Intermittent Fasting and a Better Immune System

During an all-too-frequent 3am urine liquidation, a lifestyle outcome of trying to stay hydrated for better health, I noticed a slight sniffle from a semi-clogged sinus and a discomfort in the bowel area. As my stomach churned and gurgled, I wondered how I might have come down with an illness that resembled food poisoning. Urine flowed as my mind skimmed back over my day…back to my last snack…a couple of bananas and an orange…back to buying said bananas…My muscles tensed and the urine stopped as I recalled the fruit vendor chopping up a chicken for another customer before handling and weighing my bananas …CROSS CONTAMINATION!!! Welcome back to China. I imagined that by my 8pm snack that night, the salmonella covered the bananas. The germs clung for dear life to my hands as I peeled the various fruits. They found a temporary home on my orange slices, and then a permanent home in my intestines…until death do us part. The vernacular expletive for “feces” spewed from my mouth as the urine started to stream again.

One cannot eliminate food contamination from one’s life. It seems the human condition requires it. As a matter of fact, the more we over-medicate with antibiotics the more susceptible to super-bacteria we become. (That is a story for another post.) Given the circumstances and direct entrance to my system the salmonella received, I mentally prepared myself for a painful and runny next week or so. Upon returning to my nice warm bed, I placed the hot water bottle on my stomach to sooth the storm within. I force myself to see the silver lining: I could afford a week in bed, and it would be nice being waited on by my Chinese family. Recalling devastation and pain of past episodes of food poisoning, it did not seem like much of a silver lining.

The attack occurred in the middle of a four day eating spree. It would still be two days until I fasted. The hot water bottle warmed my torso, and I thought about the foods that would be best for a bout of food poisoning. My percolating bowels sucked the heat out of the hot water bottle. It hit the mattress when I rolled over to drift off to sleep to the sounds of a boiling, festering, burbling midsection.anatomy-160524_1280

The following morning, whilst daylight pried my eyelids open, I felt noticeably uncomfortable but not incapacitated. Compared to what I thought I would experience, food-borne salmonella square dancing in my colon, I felt pretty darn good. How could this be?

Nine months of intermittent fasting (IF) has had a miraculous effect on my body, especially my digestive system, which is one of the main reasons I decided to take on this lifestyle. IF improves digestion in many ways that may help to alleviate the bugs that cause food poisoning. According to Medical Daily, “[Intermittent fasting] can help speed up the metabolism and improve bowel movements by giving your digestive system a rest. Periods without food boost the metabolism to burn through calories more efficiently — in a way reminding the body how healthy digestion is done.” Resting the digestive system and speeding up the metabolism means healthier bowels that fight off infection better.

Intermittent fasting improves conditions such as autoimmune diseases of the intestines, like my ulcerative colitis (it’s not gone but improving slowly); reduces inflammation in the body, which would help the immune system to be freer and better able to identify invading bacteria and viruses; through autophagy cleanses the body of weak, dying, and dead cells so as to improve the functioning of the immune system; bolsters, conditions, and strengthens the white blood cells to better fight invaders. Over nine months of IF has prepared me for this game of chicken.bacteria-106583_1280

The moment a germ hits our stomach, we start to fight it. According to LiveStrong, “Stomach acids can inactivate bacteria.” And IF can help in the stomach acid area. “intermittent fasting allows your GI tract to rest and can help balance out stomach acid,” says the Gut Health Project. In other words, IF can raise stomach acid if it is too low and lower stomach acid if it is too high. My more-in-balance stomach acid started killing those little buggers as soon as the orange slices hit my stomach.

We all want perfect gut flora in just the right amounts, right? Well, IF helps in this area, too. “Another phenomenal benefit that occurs [with intermittent fasting] is that you will radically improve the beneficial bacteria in your gut, as occurs with calorie restriction…[a]long with improving your immune system,” claims Dr. Joseph Mercola. The good gut bacteria crowds out and starves the bad bacteria like E. coli and salmonella.

