Fasting is typically associated with religious traditions for the most part — it’s considered to be a means of quieting the mind and denying the body in favor of the spirit, and in my experience it certainly does have this effect. But even those who engage in fasting for spiritual reasons may not realize that there are actually a number of physiologic benefits as well.
Fasting increases the body’s capacity for healing by increasing the activity of those white blood cells that gobble up non-specific intruders (macrophages), increasing the activity of those white blood cells that deal with specific intruders (cell-mediated immunity), and calming autoimmunity (decreasing antigen-antibody complexes). But what does this actually mean?
I like to think of fasting as a reset button, specifically for the gut. You can’t work all the time, right? You need a weekend to rest, and to engage in certain life maintenance activities like cleaning the house, going to the grocery, fixing the leaky sink, etc. If you don’t get that down time, your living space becomes increasingly vile, things don’t get fixed, you have nothing in the fridge… and eventually you become exhausted, burned out, and sick.
Your gut is no different. If it’s constantly trying to digest, it doesn’t have any energy left over to tend to its own repairs, or to rest.
Disclaimer: not everyone should fast. Anyone who is already weakened or nutrient-depleted needs to be built up before fasting would be advisable.
If you fast for longer than a day or two, you should make sure you’re doing it at a time when your schedule is much less demanding than usual, so that you can spare the calories and allow your body to heal.
Even for those patients who are healthy and whose schedules allow for a longer fast, there are right and wrong ways to go about it.
That said, in my experience a short fast can jump-start a patient’s healing like few other techniques I have seen. My advice: open yourself up to the possibility. Seek some guidance on how to do it right, and then spend a day (or several days) in rest and contemplation. You might be very surprised how good you’ll feel afterwards!
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