Fasting offers powerful healing potential for the body, the mind and the spirit. In fact, religious groups, naturalists, and health enthusiasts around the world have been fasting for millennia. Now, science is finally catching up with this ancient wisdom and providing a conceptual understanding of how fasting makes us healthier.
Fasting is currently an active topic of research, and is being studied at the highest levels in our academic and government institutions. Prominent researchers are using animal and human trials to define the molecular and cellular changes that take place during a fast. These efforts are demonstrating that fasting produces clinical benefits for many types of health conditions.
Specific to psoriasis, fasting has been shown to have significant positive effects on diseases of inflammation and in autoimmune disease. The presumed mechanism that allows fasting to combat these disorders is its ability to decrease total body inflammation while regenerating the immune system.
During a fast levels of pro-inflammatory mediators including TNF-alpha go down. A prolonged fast can result in the death of a significant percentage of white blood cells. This is followed by the stimulation of immune stem cells and the production of new white blood cells rebuilding and regenerating the immune system.
When you fast your body uses ketones for fuel instead of glucose by breaking down fats and sometimes proteins; this process is called ketosis. Ketosis causes a shift in many cellular pathways, turning on some and turning off others. One prominent pathway that becomes enabled during a fast is autophagy. This is the process by which the body begins to “clean house”. Old, damaged and dysfunctional proteins and organelles in cells are broken down and discarded, allowing for the creation of new cellular constituents that function optimally. This process is essential to keeping our bodies running smoothly. And it only occurs when food has not been consumed for 12 to 16 hours. When we eat three meals every day, we deny our bodies the chance to restore themselves. Essentially, the “garbage” never gets taken out; rather, it continues to accumulate in the body.
Fasting studies have yet to be performed on psoriasis. However, studies on rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, show that fasting can result in a significant reduction in symptoms. One prominent study demonstrated that patients went into remission after a period of fasting, followed by adherence to a vegetarian diet. Preliminary studies on other diseases of inflammation including cardiovascular disease, asthma and multiple sclerosis have also shown similarly positive outcomes. Anecdotal evidence suggests a similar benefit for psoriasis.
The benefits of fasting do not stop there. Fasting also shows promise for metabolic diseases including metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity. Just recently studies have shown that time-restricted feeding, eating all meals in a window of 5-6 hours, helps people to lose weight by providing the body with an 18 hour fast daily. The research shows that eating the same amount of calories but altering the eating schedule allows for more success in weight loss.
Biogerontologist Valter Longo and his colleagues at the University of Southern California have demonstrated the benefits of intermittent fasting in combination with chemotherapy for patients with cancer. Dr. Longo posits that cancer cells lose their ability to cope with the stressful conditions caused by fasting. In contrast, healthy cells can adapt relatively well to the stress of fasting. The trials are very promising for the future treatment regimens of various types of cancer, and even as a preventative measure. It is important to understand that this treatment approach is in the research phase only. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, please do not attempt a fast without first consulting your physician.
Fasting may also have a role in preventing neuro degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Mark Mattson and his team at the National Institute on Aging, a department of the National Institute of Health, have conducted a series of elegant studies which have demonstrated the benefits of fasting as it relates to these devestating diseases. Fasting also produces improvements in cognition and may actually slow the aging process itself.
The research on this ancient tradition is extremely exciting, offering the potential to combat multiple diseases and conditions and improve quality of life through the decades.