The dangers of food poisoning cannot be discarded. HealthyCanadians warns, “Food poisoning sometimes causes serious complications, including death. This is the case for people who are more at risk for both food poisoning and related health complications, like those with a weakened immune system.” I hypothesize that all 3-meal-a-day eaters have a weakened immune system due to the onslaught of sugar, salt, and oil, bad fats, and processed-low-nutrition foods.

Intermittent fasting improves one’s overall health. No wonder after two days of mild discomfort, my fight with salmonella infused orange slices, from my unwitting meat/fruit vendor, ended with me victorious and as healthy as ever. This anecdotal narrative proves nothing, but I feel like my improved health and healthy lifestyle have benefited me in this particular struggle. By the way, no matter how healthy I become, my wife and I will no longer be patronizing that particular unhygienic vendor.

Leave me a comment below, follow my blog to keep updated on IF, and until next time, stay fast and fit!

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Fasting vs. Starving: Part 2

Yesterday, I covered why fasting is stigmatized as “starving” by science, and several definitions of fasting and starvation. Today, I shall look at the myths and realities of this extremely beneficial lifestyle. For sure, more scientists and institutions like Mark Mattson at the National Institute of Health need to study fasting to shed light on and de-stigmatize the practice, and people interested in their health should view all research done by food and pharmaceutical companies and propagated by its lackeys, witting and unwitting, as suspect.

Myth #1: Starvation mode is automatically bad because it has “starvation” in the name!

Actually, the body goes through a process when its energy supplies are curtailed. Whether we intentionally fast or unintentionally starve, our body conducts the same procedures to keep it performing at an optimal level. Truth be told, our bodies perform at a higher level without a sufficient energy source. A mechanism evolved in our species over millions of years in order to make us better food searchers and finders. Scientists dubbed this bodily progression the “starvation mode” because at the time they were studying the effects of starvation on the human body. Dubious peoples and ignorant peoples use the name to deceive the public into thinking that fasting harms us. The starvation mode has other names, fat adaptation, adaptive thermogenesis, metabolic adaptation, but there is no better way to scare a person than to call it “starvation mode.” This moniker ensures that you will never skip a meal.

In the beginning phases of energy deprivation the body simply adapts and starts to clean itself and get rid of toxins and debris. During fat adaptation or metabolic adaptation, the body finds other ways to fuel its metabolic functions. Initially, the body burns through glucose (the main fuel for the body and brain) and has to find alternate sources of fuel. In the absence of glucose, the body uses fatty acids and amino acids to form glucose and ketones as fuel.

One of these fuels is D-beta-hydroxybutyrate: “Recent studies have shown that D-beta-hydroxybutyrate, the principal “ketone”, is not just a fuel, but a “superfuel” more efficiently producing ATP energy than glucose or fatty acid” (Ketoacids? Good medicine?). In other words, the body starts to work more efficiently. One actually has more energy when fasting.

Myth #2: The body will cannibalize itself if we skip a meal, and within 1-2 weeks of fasting many people will die!!

Within the first 72 hours of energy deprivation, whether fasting or starving, the body turns to adipose tissue (fat cells) for fatty acids and the muscles for amino acids to make glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis (gluco=sugar, neo=new, genesis=make). And the fasting naysayers yell, “So the body is eating its muscles, OMG! Don’t skip a meal, or you will die!” This is absolutely false.

Without getting too scientific, the muscles contain pyruvic acid a molecule, which supplies energy to the cells, and which it uses, in the absence of glucose, to make alinine, an amino acid. The alinine along with glutamine, a free amino acid which the body uses to grow new muscle fiber, go to the liver, are transformed into glucose, through gluconeogenesis, and the newly made glucose goes back to the muscles to supply them with energy. Both pyruvic acid and glutamine sit around in the muscle just waiting to be used, during feast and during famine. This process only lasts for a short time during the first 72 hours.

