By Dr. Andrew Baranski
The year is 2013 and I am completing my coursework in Exercise Science at Frostburg State University. The coursework is tailored towards athletes’ performance, and the nutrition course, taught by a Registered dietician nutritionist, conveys calorie counting and macronutrient rationing as the optimal eating plan for humans. My diet reflects everything I was taught in school. I consume breakfast, my first snack, lunch, second snack, dinner, and my third snack, with protein shakes scattered throughout the day.
I bench-press 385 pounds in the gym, squat 495, and run a sub-6-minute mile at a weight of 245 pounds. While my athletic performance is outstanding, I have constant food cravings, am overweight, have brain fog, and am frequently irritable.
Then I am introduced to a more primal nutritional program by professor John Wright during my final year at Frostburg. John teaches by the textbook and then ends the class with new research that he had read on insulin sensitivity, ketogenic eating, and longevity. I begin to implement these strategies into my life and also start my own research. This path leads me to intermittent fasting in 2014, and I begin feeling as an optimized human should.
Fast-forward now seven years to 2021, and fasting (including intermittent fasting) is a buzzword in the health and nutrition space. Many people have implemented some fasting version, mostly to achieve weight loss, or have been told by their cousin that they should fast. Fasting can propel fat-loss, but fasting also can unlock the inner superhero that dwells inside of each of us.
The 7 Benefits of Fasting
- Autophagy: Autophagy, literally translated, means “self-eating,” and this process is necessary for survival. When autophagy is activated, cellular debris is removed or recycled to allow for improved cellular functioning. The process protects organisms against diverse pathologies, including infections, cancer, neurodegeneration, aging, and heart disease.
- Stem Cells: Stem cells are master cells capable of growing into any of the 200 types of cells in the body. One of the hallmarks of aging is the degradation of stem cells, and this is responsible for the increase in time to heal from injuries as we age. This has lead to many spending thousand on stem-cell treatments. Fasting has been shown to improve stem cell mobilization, attributed to a decrease in joint pain.
- Ketones: In the absence of food, the body does not have access to glucose for fuel. Once the body has burned through all of the stored sources in glycogen, the body turns to its alternative and preferred fuel source, ketones. Stored body fat then enters a process called ketogenesis to create ketone bodies. The presence of ketones has been shown to improve mood, regulate hormones, regulate blood sugar, improve cognition, and repair mitochondria.
- Oxidative stress and Inflammation: The process of metabolizing food requires much energy. Just like a manufacturing factory produces pollution as a byproduct of manufacturing goods, the body’s energy factory (called the Kreb’s cycle) gives off waste when metabolizing food. As we continually eat, the pollution then creates chronic systemic inflammation. Fasting helps by diverting the energy needed to metabolize food to clearing up inflammation.
- Microbiome reset: The overconsumption of food harms the gut lining and may cause leaky-gut syndrome. Consuming sugary foods feeds harmful bacteria and leads to a decrease in immune function. Fasting has been shown to reset the microbiome and heal a leaky gut.
- DNA coding: It is common to state, “it runs in my family,” but this is not a true statement. You may possess the DNA coding for disease, but your epigenetic coding is in charge of activating and suppressing genes. Fasting has been shown to aid in protecting epigenetic alterations associated with aging and disease.