Fasting: From ancient practice to modern trend

Fasting is not a new idea, as Jews know, and scientists are looking at the practice’s potential health benefits.

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October 8, 2019 03:47
2 minute read.
Fasting: From ancient practice to modern trend

Empty plate with utensils (illustrative). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

As Yom Kippur approaches, Jews around the world prepare to fast. Not eating or drinking for 25 hours can be a daunting task. However, studies have shown that fasting has an array of benefits, despite its main drawback - hunger.

Intermittent fasting, or a practice in which people eat during a certain time window, has recently come into fashion, bringing the idea of fasting to the masses. The term “intermittent fasting” is searched on Google nearly 1 million times a month, which is more than “diet” and is as much as “weight loss,” according to Bloomberg.

Fasting is not a new idea, as Jews know, and scientists are looking at the practice’s potential health benefits.

When humans fast, or simply don’t snack between meals, insulin drops, promoting weight loss and the idea behind intermittent fasting is to keep insulin low enough, long enough and force the body to burn fat, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Studies have shown that for humans intermittent fasting is “safe and incredibly effective,” Harvard Health Publishing reported.

“Fasting has many effects in the intestine, which include boosting regeneration as well as potential uses in any type of ailment that impinges on the intestine, such as infections or cancers,” Omer Yilmaz, an MIT assistant professor of biology, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research told MIT News.

Dr. Thomas Pieber, the chair of the department of internal medicine at the Medical University of Graz in Austria, told TODAY, “The truth is that our organism is ready to fast for much longer. Ten thousand or 100,000 years ago, we didn’t have breakfast, lunch and dinner and some cake in-between with our coffee.”

Pieber also pointed out that one of the main benefits of intermittent fasting is that it can activate autophagy, a system that helps your body regenerate cells.

However, there are some drawbacks to the practice. One of the obvious downsides is sustainability. It’s one thing to fast a few times a year as part of a religious ceremony, and another to commit to fasting on a regular or even daily basis.

Some pointed out that regular fasting can affect one’s relationship with food, particularly if they are susceptible to eating disorders.

“As a nutrition scientist, I’m never pro omitting food for the entire day,” Jamie Baum, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Arkansas, told TODAY.

Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told Harvard Health Publishing that one of the dangers of fasting is overindulgence, as human nature often makes people want rewards for hard work.

Celebrities such as Halle Berry, Terry Crews and Hugh Jackman have all spoken out about how they have benefited from intermittent fasting.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey eats just one meal a day and fasts during the weekend.

"It really has increased my appreciation for food and taste because I'm deprived of it for so long during the day," Dorsey said on the fitness author Ben Greenfield’s podcast.


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