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Fasting, the new medical treatment

Monday, January 12, 2015
Science and Society

Fasting, normally associated with religion and alternate health treatment regimes, is now entering mainstream medicine. Recent studies, at the University of Southern California, have indicated that, by refraining from food for short periods, the immune system can be regenerated, thus assisting the body in fighting diseases. Researchers tested, on both humans and mice, the effects of fasting for two to four days over a period of six months. 

It was found that the fasting significantly lowered the white cell blood count. The introduction of feeding at the end of the fast, however, resulted in reversal of this process. In mice, each cycle of fasting caused a regenerative switch to be flipped which triggered stem cell-based regeneration of white blood cells. The body’s immune system was thereby renewed, allowing for an improved defence system against diseases.   

The regeneration of the white blood cells has significant potential for the treatment of cancer patients. In a small clinical trial, it was found that fasting for 72 hours prior to chemotherapy protected patients against toxicity. It has been reported that hundreds of cancer patients, with the help of oncologists, have combined chemotherapy with fasting. The vast majority are doing well. 

A few however have reported some side effects including fainting. The results are quite promising and further studies are being undertaken to investigate the link between diet and stem cell regeneration. 

Of course, there are sceptics who proffer the view that the clinical results obtained are improbable. They are yet to offer any evidence and reason for so saying. But many others, who are not in favour of fasting, are intrigued by the results and are proposing that pharmaceutical drugs be developed to synthesise the effects obtained by fasting. This might be reflective of the desire of society to have a “pill” for every illness. 

Whilst this might be desirous to the pharmaceutical industry, it would not necessarily be so for the average person and governments already burdened by high costs associated with health care. 

This study of white blood cell regeneration is new, but the positive effects of fasting have been reported several years ago. In 2011, the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, at New Orleans meeting of the American College of Cardiology, indicated that fasting lowers the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes. It reduces the cardiac risk factors like triglycerides and sugar levels. 

In fact, mounting evidence indicates that IF (intermittent fasting) could have a very beneficial impact on sustained weight loss, health and longevity. It is being promoted as a healthy lifestyle as opposed to short-term dieting which, quite often leads to binge eating and weight gain upon completion of the period of dieting. IF is viewed, by many, as sustained method for calorie restriction. 

In intermittent fasting, meals are scheduled so as to allow for regular periods of fasting of up to eight hours. The body takes about six to eight hours to metabolise the glycogen stores after which it shifts to burning fat. 

Further, fasting triggers large increases of HGH (human growth hormones) in both men and women. HGH is referred to as the fitness hormone and plays an important function in maintaining health, fitness and longevity. Additionally, ten to 16-hour based intermittent fasting helps to slow the disease process in the brain and protects memory and learning functionality.

Fasting on a regular basis should thus be encouraged as a part of a holistic lifestyle. It would not only tackle the burgeoning problem of obesity, but also encourage healthy lifestyles which redound to the benefit of the individual and the country. For a healthy workforce is more likely to be a productive one and healthy citizens can mitigate the high cost of public. And most importantly, it can provide relief and hope to those suffering from the ravages of terminal illnesses like cancer.


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