With thanks for your patience (Spirit Fest was superb btw), NH21 Weekly will now delve a little deeper into the practice of fasting; after researchers in California began “proving” the well-established fact that a damaged pancreas can regenerate itself (see NH21 Weekly “Fasting–Part One” from March 2nd, 2017) if, critically, it is given the right conditions in which to do so.
Fasting is simply the act of abstaining from food; yet there are myriad levels to which this may unfold. Official thinking is that the body can last up to three weeks without food, but a great many people have fasted for longer than this.
For some, the thought of missing even one meal is a daunting prospect. We are told after all, of the importance of eating “three square meals a day”, however the astute among us figured out long ago that such advice stems not from a physiological requirement, but rather, an industrial need to have people work from 9am-5pm each day; thus forcing them to eat at the beginning, middle and end of a shift.
Wherever you sit on the fasting scale, the processes of digestion are energy demanding. Daily energy expenditure consists of three components:
- Basal metabolic rate (the energy required to keep a person alive).
- Diet-induced thermogenesis (the energy required to fire the digestive system).
- The energy cost of physical activity (highly variable dependent on lifestyle choices).
The US National Library of Medicine have determined that, “a mixed diet consumed at energy balance results in a diet induced energy expenditure of 5 to 15 % of daily energy expenditure.” (1), which in common tongue means that 15% of a person’s diet is used up as the body breaks down and assimilates the food they eat.
That figure of course, assumes the diet is composed of naturally occurring whole foods such as seasonal fruits and vegetables. For those who follow the Standard American (Western) Diet, or SAD, the digestion of synthetic pseudo-foods can use up to 50% of the body’s energy; explaining why people commonly feel sleepy after feasting.
Natural health practitioners believe (scientists remain unsure) that by relieving the body of the work of digesting foods, fasting permits the system to rid itself of toxins; facilitating healing and repair of damaged tissues. It has been observed that during a period of fasting:
- The process of toxin excretion continues, while the influx of new toxins is reduced.
- The immune system’s workload is reduced, allowing it to concentrate on existing inflammation and allergies etc.
- Fat stored chemicals such as pesticides and drugs are released from body tissues.
- Physical awareness and sensitivity to diet and surroundings are increased.
A fast can help to cleanse the liver, kidneys and colon; purifying the blood, aiding weight loss, diminishing water retention and improving the appearance of the eyes, hair and skin.
A WORD OF WARNING
Despite the benefits of fasting, the practice must be undertaken with care. As the proverb goes; things may get worse before they get better.
Like throwing a stone into a muddy puddle, the mobilization of previously stored toxins can have adverse physical effects on the body. Known therapeutically as the ‘detox-crisis’, a body that is overloaded with environmental pollutants can produce unpredictable reactions as the cocktail of chemicals hit the bloodstream. (2)
Common side effects of fasting include headaches, nausea, dizziness, skin rashes, increased body odour, aching limbs and muscles, insomnia and more. Fasting is contra-indicated during pregnancy and breast feeding, in infancy, for people with kidney and liver disease and anyone who regularly takes prescription drugs.
However, for those who can weather the initial storm the rewards are great; increased energy, concentration and even intuition, as well as decreased pain and inflammation are commonly reported.
As for the pancreas, that most overworked of internal organs and the subject of the research inspiring this discussion; this multifunctioning compound gland acts as an accessory organ of the digestive system, an exocrine gland secreting pancreatic juice into ducts, and an endocrine gland involved in the production of important hormones such as insulin and glucagon.
Clusters of cells called ‘Islets of Langerhans’ are distributed throughout the pancreas; these secrete the hormones and enzymes that will be released into the small intestine to digest lipids, carbohydrates and proteins as they are eaten.
The speed at which pancreatic substances enter the bloodstream is dependent on a variety of factors including what, when and how much is eaten. It makes perfect sense that in the modern paradigm of 24hr access to food, the pancreas could be become overworked, and, as any body tissue would, develop fatigue; leading to cellular degeneration and loss of function.
So skipping a meal or two can be likened to taking the foot off the gas and allowing the vehicle to simply cruise for a while. As science strives to verify whether body cells can then ‘self-repair’ (NB: they can…), one can at least conceptualize the benefits of simply allowing an organ to rest for a short while.
As previously mentioned, prolonged fasting requires due care and attention, and is not advisable to all people. Naturopathic doctors from America’s prestigious Bastyr University warn that, “fasting deprives the body of critical nutrients required to perform adequate detoxification.” (3)
For this reason, many fasting programmes allow for freshly squeezed juices and herbal teas to be consumed; as well as advocating plenty of clean water, gentle exercise and therapeutic massage.
For complete novice’s keen to try this ancient practice; a safe and effective ‘first-step’ is to skip dinner; instead drinking a cup or two of peppermint tea and going to bed early. Another option would be to delay breakfast for a short while; perhaps drinking a glass of water and engaging in a short stretching session, instead of diving straight into coffee and eggs upon waking.
As a final thought for now, consider that it takes many years for a previously functioning pancreas, or any other organ, to wear down; and it can take time to build it back up to peak condition.
Fasting then, is not a magic bullet that will miraculously cure disease; but then, one should be highly suspicious of anything claiming it can. But with patience and practice, know that the body is most often born in working condition and only begins to break down when environmental and lifestyle factors are introduced.
Removing the factors that inhibit normal function, such as poor quality foods in many cases, can go a long way towards ‘resetting’ to default; that of normal function and natural health; the un-diseased state of being.
- Langley, S. (2011) The Naturopathic Workbook. CNM, West Sussex.
- Alschuler, L.N. (2010) The Definitive Guide to Cancer. Celestial Arts, Berkley.