Can Fasting Regenerate Cells & Reverse Immunosuppression?
A few months ago I stumbled upon a study by Valter Longo stating prolonged fasting can promote hematopietic stem cell-based regeneration and reverse immunosuppression. I know that's a mouthful, so let me explain.
His study revealed that with prolonged fasting, the body gives the 'go-ahead' to get rid of old, damaged or ineffective white blood cells and replace them with new cells. This basically means the immune system gets a self-directed renewal of cells. (Read the study as an editorial in context here)
When the body is denied food, we may already understand it is forced to utilize stored glucose, fat and ketones, but the enzyme in the body called PKA (protein kinase A) is simultaneously lowered. The shut-down of the gene PKA is responsible for initiating stem cell regeneration.
Insulin growth factor (IGF-1) the pro-aging hormone linked to increased tumor and cancer risk is also reduced during prolonged fasting. So one might begin to understand why lowered IGF-1 paired with a regenerated immune system could promote a great deal of healing.
Longo originally set out to show how chemotherapy patients could benefit from 3+ days of fasting leading up to their chemo-treatment to mitigate some of the harmful effects.
This discovery is profound, and goes along with the belief that the body can essentially heal itself, it just needs a little prompting. Longo says they are investigating the possibility that the effects are applicable to many different systems and organs, not just the immune system.
Intermittent Fasting Types
Of course, this isn’t a “one and done” program to fix everyone’s immune system. First, fasting should be done under the direction of a doctor to ensure your body can handle the process. There are some people, who shouldn’t fast, like those with diabetes, hypoglycemia, heart-conditions, and more.
Secondly, the idea of intermittent fasting (IF) should be done regularly to initiate the restorative benefits. For chemo patients, the recommendation from Longo is to fast leading up to the chemotherapy treatment.
But for those of us not undoing chemotherapy, Longo says fasting 4-5 days is ideal depending on what you want to achieve. But how regularly should this be done? Well, that’s the debate.
IF isn’t new, in fact, it’s been an ancient method of Ayurvedic practice to help cleanse the body and give it rest from a stressed and/or toxic gut. Those who practice IF may do it one or more of these ways:
- Fast one or two days per week
- Fast two or three days per month
- Fast 3-5 days per quarter (probably works well with the research in the study talked about today)
- Fast one week per month
- Fast daily until noon
- Eat Breakfast and Lunch and fast the rest of the day
- Eating once per day, midday or early evening
There are so many opinions on each of these methods, it’s nearly impossible to navigate! When you start to explore the science behind fasting and then look at the options, it can be overwhelming. So I asked myself what feels natural?
I cannot eat in the morning, no matter how hard I’ve tried. Normally, I wouldn’t go against my bodily instinct, but your blood sugar rises the longer you go without food, and as someone who is insulin-resistant, I wanted to try to manage my glucose levels.
BUT, one of the benefits of IF happens to be increased insulin sensitivity! So, with this and the immune system regeneration in the “pro” column, I felt it was worth trying.
Many people have tried to tell me how important breakfast is, but did you know that breakfast actually means to “break the fast”? So in my opinion, finding out what works for you and when to “break the fast” should determine when you eat.
The IF method of eating one meal is based off the “Circadian Rhythm” theory which allows for a window of 2-4 hours of eating, 6-8 hours of digestion time and a total of 12-16 hours of net fasting per day. The longer the net-fasting is, the more healing can take place.
This article is shows convincing evidence about timing the largest meal to between noon-3pm to work between our bodies natural appetite suppression in the morning and the heightened insulin response in the evening.
There are so many evidence-based studies to support any form of IF, so I’ll leave it up to you and google and your doctor to discuss what might work best for you and what you’re trying to accomplish.
I started with with a two-day fast and will eventually work my way up to 5 days. You should always discuss fasting with your doctor and prep your body accordingly with nutrient dense foods.
Also, I think it's important to note, the quality of water is always important, especially when it's all you're feeding your body. Most tap, and even well-water, is contaminated with chlorine, fluoride, trace-pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, etc., so make sure to use the cleanest water possible; you can read about the countertop filter system I use and remember, bottled water isn't any better than tap!
- Day 1: As I stated before, I don't get hungry in the morning so I didn't notice any hunger until about 2pm. By 6pm I didn't feel any hunger. Around 8pm I found myself wandering into the kitchen craving fruit. Specifically blueberries, apples and oranges. Mainly I think I want flavor or something to chew. My stomach hasn't growled or hurt at all.
- Day 2: At 9am, having been awake for 2 hours, I don't feel any ill-effects. I can't tell I haven't eaten food in 38 hours. Around 2pm I started to feel a headache and felt like taking a nap. Unfortunately, with a 3 year old, that's not going to happen. Around 4pm I started to get dizzy, and I think I was actually getting dehydrated because I wasn't even drinking as much water as I should...I think I got annoyed with peeing every 15 minutes. Clearly I have more work to do in working up to a 4-5 day fast!
I'm curious to hear anyone else's thoughts and experiences on fasting and intermittent fasting! Please share!
*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This post is not advising you to any medical action but rather promotes the reader to educate themselves and to make decisions with a licensed medical professional.