You see, your body does not begin to cannibalize itself in the beginning stages of fasting or starvation. According to Sarah C. Couch, an Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of Cincinnati, “As long as water is available, a normal weight person can fast for one month maintaining relatively normal system and immune function.” After four weeks of food deprivation, the human body turns to the consumption of actual muscle fiber to fuel vital systems and keep the person alive. Only people intent on you not fasting and being healthier tell you myth #2, that the body eats its own muscles as soon as you stop eating. Now, you know better. (NOTE #1: Here at Fast and Fit with Mark and Jacie, we do not recommend a long-term fast of longer than three days without coaching by someone who has gone through the process and can help you cope, and we do not recommend a prolonged fast of longer than seven days without the supervision of a medical professional well versed in the practice of fasting.)

If I see a starving person, I will say that his body must be in starvation mode. A person’s body, which belongs to a person who suffers from anorexia nervosa, manorexia, or bulimia, is in starvation mode; however, when I describe my body when I fast, I shall refer to fat adaptation or metabolic adaptation.

Myth #3: We lose cognitive functioning when we go on “starvation diets”!!!

This may happen in the later stages of fasting and starvation; however, Mark Mattson of the National Institute of Health discusses the exact opposite, increased cognitive functioning with intermittent fasting, in his TEDx Talk at John Hopkins University entitled Why Fasting Bolsters Brain Power. He examines the complex chemical reactions in the brain, which happens during calorie restriction and intermittent fasting. I feel better physically while I fast and much clearer mentally. There is absolutely no basis in this myth about cognitive decline during short-term fasting.

If people talk about starving or “starvation diets,” be aware that they have probably never skipped a meal ever in their lives. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing everything they say, just be aware that they may have misconceptions about fasting.

Please do your own research about fasting and starvation, and be aware of the difficulties of fasting and the importance of breaking a fast correctly. (NOTE #2: Fasting if done improperly or for too long can result in starvation and death. Please, use caution.)

In a future post, I will discuss exactly what happens to the body during a fast and during starvation.

Fasting vs. Starving: Part 1

In the last few weeks, two healthcare professionals, both bloggers, have spoken out against so-called “starvation diets.” One blatantly warned her readers to avoid “starvation diets.” For some reason, I could not help but think that she was referring to intermittent fasting (IF). I decided to let it go, since I had very recently written a post about IF not resembling starvation in the least. The second healthcare professional openly referred to IF as starvation comparing my lifestyle to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. This affront I cannot let go. Let me make one thing perfectly clear, fasting and starvation are two different concepts: the former, a subsistence lifestyle choice which promotes better health and longevity, the latter, an indeterminate lack of nutrition usually internally or externally forced upon the victim which results in great bodily harm or death. I do not advocate starvation.

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This is what starvation looks like (source: Pixabay.com)

Science has gone a long way towards stigmatizing fasting as starvation because scientists study starvation with government moneys. Admittedly, the same processes the body goes through with starvation happen during fasting, and scientists tend to interchange the words. However, people with alternative motives and lesser-knowledgeable people take the findings of science and pervert the information. Dr. Mark Mattson sums up the reasons for the corruption of this information succinctly in his TED Talk on Why Fasting Bolsters Brain Power, “There’s a lot of money involved. The food industry, are they going to make money from [people] skipping breakfast like I did today? No, they’re going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry is going to lose money. What about the pharmaceutical industries? What if people do some intermittent fasting and exercise periodically and they are very healthy? Is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?” He answered the first rhetorical question; he felt no need to answer the second. The advertisers for these two industries, and the peripheral companies associated with them, have slyly convinced the general public and healthcare professionals that these misinterpretations of the truth about starvation are the truth about fasting.

Why do governments study starvation and not fasting as such? Money. The money flows for starvation research; it stagnates for fasting research. Companies make money by convincing people that fasting equals starving, and that fasting damages and kills the same as starvation. If the public knew the truth, everyone would fast.

