If you are sick, the last thing you’d probably think of doing is fasting. After all, most people drink chicken soup, ginger tea, and orange juice when they’re sick, so how could NOT eating anything at all be good for you?
Well, a new study suggests that a bit of fasting can actually be good for your immune system. Scientists at USC say that fasting for two to four days can regenerate the entire immune system, even in the elderly.
"We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system,” said author Valter Longo, Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute.
Read on to find out how not eating can make you better…
The Benefit of Fasting For Immune System
How could fasting be good for your health? According to the USC study, fasting basically helps your body to reset its immune system, kicking it into high gear by the end of your fast!
How does fasting and the immune system connection work?
Fasting for 2 or 3 days can be the key to restoring your immune system! #fasting #immunesystem
When you fast, you basically force your body to work extra hard to keep you going. You burn the fat you have stored around your frame, you use less energy, and so on.
Long-term fasting has been slammed as being unhealthy, and the truth is that it can be a bit unhealthy if you’re not smart about it. Fasting for long periods of time can lead to a number of health problems, not to mention an increase in fat storage.
Short-term fasting, however, basically kick-starts your immune system. It forces your body to produce new white blood cells, and it floods your body with these disease-fighting cells. It’s like fasting hits the reboot button on your immune system, and by the end of those two or three days, you have a rejuvenated immune system.
This can be particularly helpful for patients suffering from a suppressed immune system resulting from cancer treatments. Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments decimate the immune system, killing off most of the body’s natural defenses against disease. By the end of the treatment, cancer sufferers usually have very little immune function, forcing them to take medication to boost immune function.
By fasting, though, cancer sufferers can basically force their bodies to reboot their immune system. It will help them to increase the production of the white blood cells that have been destroyed in the cancer treatment, and will make it possible for their body to protect itself even after it is flooded with chemotherapy drugs and radiation.
A fasting cycle results in the depletion of white blood cells and creates changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells. In particular, it reduced the enzyme PKA, which is the key gene that needs to shut down in order for these stem cells to switch into regenerative mode. “It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” explained Longo, noting the potential of clinical applications that mimic the effects of prolonged fasting to rejuvenate the immune system. They found that fasting "flips a regenerative switch" which triggers stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, essentially regenerating the entire immune system.
The research also has implications for patients afflicted by a wide range of immune system deficiencies, including autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), etc.
In summary, intermittent and short-term fasting of 2-4 days protects against cancer cell formation, reduces free radical damage, and reduces inflammation in the body.
The effect of fasting on the immune system doesn’t stop there!
When you fast, your body basically has to scramble to find nutrients and energy, so it burns up a lot of what your body has stored in case of emergencies. This means that a lot of the inefficient or damaged parts of the body are eliminated during the fasting, basically resetting your overall health at the same time.
The fasting cycle of two or three days can actually help to restore a system that was severely damaged or decimated. White blood cells are broken down during the fast, which in turn forces the stem cells in your body to produce more. These new white blood cells are not just brand new, but they’re healthier and more effective than the previous cells–meaning they’re more effective at combatting disease and illness.
To sum it up, fasting reboots your immune system, regenerates white blood cells, and replenishes any blood cells that have been lost! Pretty awesome reason to fast, right?!
Fasting and the Immune System: How to Fast Safely
If you want to benefit from the effect of fasting on immune system, it’s important that you go about it the right way. Fasting can have negative effects on the body if sustained for more than a few days, which is why diets like the Water Fast and the Master Cleanse have been highly criticized by nutritionists and dieticians.
In this case, however, you are only going to be fasting for two or three days, which is much easier on your body. It’s not going to be an easy fast to go through with, but if you do it right, you should be able to make it through the 48 to 72 hours of fasting without too much suffering.
It’s important to prepare yourself for your 2 or 3-day fast BEFORE you start fasting. In the week leading up to the fast, slowly wean yourself off coffee, sugar, alcohol, and any other stimulants. Cut back on meat, fish, and dairy until you are accustomed to just eating fruits and veggies for a few days. Focus on soups, as they are water-heavy and will acclimate your body to getting more liquid. Eat some fruit, seeds, and nuts, but focus on veggies.
For the 3 days before your fast, have nothing but liquids–fruits and veggie shakes. This will be easier on your digestive system, and will help acclimate you to the fast.
When it comes to the two or three-day fast, you’re going to be drinking your meals. You will not be eating anything, and your liquid options will be fairly limited as well.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day in addition to any juices and teas you drink.
- Dilute any juice you drink with water to cut acidity.
- DO NOT drink tomato or orange juices, as they are very acidic.
- Have at least 2 cups of herbal tea per fast day–particularly chamomile and peppermint, as they are very soothing for your stomach.
- Squeeze fresh lemon into your water–about 1 lemon per cup of water.
- Drink warm water as much as possible, as it will be easier on your digestive system. (Consider the Master Cleanse recipe…)
- Juice fruits and veggies yourself (apples, beets, carrots, cabbage, celery, and grape are the best).
- Make green drinks with kale, spinach, and collard greens.
- DO NOT mix fruits and veggies in the same juice.
Once you get through the three days of fasting, it’s time for another 3 days of blended raw foods. You want to ease your body back into solids, so these three days will help your stomach get accustomed to digesting once more.
After those three days, it’s time to slowly introduce solid foods once more. Wait at least a week to go heavy on the meat, dairy, and fish, but start with lighter foods–nuts, seeds, grains, etc.
Follow the instructions above, and you’ll survive the fast without too much suffering. There will still be the symptoms of detox that accompany every fast, but they won’t be so bad.
Once you come out of the fast, you’ll find that your immune system is all revved up and ready to go!