• Stephanie Hansen

I'm Trying Fasting

Last month, I came across a documentary called Science of Fasting by Sylvie Gilman. I recalled hearing about fasting as a way to lose weight, so it piqued my interest. The documentary was a fascinating look at the history of fasting and the science of how it works. It explored the history of fasting over more than 50 years: from the work of Dr. Otto Buchinger, the German pioneer of medical fasting via the Goriachinsk sanatorium in Russia, where fasting is a central element of public health, to laboratories at the University of Southern California where Professor Valter Longo is decoding the genetic mechanisms of fasting which, it is now known, can trigger changes in gene expression. The general idea is a prolonged fast can provide the health benefits of weight loss to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, asthma, and allergies.

According the the book, The Science of Fasting, there are three phases in fasting. In the first phase the body depletes its total glucose reserves so it starts to use protein to create glucose. In a second phase it starts to use lipids instead, economizing on proteins. Depending on the amount of lipids (fat) your body can go on for as long as you have to produce glucose. When it no longer has any more lipids it starts to tap into the protein again. Phase 3 is consumption to create return to glucose production.

The fasting process is common in animals and has existed since the earliest days of life on earth. In short, without food, the body gets its energy from glucose, protein, and fat. The Documentary looks at the history of fasting in Russia, Europe, and the far East to reduce dependence on prescription drugs and provide overall healthier bodies. The documentary gives significant and evidence-based research results to show the positive effects of fasting on the human body.

The documentary got personal for me when it chronicled a woman with breast cancer (because I am a breast cancer survivor). She was on the cancer drug treatment called Adriamycin. She had heard about fasting, and with the support of her oncologist, she fasted for five days before chemotherapy. Her recovery from her treatment was significantly improved over other patients the doctor was treating at the same time. Her blood work was considerably enhanced each time she fasted.

Toward the end of the documentary, they showed research conducted in the United States that shows how fasting can change gene expression to enable cells to go into a “protective mode” warding off an invasion of diseased cancer cells. Researchers are now looking at intermittent fasting to augment cancer treatments and improve long term survival rates.

According to a study published in Science Translational Medicine, part of the Science family of journals, chemotherapy drugs are more effective when combined with cycles of short, severe fasting. Furthermore, fasting on its own was shown to be effective at treating most of the cancers tested in animals, including human cancer cells. The researchers discovered that 5 out of 8 types of cancer in rodents responded to fasting alone. Fasting, like chemotherapy, delayed the growth and spread of tumors. However, fasting was not recommended as a replacement to chemotherapy.

This information led me to research the 5:2 Diet, or Fast Diet. The Fast Diet has been seen as a heathy and safe way to lose weight. The 5:2 Diet was popularized by a British doctor and journalist Michael Mosley. It is called the 5:2 Diet because five days of the week are regular eating days, while the remaining two days are restricted to 500-600 calories. The two fasting days can occur on any day of the week, and the fasting days do not have to be consecutive.

I have done the 5:2 Diet for three weeks. I have to say it was effortless to practice and I felt strong after the first week. I had tons of energy. I exercised both days and according to my Fit Bit burned 400 calories during each exercise session. I was mindful to drink more water than I usually would (96 oz of water each day), and I drank bone broth in the morning and the afternoon, had fish and vegetables for dinner one night, and shrimp and veggies the next night. I have stage 1 Lymphedema in my arm (a side effect of cancer treatment) and after the two days of fasting, I felt like my lymph system was functioning better. I felt less swollen in my arm compared to the non-fasting days.

I hope to do this diet throughout the summer, and possibly lose the 10 pounds I have been trying to lose the last few years. I am sure fasting is not for everyone, and, of course, you should check in with to your doctor prior to starting a new diet or exercise program. But I am excited about the new 5:2 Diet and I will check back at the end of the summer and share my progress.

The content in this piece is the express personal opinion of the author. The information does not constitute medical advice. Always check with your doctor prior to changing your diet or exercise routine.

Stephanie Hansen is a media maven who specializes in story telling, podcasts, and radio broadcasting.

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