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The new health fad that’s been here millennia – Intermittent Fasting

As we approach our chocolate Easter eggs this April and leave Lent behind us it’s interesting to consider that Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer will be upon us this coming May. Both Christianity and Islam famously advocate these periods of fasting as important spiritual practices. There is also the Jewish fast of Yom Kipper and we see the practice also observed in Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. Although fasts differ from faith to faith, they do share one thing: a call to abstain from or reduce your food or drink or both for a period of time.

It is clear that fasting has been recognised for millennia as a beneficial practice, but fasting has also hit the headlines recently as new studies have demonstrated the considerable health benefits of this age-old practice. One study, which gained a lot of news coverage recently, showed that fasting can actually regenerate the pancreas. This is good news for diabetics as is could offer new treatment pathways for the disease. The popularity of the 5:2 diet has also raised many people’s awareness of the benefits of intermittent fasting (IF). Other studies have also shown that intermittent fasting can slow the rate of ageing, aid weight loss, lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. Clearly the ancient religious scribes and our prophets were on to something.

The received wisdom for many years has been you should eat at least three square meals a day. This might still be good advice if food is a scarce resource. Luckily today we live is a world where many of us benefit from an abundance of food. The consequences of this is a prevalence of chronic diseases linked to over consumption and a diet high in calories.

But why is intermittent fasting, the denial of essential nutrition, such a profoundly good habit for your body?  Well there are two main processes that a fast will trigger; autophagy and ketosis. You may have heard about ketosis through its association with the Atkins diet. It is often referred to as your body’s fat burning state and is triggered once your liver depletes all its stores of glycogen. The amazing thing about this metabolic state is that it is actually a much more efficient way for your body to metabolise its energy stores. Not only do many people find they are able to perform better mentally, their body also produces much less damaging free-radicals. This is particularly good news for your general health and your skin’s appearance. Typically it will normally take you a day or two of drastically restricting your sugar and carbohydrates for your body to achieve an advanced state of ketosis. Most people, however, will find they are in a mild state of ketosis when they wake up in the morning particularly if they ate their dinner early. It’s possible to prolong this state by simply skipping breakfast. Some intermittent diets recommend a coffee in the morning with butter and coconut oil to help stimulate and prolong your bodies production of ketones.

The second process that fasting induces is autophagy. The word is actually derived from the Greek “autophagos” and means self–devouring. This pretty much describes exactly what your body begins to do. Your body however is a very clever organism and chooses to devour your cellular junk first. It does this when structures called lysosomes break down your cellular junk into amino acids, which are the body’s building blocks. This in effect recycles your body’s garbage and is thought to help limit the ageing of your cells, suppress cancers and tumour formation and help destroy microbes and other infections.

The benefits are therefore clear, but isn’t fasting difficult? There are actually a number of different ways to fast some are much less arduous than other. If you decide you’d like to give fasting a go, please seek medical advice first and start by trying a couple of different fasting techniques to see which suits you best. You could start by once a week taking your dinner early at say 6:00PM.  Skip your breakfast the following day and then eat your lunch late at say 1:00PM. This will actually result in a 19 hour fast. Once you’ve completed this short fast the first time you should find it becomes much easier the next time you attempt it and each subsequent time afterwards. Following several of these short fasts, you might begin to feel ready for a 24 or even 36 hour fast. You should also find your cravings for sugary and high carbohydrate foods reduce significantly even when not fasting.

It’s often said that there is nothing new under the sun. Well, this new fad certainly isn’t new, but if you’re looking for a healthy practice to help cleanse, revitalise, rejuvenate or maybe even alleviate some sun damage your skin might have encountered over the years, you could consider skipping the odd meal.

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