FASTING AND YOUR HEALTH
Fasting is an age long practice of many religions and cultures. Growing up in Nigeria, chances are high that you have participated in some type of fast at one time or the other. Fasting involves choosing to refrain from food, drink or both for a set period of time. It can be done for religious, psychological or health reasons. During fasting, the body does not have access to its usual source of glucose, which is essential for producing energy required for daily activity, so it resorts to other materials such as fats and amino acids to produce energy.
Fun fact: in some cultures, some people can’t imagine fasting till 12 o’clock in the afternoon.
Types of fasting:
There are several types of fasting but two main categories are time based fasting or item based fasting.
- Specific item fast: This is when people stay away from a specific food item. Examples are meat or animal products, salt or water. For example, during the catholic lent, some people may choose to stay away from meat or fish while eating other types of meals. This type of fast is also done by people with health needs or consideration such as nursing mothers or people with diabetes (on the advice of a physician or registered dietician only!)
2. Time based fasting: There are many variations to these and some of the more common ones are:
- Single day fasting: refraining from food or drink or both within a specified period. Some Christians fast in Nigeria from dinner time to dinner time (e.g. 8pm previous day till 6pm following day) Ramadan fasting in Nigeria is during daylight hours (e.g. 5.00 am till about 6/7pm when the sun sets)
- Multi day fasting: This is when people abstain from both meal and drinks for two or three days at a stretch usually for religious reasons
- Intermittent fasting: though this term has become more popular with the fitfam or weight loss trends, many regions of the world have practiced this for centuries. Essentially, it advocates for eating meals only within specific time frames (either 10 or 9 or 8 hour windows) and fast for the rest.
Advantages of fasting:
There are many benefits that one can get from fasting if done safely. Some of the benefits of fasting in Nigeria are:
- Weight loss: because the body resorts to stored fat or amino acids for energy sources during fasting, there is a tendency for most people to lose weight while fasting. Most of the alternative source of energy would be from that stored in the belly which is why truncal obesity (at the stomach area) may reduce during fasting. At the same time, if not done right, the body thinks its starving and so it tries to increase its energy reserves by storing more glucose when you are breaking your fast and that is why some people don’t lose weight while fasting. It is important to have just the right calorie deficit to lose weight during fasting.
- Insulin sensitivity and glucose: some research has shown that fasting helps with insulin sensitivity and improves resistance.
- Cardiovascular effect: Research continues to emerge that fasting has benefits on some cardiovascular indicators. For example, Horne and colleagues in 2012 showed that people who routinely fasted were 35% less likely to develop coronary artery disease and they also have better indicators in things like c-reactive protein, leptin e.t.c which are tied to the potential heart protective effect of fasting.
- Aging and brain function: Research that has been done (mostly on animal models) show that there is reduced oxidative stress, preserved memory and improved biomarkers when fasting is done. Also, studies continue to show that some genes which are linked with longer life have increased expression during fasting.
- The gut bacteria: Research continues to show that the bacteria in our gut digestive system plays very important role in our lives. Fasting has been shown to alter the gut bacteria balance and this is linked with improvement in liver steatosis and metabolic syndrome.
- Other effects: There are so many other benefits that keep emerging about the benefits of fasting such as improved skin, improved kidney function etc.
- Psychological impact: One of the positive psychological effects of fasting is the feeling of empowerment people who fast properly have. Because they are able to control their basic urge to eat, this self-control can be translated to other aspects of their lives. Also, people who fast for religious reasons report that they feel more connected and more aware of their essence during fasting.
Disadvantages of fasting
Just like anything that is not done right, when fasting is not done properly it can have devastating consequences.
Peptic ulcer: Because of the imbalance of chemicals in the gut during fasting, the acidity of the stomach may increase to the extent that people may develop ulcer after fasting.
Binge eating: When it’s time to eat after fasting, some people engage in binge-eating, that is eating so much more than they are trying to lose. Because of the starvation mode already discussed earlier, the body has also become more efficient in storing more food in anticipation of the next fasting cycle so it stores even more fat.
Hypoglycemia: This is when the energy source in the blood is so low, people start to feel symptoms such as headaches, sweating, dizziness, palpitations, confusion, reduced attention span and even fainting.
Overall about (intermittent) fasting in Nigeria:
Fasting has several health benefits and with precision medicine continuing to evolve, even more benefits would be discovered. For those with existing health conditions, it is very important to seek clearance from your physician, dietician and other healthcare personnel before you start fasting in Nigeria. At PhysioCraft we have a team of licensed and certified health practitioners who can advise you appropriately and this is a free service. Tele-health consult where you don’t have to come in physically can also be arranged.
If you are fasting, let us know when you come in for your session as this may impact the treatment that would be given to you. When (intermittent) fasting in Nigeria, modify your work out, engage in low intensity exercises and avoid vigorous physical activities. You should also drink lots of fluid especially water and stop the fast if you feel unwell.
Horne BD, Muhlestein JB, May HT, Carlquist JF, Lappé DL, Bair TL, Anderson JL, Intermountain Heart Collaborative Study Group. Relation of routine, periodic fasting to risk of diabetes mellitus, and coronary artery disease in patients undergoing coronary angiography. Am J Cardiol. 2012 Jun 1; 109(11):1558-62.
Stockman MC, Thomas D, Burke J, Apovian CM. Intermittent Fasting: Is the Wait Worth the Weight?. Curr Obes Rep. 2018;7(2):172-185. doi:10.1007/s13679-018-0308-9