By Bob Acebedo I Published: August 1, 2020
Curiously, it is worth unravelling the far reaching benefits of fasting – not just its spiritual significance, but more so its propitious potential for longevity.
Fasting – intermittent fasting, in particular – is indubitably in vogue nowadays, being a byword for boosting our health or even stretching our lifespan for that matter.
Regardless of whatever form or protocol of fasting – micro-fast or multi-day fasting, 16-20 hours fast, simple skipping of meals, sugar or calorie restriction, two-meals a day (8:00 AM and 6:00 PM) protocol, or prolonged fasting regimen lasting over 48 hours – modern health experts and scientists commonly agree of the physiological benefits that it can provide.
Let me thus try to explore first the physiological health benefits of fasting.
Culled from personal research, I found out that fasting for over 24 hours and depriving our body of sugar intake can trigger tremendous improvement in energy and anti-oxidant production. This may be explained through the following process:
With fasting and no sugar intake, our body tries to find for stored glucose (glycogen) resulting to what is called gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis (GNG) may be described as a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from certain non-carbohydrate carbon substrates, the process of which occurs during periods of fasting, starvation, low-carbohydrate diets, or intense exercise.
This newly-produced glucose are then brought into the blood stream, thereby up regulating the metabolites (the intermediate products produced during metabolism, catalyzed by various enzymes that occur naturally within cells.
So, say for 34 hours of fasting, some 44 metabolites are up regulated, thus paving the way for the so called Krebs cycle.
Krebs cycle (named after Sir Hans A. Krebs, German-born British biochemist) refers to the sequence of reactions by which most living cells generate energy during the process of aerobic respiration.
It takes place in the mitochondria, consuming oxygen, producing carbon dioxide and water as waste products, and converting ADP to energy-rich ATP.
Finally, this energy (ATP) that is produced is vital enough for our body’s healing mechanism, fighting infections, physical mobility, anti-oxidant production, and even slowing down the aging process.
That fasting is indeed beneficial to our health can be explained by the process called “autophagy,” which literally means “self-eating”.
Pioneered by the Japanese cell biologist, Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi, autophagy is the process of how human cells get rid of waste or “cellular junk” to produce new cells.
How does this work?
Human cells have special recycling compartments known as lysosomes, which are referred to as the stomach of the cells that contain special digestive enzymes.
With the help of said enzymes, lysosomes consume worn out or damaged tissues, food particles, bacteria, viruses and other junks and are recycled into new cells and energy.
Hence, during autophagy (as effected by fasting), cleaning mechanisms remove old cell membranes, organelles, and other “cellular junk” that has accumulated over time and may impede cellular or mitochondrial performance.
While old, broken parts of our cells are being removed, the growth hormone – the hormone that’s amplified during fasting – signals the body to produce new replacements, thus recycling or renovating our cells, and thereby slowing down the aging process.
According to bio-science experts, fasting and autophagy can offer a host of health benefits such as: improves detoxification; boosts the immune system; enhances tissue quality; strengthens hormone balance; reverses insulin resistance; hastens brain injury recovery; prevents or reduces Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and others more.
Now, let me move on to the spiritual significance of fasting. From the religious or theological perspective, what’s the point of fasting?
As a Christian and having undeniably spent a considerable number of years inside the seminary, let me at once answer the aforementioned query on fasting: God commanded it, Jesus practiced it, the Church fathers have preached the importance of it.
Hence, fasting is a powerful and fundamental part of Christian life.
In the theological point of view, fasting cannot only be construed as abstention from food, but it can also take the form of giving up other goods like comforts and entertainment.
The whole purpose of fasting is to put the created order and our spiritual life in proper balance, and make room for God in our life.
The Very First Fast
In the beginning of the Old Testament, we find that the very first fast was ordered by God in the Garden of Eden, when God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).
By fasting from the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve would have become partakers in the Divine Nature through their obedience to God.
Instead, they tried to take this knowledge of good and evil for themselves and ate the fruit, disobeying God and bringing original sin, death, and illness upon mankind.
Parallel to this, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he abstained from food and water for 40 days and nights in the desert and thus reversed or rectified what happened in the Garden of Eden.
Like Adam and Eve, Christ was tempted by the devil but instead remained obedient to God the Father, reversing the disobedience of Adam and Eve and restoring our humanity.
A Powerful Weapon
From these biblical accounts, we can thus deduce some points of significance or benefits of fasting.
One, fasting is a powerful weapon against evil.
St. Basil the Great once wrote: “The fast is the weapon of protection against demons. Our guardian angels stay closely with those who have cleansed their souls through fasting.”
Two, fasting disposes us to prayer and humble obedience to God.
Because we feel greater hunger or thirst when we fast from food and water, it reminds us of our frailty and helps us to be more humble and thus readily submit ourselves in prayer and obedience to God.
In sum, therefore, if on one hand fasting enhances our biological longevity, on the other hand – in the spiritual realm – it can no doubt help us conquer the evil inequities of our fallen nature and embrace a profound and lasting relationship with the divine.