Some of you know that I’ve been practicing 24-36 hour per week fasting for about 2 years now. That means I let between 24 and 36 hours pass between eating or drinking anything but water, and I do it weekly. I usually have dinner and don’t eat until next day dinner (24 hours, easy!) or have dinner and don’t eat until breakfast the day after next (36 hours, doable!). And no, that’s not for religious or spiritual awakening, it’s purely for health reasons.
What is autophagy?
Autophagy (n.) – the natural, regulated mechanism of the cell that disassembles unnecessary or dysfunctional components.
Literally it translates from Greek as “self-eating”.
“Recent studies have clearly demonstrated that autophagy has a variety of physiological and pathophysiological roles, such as starvation adaptation, intracellular protein and organelle clearance, development, anti-aging, elimination of microorganisms, cell death, tumor suppression, and antigen presentation (Mizushima 2005)”
Simply put the body breaks down its own old, bad, or pre-cancerous cells in order to generate new and healthy cells. Just like how layers of our skin are falling off daily, or how a wound heals by growing new cells and old ones fall off as hardened mass. Old, damaged or excess cells are being “destructed” or “eaten” by the cell membranes, and this is the process of autophagy. This is a normal, self-regulating, self-healing mechanism.
That’s not news, because we all know that body heals itself. Just like when we get a cold, you can trust that body will balance itself out without taking antibiotics or other drugs. Don’t even get me started on the pills and medication intake our society take for absolute no reason! (Topic for another time)
What was recently (October 2016) officially discovered by Japanese Nobel Prize Winner Yoshinori Ohsumi, however, is that this process of autophagy is boosted when you’re fasting. When the body is not busy with processing and digesting your food intake, it activates the process of destruction of old cells while increasing the growth hormone that generates new good cells. So having smaller but frequent meals, or decreasing portions, or doing juice cleanse, or drinking protein shakes, or anything else people are obsessed with doing may be helping us lose weight or benefit in some way, but one thing for sure it’s not helping us with autophagy, which is interrupted as soon as you eat or drink something, other than water. So your body stops this increased healing processed the more often we eat.
How did it benefit me?
I started fasting in November 2016, only a month after the discovery hit the news, and already a year after my parents have been preaching about it. My parents have been studying and practicing healthier diet since 2010 and fasting since 2014 when my mom was not doing so well physically. Her pancreas was badly damaged by unhealthy diet and all the bad food habits inherited from the Uzbek and Russian culture, where lots of meat, carbs, fried and heavy starchy dishes are dominant. Put on top the fact that we’ve lived through Soviet Union times where food was limited in the first place; no wonder people are so unhealthy in these countries. At some point she could barely walk or even stand for long periods of time. Doctors kept saying pancreas cannot be cured or replaced, and there’s no hope. Those were some dark times, and I remember how scared I was of losing her. So my parents started researching alternative solutions, when they discovered that simply by eating healthier and fasting one can really revert aging. Fast forward to today, my mom walks 10km (7mi) per day, lifts heavy construction materials (doing renovation), skis in the mountains with me, and looks at least 15 years younger than she did even 5 years ago. That’s not the only health boost: both of my parents physical strength pretty much reverted to how it used to be in their 20s or 30s, memory, vision, focus, energy, ideas – all improved DRAMATICALLY. I cannot be grateful enough to the fasting gods (body?) for this miracle, and of course, my parents’ will-power, determination, creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness to try and discover new ideas. Not only did they save themselves from medical bills, health implications and much shorter lives, they’ve also set me and others in the entire family on the path of health.
As for me, personally: I’m definitely more energetic, happier (my brain cleared), have new ideas and inspirations constantly, and generally healthier. I expect my Paroxysmal Hemicrania (similar to cluster headaches: really bad headaches lasting about a month every 3-4 years) will never show up again, but I guess I’ll see in the next few years? And as I get older, I’m so excited that age doesn’t equal sickness.
How it feels?
Fasting is uncomfortable. But there’s a weird pleasure with it. I actually don’t experience this crazy hungry feeling as much (before I knew about autophagy I always would say it feels like stomach is digesting itself, I guess I wasn’t that far from the truth! :D). Maybe it’s because I eat a ton (American habit?). And now whenever I feel hungry I actually imagine how there’s an army of good ninjas in my body attacking evil cells.
The paradox is that during fasting, when autophagy is kicking in, the body is going through detox process. And that means withdrawal symptoms. You’ve got to get worse before you get better. Like an addict, you crave food: you get headache, you feel weak and dizzy, some part of the body starts hurting, old wounds and illnesses start reminding of themselves. That’s why people say they get “hangry”: body is trying to get rid of the old garbage you’ve been putting into it, excess fat, pre-cancerous cells, “forgotten” diseases… and naturally we feel awful and think that we’ve got to eat to stop feeling this way. This is counterintuitive, but feeling crappy is good for you in this case! And the worse you feel, the more your body actually needs cleansing. It means your body has a lot of “garbage” and now it’s got a ton of work to do. But just like exercise and any other practice, it gets better with time. Because with each time, there’s less cleaning to do, so all those symptoms go away. Now I do it to keep my system in perfect conditions, for prophylactic reasons, to prevent any serious illnesses, since illness manifests due to clogged system. Of course the older we get, the more clogged it gets, but with these preventatives measures, I can guarantee health and wellness.
We don’t need to be doctors to understand all the complicated processes in order to benefit from fasting, just like we don’t need to be electrical engineers to benefit from a light switch. But I’ll include the links to medical resources anyway!
TLDR / Conclusion
Fasting is good for you for many reasons:
- you get enormous benefits from boosting up autophagy that removes old bad cells and creates new healthy cells
- you get to live a healthy life
- your body gets a break from constantly processing stuff you eat
- you can also lose weight, although I wouldn’t recommend doing it just because of this
- you build up mental strength, discipline and willpower
- you get a lot of free time that day to focus on personal projects
- your mind gets clearer to think of new ideas
- you save some money 😄
- Yoshinori Ohsumi discovers mechanisms for autophagy (The Nobel Prize website)
- Fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy (US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health)