in. The body will destroy dead tissues first, and then diseased tissues and then new healthy tissue and cells can start growing. There are different types of fasting, which I will outline below.

Daily 12-14 hour intermittent fasting allows for time for massive fat burning overnight, and then a little bit more between the 3 main meals of the day, as shown by this graph. For weight loss, for most people the best time to stop eating is 6 pm and then have your breakfast at 8 am the next day. You’ll also want to consider starting your day with a smoothie, as it’s easier on digestion, while still giving your body some great nutrients! (Your body uses 30% of your energy to digest your meal ‒ and that’s a healthy digestive system ‒ so if you let the blender do most of the work, you’ll have more energy for your workout or for mental focus at work as you start your day!) I like to say liquid before lunch, for this reason!

12 Hour Eating Window

Another option for fasting is to do a weekly 24-hour fast. This isn’t for beginners, but for those who have mastered a 12-14 hour daily fast for several months, and want to take their health to the next level, you can give this a go!

A 24-hour fast can start on Sunday night at 6 pm (after eating an early dinner), and end on Monday at 6pm when you get to enjoy dinner again! This way, you can still enjoy dinner with your family 7 nights/week, but between the earlier dinner on Sunday night and a slightly later dinner on Monday night you can still get in 24 hours of fasting. During this time you can enjoy green juices, or water flavored with some lemon or lime juice, herbal teas, or make your own ginger tea. (Put an inch of fresh ginger root in the bottom of your mug, let it steep for 10 minutes and enjoy!). Ginger is great for digestion and for the immune system too!

Building upon the weekly 24-hour fast, you can add in a quarterly 2 day fast. I teach this to my clients as part of my 7-day detox ‒ the first 2 days we fast in order to put the body into “autophagy” and the next 5 days we follow specific detox recipes, and eat every 3.5-4 hours starting with a shake, then a vegan lunch, followed by an afternoon shake, and then dinner (with animal protein if desired). The shake has a detox formula in it, along with all the vitamins and minerals the body needs, so we are still nourishing the body and giving it what it needs during the fasting days and balance of the week, but it’s very diluted on the fasting days so we are not turning on digestion. We also use some specific Ayurvedic herbs to support phase II of liver detoxification as those are the nutrients that are depleted in our soil systems and therefore are not grown into our food so we are not getting them into our diet. Therefore, we have to support the body’s ability to detoxify with these supplements, during this 7-day period. If you’re wanting to do this on your own, you can also just use all green juices on your 2 fasting days ‒ cucumber, celery, kale, spinach, broccoli, swiss chard and some lemon or lime.

As an annual fast, I recommend a 21-day detox, which includes 2 days of fasting each of the 3 weeks. This is actually where I start my clients, albeit in a guided program, because they are coming to me due to health issues, high levels of inflammation, aches and pains, and this is the quickest way for them to start seeing some results. Plus there is no point putting healing protocols into a gut full of sludge as they won’t all get to the cells that need them anyway! It is far more effective to clear out the gunk and then start introducing healing remedies. This program includes the 12-14 hour daily intermittent fasting and then when they successfully complete my program I then recommend quarterly 7-day detoxes, because the toxins are always coming in and so we have to keep getting them out…it’s just the reality we face in our world today. You can read more about this in my article “Are Your Traschans Overflowing?” And once people have done several quarterly 7-day detoxes, their metabolic flexibility is generally in a place where they can start doing the weekly 24-hour fast. The 21 day detox program is the same as the 7-day detox, but just repeated 3 times, for greater benefit. It also means your body is getting 6 days of fasting in, we just aren’t doing it all one week, as that is very hard on the body and most people wouldn’t be able to function at work after about day 3. By spreading it out over 21 days, it’s easier for people to stick with the program and have it work within their everyday life, they don’t have to take a vacation from work to do the program and reap these health benefits!

This is a quick overview of what happens inside your body during your fasting days! Thank you to my mentor, Dr. Stephen Cabral for his excellent teaching on this topic.

At 12 hours – the body taps into glycogen reserves in the liver to maintain normal blood sugar levels, and also starts to tap into greater amounts of body fat, and small amounts of autophagy will take place.

At 18 hours – cellular clean-up is now really kicking in, as the body is getting rid of weak and damaged mitochondrial cells (your energy powerhouses) and then making new mitochondria.

At 24 hours mass scale autophagy is happening now, exercising at this point can actually increase autophagy further, and create more mitochondria and greater cellular clean-up. Misfolded proteins linked to Alzheimer’s get cleaned up too.

At 48 hours glycogen reserves are depleted, ketones are being produced and used by the body and brought as back up fuel sources. There may be some body aches, headaches, grogginess and brain fog as the body switches from glucose to ketones. After getting through this, there is a reduction in inflammation. There is also a surge of growth hormone to help grow new cells and preserve muscle mass.

At 72 hours survival mode kicks in, you’ll feel less hungry, as the body has adapted and ghrelin levels (your hunger hormone) adjust. The body is now in stem cell rejuvenation mode.

Hopefully, this article gives you a greater understanding of the benefits of fasting, as well as the different types of fasts you can do, and what is happening inside your body when you fast. You can definitely make it a way of life, in order to tap into the fountain of youth and extend your longevity.

Written by: Melissa Deally, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

First seen on Brainz Magazine October 2022

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.