Fasting has two very good benefits for us.
Fasting has two very good benefits for us. Japanese scientist Dr Yoshinori Oshsumi’s Nobel prize-winning work on autophagy has shown how damaged cells self-eat or self-destruct — keeping the body in good condition. The other benefit is that when the self-destruction occurs, there is the inducement of the growth hormone which allows for the generation of new cells.
Autophagy of the body means it cleanses itself of damaged, dead and unrepaired cells. It’s a natural process where good cells create membranes that hunt out scraps of dead, diseased, infectious cells and gobble them up. The good cells strip these diseased cells into parts and use the resulting molecules for energy.
Autophagy requires the right kind of conditions for it to occur. Nutrient deprivation is the key activator of autophagy. When the body is on a fast mode it signals the brain that there is not enough food available and the body then goes back to stored foods. This condition allows for autophagy — where the cells first attack the old and junky proteins in the body. This happens because the insulin levels in the body dip and the hormone opposite to insulin, glucagon, begins to work in the body. When glucagon is activated, it starts looking for those cells and junk in the body which require to be cleaned. But even the slightest amount of food is easy to shut-down glucagon. It requires completely abstinence from food for 12 to 36 hours which is usually seen in many fasting practitioners. But they must drink plenty of water.
Once autophagy is stimulated, the growth hormone stimulates and it helps to create new energetic cells in the body. It is found to control inflammation and also helps in the process of building immunity. Exercise also stimulates autophagy. Sweating, grunting, post-workout pains put stress on the body and it further allows for the eating away of damaged cells.
Working out actually damages muscles causing tiny microscopic tears that the body rushes to heal in turn making itself stronger and more resistant to any further damage. When the process of autophagy occurs in the body there is actually a feeling of reinvigoration as fresh energy flows in. This discovery is also going to help in the creation of new medicines.
But remember this: The body is constantly protecting itself from diseases, infections and harmful pollutants. And when the body is not able to take the excess load of disease it is then that immunity is compromised, allowing the disease to manifest. In some cases, there are patients who say they regularly fast, exercise and maintain a strict diet and yet they find themselves suffering from cancer or other lifestyle diseases. This only means that there is a genetic factor too at play, which will have to be evaluated.
At the same time, there are those who have a disease that has been in the works for years only to emerge when the perfect conditions are finally found. The evidence of autophagy is going to open a completely new perspective for researchers, where a whole gamut of cellular evidence can help understand the working and also the enabling of diseases better. It will also help create new-generation medicines which are required for the fight — which target only those cells which are diseased, damaged or infected. The author is executive director, KIMS Foundation and Research Center, Hyderabad