Humans have adapted to numerous challenging environments – having to run, climb, fight, lift, starve and kill in order to survive. Our ancestors did not always have access to food and would regularly have times of food shortage and famine. These challenges primed the human physiology giving you a stronger survival advantage through an ability to change your metabolism to meet unique demands.
Modern societal habits have cost metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency, which make humans weaker as a species and more susceptible to the development of chronic disease.
Metabolic Flexibility: The ability to change the metabolism to meet the demands of the environment.
Energy Efficiency: Using energy in the most efficient matter possible to regulate all the needs of the body.
There are a number of benefits to fasting and reasons to apply it into your life. You may not experience all of these benefits the first time you fast. Fasting like exercise, requires an adaptation to achieve maximum results.
If you are trying out an extended fast beyond a day, the first time is usually the hardest and it typically gets easier with each successive fast unless you are under a lot stress.
Practicing intermittent fasting on a regular basis with an occasional extended fast is where you will experience the most benefit.
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Benefits of Fasting
Stimulates Fat Burning:
When you fast, your body needs to find an alternative fuel and it will first begin by burning up stored sugar called glycogen. As our glycogen stores go down, our body will begin burning fat for fuel and producing ketones.
This process improves your body’s ability to burn fat on a regular basis and become fat adapted. As a fat adapted individual, your body will have the metabolic flexibility to easily shift from burning sugar when you consume carbohydrates in your meals to burning fat when you are outside of meals.
Fasting has been shown to reduce the activity of inflammatory inducing gene pathways in the body and the number of inflammatory cytokines produced in the body.
By reducing inflammation, specifically in the brain, the risk of stroke and neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s is reduced. In addition, brain fog is lifted and focus is restored. This enhances mental acuity and helps you feel energized.
Improves Energy Levels:
The mitochondria are what produce energy within every cell of the body. The more well-functioning mitochondria you have within each cell, the more cellular energy you can produce. Chronic disease states are associated with an abundance of old and dysfunctional mitochondria.
Fasting stimulates a process called mitophagy, where the body breaks down older, more dysfunctional mitochondria and uses the materials to produce new mitochondria. This also increases the number of mitochondria within each cell.
By increasing the amount of healthy and well-functioning mitochondria in each cell, we produce a tremendous amount of cellular energy. This is all due to improved metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency.
Additionally, fasting also increases norepinephrine levels just slightly which increases mental clarity and overall energy. The combination of elevated ketones and norepinephrine can create a sort of “fasting high,” where people experience a form of unlimited energy and euphoria.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity:
Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for putting sugar into cells and stimulating glycolysis and lipogenesis. These terms mean burning sugar for fuel and increasing fat storage.
In addition, high insulin levels from frequent eating and high carbohydrate foods, stimulate inflammatory gene pathways. Fasting improves the use of insulin, resulting in less needed when food is consumed. This results in less fat storage and inflammation.
Having good insulin sensitivity is also important to deliver adequate nutrients. Improved insulin sensitivity, results in needing less vital nutrients because you have better nutrient delivery systems into the cells. This is one reason why your actual nutrient needs reduce when you are fasting.
Supports the Digestive System:
Digestion is a very stressful and energy demanding process. When you fast, you are able to divert the energy that would normally go into digesting your meal towards healing and repairing the immune system, your joint tissue, brain cells and other regions of the body.
Additionally, by fasting, you take some of the mechanical stress off of the gut and allow it to heal and repair itself.
Improves Genetic Repair Mechanisms:
Research has shown that cells have a greater lifespan during times of food scarcity and famine. Fasting enhances cellular rejuvenation by acting on certain genetic repair mechanisms. Less energy is used to repair a cell than to divide and create new cells.
The main hormone responsible for this improved repair mechanism is human growth hormone (HGH), which increases significantly as the length of the fast increases.
HGH helps improve cellular healing and stimulates fat burning, lean muscle and bone development and helps to modulate the immune system in such a way that it reduces inflammation. HGH has also been found to improve the quality of collagen tissue in our joints, skin and nails.
Many believe HGH to an anti-aging serum within the body. By applying the principles of fasting you can create a regular HGH boost to improve your physical appearance and slow down the aging process.
Stimulates Cellular Autophagy:
The word “autophagy” originates from the Greek words “auto,” which means self, and “phagein,” which means to eat. Thus, autophagy is a process of self-eating. This emerged in the 1960’s when researchers observed that a cell could destroy and recycle its own parts.
Autophagy is part of the innate immune system, where the body breaks down old, damaged cellular components and abnormally developing cells to recycle for energy. This is true cellular cleansing, where the cell is cleansed of older, inferior machinery to make room for newer, more well-functioning organelles.
One key element of autophagy is called mitophagy, where the body metabolizes old, damaged mitochondria to use the materials and space in the cell to develop new, healthier and more stress resilient mitochondria.
The better functioning cellular components and mitochondria our body contains, the better we will function. This means higher performance and more resilient to stress, aging and the development of chronic disease.
Supports Stem Cell Activity:
Fasting has been shown to increase stem cell activity, giving oyur body very youthful cells that can provide a wide variety of benefits. Many people inject stem cells to help repair damaged joints. Fasting is a way to internally stimulate these stem cells to repair damaged areas of our body.
Studies have shown that prolonged fasting (PF) lasting 48–120 hours reduces pro-growth signaling (Insulin like growth factor -1 or IGF-1 and Protein Kinase A or PKA) and activates pathways that enhance cellular resistance to toxins and stress in mice and humans.
Shorter, intermittent fasting won’t increase stem cell production in the same way for most of the body. However, certain regions of the body, such as the intestinal lining have been shown to increase stem cell development in as little as a 24 hour fast. This makes sense as the cells of the intestinal lining have short life spans and turn over every 3-5 days.
Reduces Chronic Disease Risk:
All chronic diseases are diseases that are characterized by chronic inflammation. Fasting is the most powerful nutritional strategy to reduce inflammation in the body.
When you reduce inflammatory levels, you influence your genes to express better health for all the systems, tissues and cells of the body. This in turn greatly reduces your risk of chronic disease and supports improvement if you are already dealing with a chronic disease.
Improved Mental Health:
As ketones elevate in the body, most people experience improved mood, mental clarity and creativity. Many people observe that they feel the most productive at the peak of their intermittent fast or after 3-4 days of extended fasting.
When choosing to combine an intermittent fasting protocol with your Paleo diet there are a few things to consider:
If you are new to a Paleo lifestyle and coming from an unhealthy diet and a big, refined carbohydrate-heavy breakfast, the change might feel rather extreme. It may be better and more sustainable to do a gradual change to healthy paleo living before thinking of adding fasting to the mix.
Occasionally it can be challenging to eat enough calories when there are fewer meals eaten and some people struggle to eat enough healthy, nutrient dense food in a limited daily period. Although a Paleo diet (and all of Pete’s Paleo meals) does focus on nutrient density, if your caloric requirements are higher, a fasting protocol may not be the optimal choice for you. Please also refer to our previous post on who should NOT fast.
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Thousands of years of human history and modern science have shown that fasting is one of the most ancient and powerful healing strategies known to mankind. Even better, it costs nothing and can be practiced immediately in the comfort of your own home.If you are already enjoying the benefits of either Paleo or intermittent fasting, why not take things a step further and try both together? You might be surprised as to how effective it is to follow the ultimate natural eating pattern.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com