The holiday season is over and how many of us did not put on a few pounds? I find that most of my patients do not want to give up the foods they love, even if these foods are not so good for them. Fasting can help you take off a few holiday pounds while letting you eat like you want to (within reason) the remainder of the time. And fasting has pretty much been established through many studies to be extremely good for us. And since I recommend that you try it and add it to your health regimen, I want to give you some of the more well know benefits. Here are some of my favorites with a brief explanation:
1. Reduces insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity is a measure of how responsive your cells are to insulin. Improving it can reduce your chances of getting several diseases including diabetes.
2. Raises growth hormone levels (hGH). This is basically the anti-aging hormone. Yes, this can make you age more slowly.
3. Helps you lose weight. It effectively does this by reducing overall calories and also by teaching your body to burn fat again.
4. May increase your life span. Many studies on rats show that rats that fast live much longer and are healthier in general.
5. Reduces inflammation. Reducing this one thing in your body can reduce your chances of getting a whole host of chronic illnesses as well as pain.
6. Improve brain function and help prevent neurodegenerative diseases. Everyone is looking for a cure for Alzheimer's and this might be the best, or one of the best preventatives.
7. Improve heart health. It does this by reducing blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol.
Sounds pretty good to me.
As many of my patients know, I am interested in intermittent fasting and often suggest it to my patients. Not many of my patients know that I have been doing differing types of fasting for over fifteen years. To many people the idea of fasting is kinda 'out there' or something they think they could never do. But people have been fasting for literally thousands of years. Many religions incorporate fasting as a means of devotion. And more and more scientists are studying fasting. To be honest I have never seen a study find anything but positive results. I often recommend patients first watch a BBC documentary on fasting that you can find by searching youtube called Eat, Fast and Live Longer. An interesting thing that this documentary opens with is that during the Depression in the 1930s, epidemiologists expected that the life expectancy in the US would fall due to a reduction of available nutritious food. They were surprised to find however that the life expectancy actually went up over this period! So, we know from movies like 'Supersize Me' that eating large portions is bad for us. But maybe eating very small portions, or fasting might do the opposite, make us really healthy. This seems to be the case. I like to eat, so I rarely do an all day fast. One type of fasting that I do often (around 4 or 5 days a week) is the popular 8/16 fast. The way this works is that you limit your eating to an 8 hour window of time. For instance I will usually eat my first meal around 11 and finish eating for the day by 7pm. Pretty easy and the benefits for that 16 hours of fasting are vast. More on the benefits in the next blog.
About half of our training as acupuncturists is actually in western medicine. I like to keep up with the latest in western medicine and I pass on what I have learned to my patients. I just want them to get well and be healthier and no single type of medicine has all the answers. One thing that I think is important especially this time of year is to take vitamin D. Many of us are low on this vitamin which is essential for a healthy immune system. In the winter our D levels drop even more. Some experts think that this is why we get sick more in the winter. Regardless if this is true or not, many ailments have been linked to vitamin D deficiency. I will never forget a patient I had who was in her early thirties and had been diagnosed with MS. I was wondering how she got this diagnosis at her age. The first question I asked her was if she takes vitamin D. She said that her level had been found to be so low that they were injecting mega-doses of the vitamin weekly. I was not surprised. Some chronic ailments like MS actually occur more in northern latitudes. Fascinating, and such an easy thing to prevent.
On a personal note, I had a cold this winter, then a week later I got another cold. It's very unusually for me to get sick but realized that switching to cod liver oil several months before (which has varying amounts of vitamin D) probably left me deficient enough to weaken my immune system. I started taking liquid D at 2000 IU a day and so far no more colds. Coincidence? Maybe. But more and more studies are showing this connection between vitamin D and the immune system.
Monte Jackson, owner Acupuncture Center of Richmond