HAVING spent a considerable number of years in the seminary, I can readily acquiesce the truth that indeed fasting provides a host of spiritual benefits.
From the Christian perspective, fasting cannot be construed only as abstention from food; it can also take the form of giving up other goods like comforts, leisure or entertainment.
The theological basis of fasting can be summed up thus: God commanded it, Jesus practiced it, the Church fathers have preached the importance of it.
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).
Then in the New Testament, Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, abstained from food and water for 40 days and nights in the desert to rectify Adam and Eve’s transgression against God’s order on “fasting” in the Garden of Eden.
And, St. Basil the Great, one of the early Church fathers, wrote: “Fasting is the weapon of protection against demons. Our guardian angels stay closely with those who have cleansed their souls through fasting.”
Spiritually, hence, fasting is a powerful weapon against evil and disposes us to prayer and humble obedience to God.
Now, what about the health and longevity benefits of fasting?
Fasting, from the physiological perspective, 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 (GNG), which may be described as a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from certain non-carbohydrate carbon substrate – the process of which occurs during periods of fasting, starvation, low-carbohydrate diet, 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.
So, say for 30 hours of fasting, some 44 metabolites are up regulated, thus paving the way for the so called Krebs cycle (named after Sir Hans A. Krebs, German-British biochemist), which 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 (Adinosine Diphosphate) to energy-rich ATP (Adinosine Triphosphate).
Finally, this energy (ATP) that is produced is vital enough for our body’s healing mechanism, fighting infections, physical mobility, and 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.