The Definition of Fasting and Starvation

 Above, I gave my definition of fasting. Let’s look at some others.

“…the term ‘fasting’ is defined as the total absence of nutrient intake, whereas ‘starvation’ is defined as a prolonged period of inadequate food intake.” From Starvation and fasting: Biochemical Aspects (Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition 209-218). In other words the faster intentionally abstains from food, while the victim of starvation would take adequate food if available. Starvation can occur from mental illness and diseases like anorexia nervosa and bulimia; however, this definition covers that.

“Starvation commences,” according to Tobias Wang, an expert who has studied fasting and starvation, “in later stages of food deprivation” (THE COMPARATIVE PHYSIOLOGY OF FOOD DEPRIVATION: From Feast to Famine). And yet, we are led to believe that starvation commences soon after we take our last bite of food. Seemingly competent and reliable sources lead us to believe that going three days (72 hours) without food will surely and certainly result in death. “Later stages of food deprivation” refers to weeks not days.

According to Paul Pojman, “An individual begins to starve when he has lost about a third of his normal body weight. Once this loss exceeds 40%, death is almost inevitable” (as quoted in, Food Ethics 128). Have you ever known anyone who lost 30% of his or her weight after three days of going without food? My last three-day fast, I lost 1kg. I went from 66kg. to 65kg., hardly 30% of my body weight.

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This is what fasting looks like. Nine months and counting of IF. Does it look like I’m starving? (source: me)

Notice we have heard a lot about starvation, not much about fasting. Well, the information is out there. One just needs to know where to look and what to look for, as we will see from the next definition.

“Fasting is voluntarily not eating food for varying lengths of time. Fasting is used as a medical therapy for many conditions” (The Free Dictionary by Farlex: Medical Dictionary). Here is a good definition of fasting. Notice no reference to starvation, and notice the reference to medicinal purposes. These, I will discuss in this blog.

The perpetrators of the three-days-of-fasting-leads-to-certain-death myth spread lies and propaganda, sometimes unwittingly, for the food and pharmaceutical industries. In the next post, I will cover the myths and the truths about fasting and starvation.

Featured image source: Pixabay.com

“Oh, I Can’t Do Intermittent Fasting, I’d Starve to Death!”

Two common concerns about intermittent fasting (IF) are the hunger factor and starvation.

“I can’t go for more than four hours without eating. I get too hungry!” said one acquaintance of mine, when hearing of IF. Unfortunately, this means that this person is addicted to sugar. For the first month of IF, hunger pangs and cravings haunted me, on my fasting days, like the ghost of Christmas Feasts Past. My tormenting appetite nearly drove me to break my fast on several occasions, that first month. Solace came only with the viewing of pictures of alluring food and the reading of delicious recipes on the Internet. HOWEVER, after one month of IF, the distress and feelings of hunger hounded me no more. Since that first month, I have not experienced hunger at all. As I mentioned in another post, “I feel empty” not hungry while fasting. Since I have kicked the sugar habit, hunger is but a memory to me. I do not crave any special foods, anymore. The liberation from hunger and cravings seems too good to be true, but I have read more than several testimonies about these very same phenomena with IF.

Another friend made the comment in the title of this post. Now, for sure, over the last eight months, the fat has melted off my body so quickly that my skin did not have time to firm up in certain spots (I will discuss this in another post), but I have not starved in any measure of the word.

As I made my Mediterranean Greek omelet, yesterday, I started to think about how much food I had consumed in the previous eight hours. When I got a chance, I wrote down all the ingredients in all the things I had eaten: the list just kept going and going. (See list below.) One will notice that the list lacks processed sugars and processed man-made foods. As I mentioned in another post, my wife and I want “nutritionally dense food to fuel our bodies.” Unfortunately for most Americans, Hot Pockets are not nutritionally dense. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is not nutritionally dense (not even with hotdogs). Sorry, Americans!

