Fasting for as little as 3 days can regenerate the entire immune system, even in the elderly! These claims started since a remarkable breakthrough in 2014 by a team at the University of Southern California.
Even though fasting diets have been criticized by nutritionists for being unhealthy, research from 2014 onwards actually suggests starving the body kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection.
Scientists at the University of Southern California said after an extensive study that fasting is particularly beneficial for people suffering from damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy. It could also help the elderly whose immune system becomes less effective as they age, making it harder for them to fight off even common diseases.
How does fasting actually work? In a way it “flips a regenerative switch” in your body which prompts stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, basically regenerating the entire immune system. In essence it gives the ‘OK’ signal for stem cells to go ahead and begin multiplying and rebuilding your entire system.
Furthermore, your body will get rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, during the fasting. Thus, even if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or ageing, fasting cycles can generate a new immune system.
What happens during prolonged fasting is your body’s forced to use its glucose and fat reserves, but also to break down a significant portion of its white blood cells. During each fasting cycle, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells.
These finding are supported by trials where humans were asked to regularly fast for 2 to 4 days over a period of 6 months. Incredibly, it was also found that prolonged fasting even reduced the enzyme PKA, which is linked to ageing and increased cancer risk and tumor growth.
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system,” said Prof Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California in 2014.
When you starve your body tries to save energy by recycling a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, particularly those that may be damaged. This is why the white blood cell count goes down during prolonged fasting. However, when you start eating again the blood cells come back.
Fasting for 72 hours even protected cancer patients against the toxic impact of chemotherapy. As you know, chemotherapy might save your life, but it also causes significant collateral damage to your immune system. The 2014 study established a direct link between fasting and alleviating some harmful effects of chemotherapy.
Tanya Dorff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital and part of the same research, notes that while the results are encouraging, more clinical studies are needed, and any dietary intervention must be done under the guidance of your physician.
While some experts remain skeptical that fasting can help cancer patients, Dr. Longo and his team are clear that there is no evidence at all that fasting would be dangerous, while there is strong evidence that it is beneficial. Dr. Longo claims to have reviewed emails from hundreds of cancer patients who have combined chemo with fasting, with the assistance of their oncologists.
According to him, “great majority” have reported doing very well and only a few have reported some side effects including fainting and a temporary increase in liver markers.
While more studies and further research are needed to bring fasting into the mainstream and as a recognized medical tool, the signs thus far are encouraging. The few cases of side effects all occurred in cancer patients. If you are a relatively healthy individual, it would be perfectly safe and beneficial to engage in small periods of fasting. In fact you can renew your entire immune system, slowdown aging and reduce the risk of cancer and tumor growth.
Whatever you decide, before taking any measures make sure to speak with your physician if fasting is right for you.