January is a great time to do a cleanse or a fast of some kind, and now there’s even more evidence for why it’s helpful.

This study demonstrates that your immune system benefits from short (2-4 day) fasts in a couple of ways:

  • While you are fasting, your immune system scales back its production of immune cells. But it also uses this time to “clean house:” when you have less energy coming in, it forces your body to be more efficient, which means cutting waste. This includes dismantling older or diseased immune cells.
  • Once you start eating again, it stimulates your stem cells (those cells in your body that don’t know what kind of cell they want to be when they grow up yet) to become new, healthy immune cells.

So the upshot is, periodic short fasts are a great way to boost sluggish immune function.

This study suggests that patients undergoing immunosuppressive therapies such as chemotherapy would do well to consider short-term fasts as a supplementary treatment. It also may be an excellent adjunctive treatment for patients suffering from other forms of immune system dysfunction, including autoimmune conditions or even allergies.

How Do You Fast?

The study mentioned here implies a complete fast, meaning no food at all (as opposed to a juice fast or a cleanse, or a very simple diet). A few things to make note of if you are going to do a complete fast:

  1. There are people who shouldn’t do it. If you are already malnourished, anemic, pregnant, or growing (i.e. kids), this isn’t for you. If you have a wasting disease like cancer (mentioned in this article), you are also essentially malnourished already and I’d strongly recommend close supervision from a physician, if you try this at all.
  2. Prepare Before You Start. If you’re going to fast, it’s a good idea to transition into it by eating lightly for a few days beforehand. This will help to ease the transition.
  3. Cut back on your daily activities. The more active we are, the more calories we need. If you are restricting (or especially eliminating) your calories, you need to restrict your daily activities as well (and that includes mental activity, too). Don’t try a fast on a normal day when you already feel overtaxed.
  4. Drink LOTS of water. Staying hydrated is always important, but it’s especially critical while fasting, since your body will be “cleaning house” (i.e. detoxing), and you’ll need to flush that stuff out of your system.
  5. Break the Fast SLOWLY. Add one day of transition for every 3-4 days you went without food, and make sure you are choosing simple, natural, easy-to-digest foods such as an apple, steamed veggies, or broth. 

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