In our culture of consumption, we rarely hear about the benefits of fasting. Many of us have probably never gone a day without eating (sick days don’t count).
Not surprisingly, fasting is not a concept touched upon in the medical school curriculum. In fact, it seems that the reverse is modeled. Unless a patient is NPO (nil per os = nothing by mouth) in preparation for surgery (or for some other medical condition), hospitalized patients are fed abundantly with typical hospital food (not to mention juice and gram crackers for snacks).
The diet: Every other day, study subjects ate whatever they normally ate. On intervening days, they ate <20% of their normal calorie intake = a canned meal replacement of 320 calories for women and 380 calories for men.
- 9 of the 10 subjects adhered to the diet and lost an average of 8% of their initial weight over the 8 weeks.
- Asthma-related symptoms, quality of life measures, and pulmonary function tests improved significantly.
- On days of calorie restriction, energy metabolism shifted towards fatty acid utilization (marked by increased levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate and decreased levels of leptin) – this means subjects were adhering to the diet.
- Serum cholesterol and triglycerides decreased.
- Markers of oxidative stress decreased, and uric acid levels (an antioxidant) increased.
- Markers of inflammation decreased.
While this study was small and over a short time period, it introduces an important question (and is easy enough to reproduce on a larger scale).
When patients struggle with new and foreign diet changes, I wonder if a first step might simply be prescribing regular days of fasting.
Regardless of any potential health benefits, here is another good reason to fast:
“For now, it seems that some fasting is the best way to remind myself of the millions who are hungry and to purify my heart and mind for a decision that does not exclude them.”
~Henri J. M. Nouwen