Two Ways I Evaluate Nutritionally Dense Food

The first…if I can do a Google search for “the health benefits of (insert food here)” and it comes up with many pages of articles about the health benefits of that particular food, and I read that it is packed with minerals, vitamins, and fiber, etc., I accept it as nutritionally dense food, and I try to include it in my diet.

Have you ever been laughed at by Google? Just try Googling “the health benefits of Hot Pockets.” Be sure you have your volume turned up. After Google’s obvious amusement, a list of articles describing the scary ingredients of this pseudo food will appear. However, “the health benefits of pineapple” garners 1.7 million hits, all about the wonderful health benefits of this delightful fruit. See the difference?

The second way to evaluate nutritionally dense food…I ask myself, “Is it a superfood?” Here is a list of 66 Super Foods to Help You Live a Longer & Healthier Life. In case you don’t want to click and read, the list includes avocados, bananas, and cantaloupe, to name a few. Other superfoods include raw cacao (chocolate!), flaxseed, chia seeds, spirulina, and many more. If it is a superfood, I know that it is nutritionally dense, and I try to eat as much of it as possible or as much as is recommended.

With that said, here is the list of foods of which I partook, in an eight hour window, on my eating day:

0.33 liter of ultra-healthy mineral water

One French press carafe of coffee

One French press carafe of Chinese green tea

5 bananas

Walnuts and almonds (several handfuls of each)

Dried cranberries (3 handfuls)

1 pineapple

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (I ground the whole organic flaxseed myself)

1 tablespoon raw cacao powder

1 raw carrot crudités

5 eggs (1 hard boiled and 4 in an omelet)

Spinach (enough to choke a horse)

10 Kalamata olives

One tomato

One red hot chili pepper (not the musical group)

One small eggplant

One small onion

Two handfuls of rotini pasta (I know, whole wheat pasta would have been better)

1 tablespoon of chia seeds

1 teaspoon of pink Himalayan salt

A smidge of other spices: black pepper, oregano, and red pepper

Cabernet Sauvignon, vintage: 2014, (more than I’d like to mention)

Is it too much? Studies actually show that, on IF, one can maintain the calories consumed on a normal everyday eating diet, and still benefit from this regimen. So, not only would this list of ingredients not be considered starvation, it would be considered enough nutrition to get me through a day of fasting (it could probably get me through several days with no food). Almost every ingredient on this list is nutritionally dense. As natural and organic as one can get, I say. Notice no potato chips, no bacon, no sausage, no artificial sweeteners, no candy, no etc. Just say no to junky processed man-made foodstuffs.

So my dear friends and acquaintances, the threat of hunger and the risk of starvation are only excuses to maintain an unhealthy diet and, unfortunately, bad health. If it were true that you are what you eat, would you rather be a pineapple or a Hot Pocket? Your choice. My advice: pillage your pantry of all processed foods and throw them away.

The Standard American Diet, SAD Indeed

Anyone on a Standard American Diet (SAD) will probably already be deficient in some area of nutrition (not to mention all of the diseases and conditions it engenders). IF would help someone, who consumes only the SAD, to lose weight, but only nutritionally dense food would help with the deficiencies. I would not recommend taking up IF while maintaining a SAD. My wife and I do not participate in this lifestyle to lose weight. The pursuit of superb health drives us in this adventure. Studies have shown that calorie restriction, of which IF is a form, provides many health benefits such as longevity, improved cognitive functioning, reduced disease, reduced inflammation, improved mood, anti-aging, and a bevy of other benefits which I will continue to discuss in this blog.

Feel free to follow my blog. As I explain the process and the benefits of IF and fitness from an experiential point of view, we will explore this life-enhancing lifestyle together. And tell me what you think in the comments below. Please tell me if you read my post because of the daily prompt. Until next time, stay fast and fit.