Fasting is called a fad, but it is a tradition that has been observed by cultures around the world for millennia. A number of studies have found potential health benefits (and consequences) associated with fasting, the nature of which depends on the type of fast. Whereas certain fasting protocols require a person to consume only water for a number of hours or days, others allow fruit juice or greatly restricted food consumption.
In modern times, fasting is often undertaken in an effort to induce autophagy, a process by which the body cleans out old damaged cells and replaces them with newer and healthier cells. It’s unclear how long a human must fast for autophagy to be activated, but many believe that at least 24 hours is necessary in order to get this benefit.
Not everyone can fast for that long of a time, however, leading to the rise of intermittent fasting, a type of fasting protocol that typically involves abstaining from food for a certain number of hours in a day. Someone who fasts may only consume water, and possibly tea or coffee, for 18 hours, as one example, with the remaining six hours of the day being the time period during which food can be consumed.
Intermittent fasting protocols that last less than 24 hours may have a beneficial effect for individuals suffering from chronic inflammation, a new study recently published in Cell has found. The research comes out of Mount Sinai, where scientists found that intermittent fasting reduces the number of monocytes circulating in the blood.
These cells are pro-inflammatory; high levels are present in cases of autoimmune diseases and certain other conditions. Acute — that is, brief moments of — inflammation is a normal and necessary process triggered by the immune system to get rid of infections. However, chronic inflammation — the kind that lasts for long periods of time — can lead to a huge number of health consequences, including the development of cancer, heart disease, and more.
The study found that intermittent fasting reduces the immune system’s inflammation response and leads to improvements in diseases involving chronic inflammation, but it does this without compromising the body’s ability to target infections.
Fasting is potentially dangerous in some individuals, particularly if one fasts for a long period of time. Anyone considering fasting for any reason should talk to their doctor first to make sure their body can handle the dieting protocol.