In addition to stimulating the lymphatic system as I talked about earlier, fasting or Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been known to help improve immune function, also. Fasting, as you know, simply means going a prolonged time without eating, typically several hours, or a day or so. This isn’t a new philosophy, as it is recorded in the Bible, and has been widely practiced by Christians for thousands of years.
You can also fast “intermittently” by following a schedule where you rotate periods of eating and fasting throughout the day. You can follow something like a 12/12, 10/14, or 8/16 schedule. In other words, if you are following the 8/16 schedule, you will eat all your macros within an 8-hour window, then you fast and eat or drink nothing (except water) for the remaining 16 hours of the day. For example, you might have breakfast at 10 AM, lunch at 1 PM, and then dinner at 5 or 6 PM. Then you fast 16 hours and do not eat anything until the next morning at 10:00 A.M., where you start all over again.
Why is this beneficial? One, initial fasting can help you get into a state of ketosis quicker (if you are attempting a ketogenic diet), and regular fasting can help you become more “fat-adapted” (meaning it can help you become a more efficient fat-burning machine).
Two, the body breaks down a substantial amount of white blood cells during periods of fasting, especially old and damaged cells. This triggers stem cell regeneration of new immune system cells. Stem cells are like chameleon cells. Given the right conditions, they not only regenerate, but they also have this fantastic ability to turn into different types of cells like muscle cells, red blood cells, brain cells, and immune cells, and take on specialized functions in the body.
Extended fasting essentially “flips a switch” for stem cells, where they go from an inactive state to the state of self-renewal, especially cells in the hematopoietic system (which includes your blood-making organs, bone marrow, and lymph nodes). They become little “builder cells” with the task of repairing and replacing worn-out or damaged tissue. During periods of fasting stem cells are quite literally “rebuilding your temple.”
Research suggests that stem cells can flip this switch after 24 hours of fasting. (10) Other research shows that 72 hours of fasting (followed by a healthy, nutritionally sound diet) can actually regenerate the entire immune system! (11) In fact, this research showed prolonged fasting could even lower IGF-1 levels, which is a growth-factor hormone linked to aging, tumor progression, and cancer risk.
Additionally, fasting can help balance hunger hormones. In fact, studies show that ghrelin (which tells the body to eat) gradually DECREASED with fasting. In other words, patients were LESS hungry despite not eating. (12)
It can also help balance Leptin, the hunger hormone that tells you to stop eating. This may be especially important for those who suffer from Leptin resistance. Because Leptin is produced by fat cells, overweight people can sometimes have too much Leptin. You might think this is a good thing if Leptin says to stop eating, but actually, this overabundance can make the brain less sensitive to leptin… so it “resists,” and doesn’t listen to the signal to stop eating.
To increase Leptin sensitivity, therefore, it’s important to lower the overabundance of Leptin. You can do this through fasting. In fact, one study showed that serum leptin levels in obese people decreased by 72% with fasting. In normal-weight people, it decreased by 64%. (13) This is also important because Leptin plays key roles in blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity too. (14) Though, fasting by its very nature causes the body to secrete less insulin because there is not a steady supply of sugar, which can also increase insulin sensitivity in those with insulin resistance, regardless of Leptin levels.
Additionally, fasting can help improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol; decrease inflammation, improve stress response, and reduce free radical damage. (15)
The longer the fast, the more benefits it can potentially have (up to a few days for most people).
However, it’s important to be smart about fasting. If you are accustomed to eating often, do not just start a prolonged fast out of the blue. Talk to your doctor. You may want to ease into it. Perhaps you may want to start with a 12/12 schedule and work your way up to an 8/16 schedule. Then maybe you will ready to try a full 24 hour fast. Again, please do not jump into an extreme fast without first consulting your doctor, especially if you have known health issues such as those below. While fasting can be beneficial for many, it is certainly NOT for everyone.
Adrenal Fatigue— going 16-18 hours without eating can tax your adrenal glands. The adrenals help maintain blood sugar levels between meals, and so weak adrenals may not be able to support fasting, which could result in blood sugar issues.
Stress—along those same lines, it’s important to note that cortisol can go up during fasting. Fasting is a stress to the body, and if too much stress (and too much cortisol) is already a problem for you, then fasting may not be right for you at this point.
Hypoglycemia and/or Prediabetes—fasting lowers sugar quickly, and if there is already too much insulin present, that can lower sugar even more, which can create hypoglycemia.
So, even though I personally am a huge fan of fasting, I do not suggest trying to fast for an extended time unless you first seek the advice of a medical doctor who confirms that it is right for you.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Stacy Malesiewski is not a doctor and does not give medical advice, prescribe medication, or diagnose illness. Stacy is a certified health coach, journalist, and independent Plexus Worldwide ambassador. These are her personal beliefs and are not the beliefs of Plexus Worldwide or any other named professional. If you have a medical condition or health concern, it is advised that you see your physician immediately. It is also recommended that you consult your doctor before implementing any new health strategy or taking any new supplements. Results may vary.
Excerpt taken from Rebuilding Your Temple: Blueprints for True and Lasting Health by Stacy Mal