Friday, August 3, 2012


   The practice of fasting has existed since the time immemorial. The act of fasting exists in all major world religions and cultures alike. The practice may vary from culture to culture but the central idea that fasting is good for you (physically and spiritually) exists in all religions and cultures. In Islam, the institution of fasting is formalized, and the act of fasting during the month of Ramadan is an obligatory pillar of Islamic faith. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The lunar based Islamic calendar causes the month of Ramadan to appear about ten days earlier each year. Hence, Ramadan occurring on different parts of the solar based calendar. The Islamic fast entails abstaining from food and water from dawn to dusk. From the Islamic perspective, when physical needs are given up, to fill that void spiritual senses are elevated. The ultimate goal is to increase in individual spirituality. I think spirituality is something that is personal and everyone experiences it in different form. That is why I will leave the religious and spiritual discussion here and describe in the remaining post the physical benefits of fasting.
   I have been fasting in the Islamic fashion for the last twenty years. One complete month of fasting each year. You figure with each passing year it would get easier, but on the contrary, each year it gets harder. It is always a painful and hard month, but at the end of the month, there are many benefits to my body and these benefits pay their dividends through out the year. This is my first Ramadan since I started my Paleo journey almost a year ago. In the morning I am eating few pieces of dates and 3-5 eggs and one potato. I usually drink a glass of water and half a cup of tea. Some mornings I consume fresh fruit. This food pretty much holds me up all day. I do not feel hungry, and my energy levels remain decent. In the late afternoon, the lack of water and the hot August days cause me to slow down a bit but no big deal. The lethargic feeling is temporary. Bottom line the fasting has not slowed me down a bit, I even played golf this past weekend.

   In a fasted state human body is all about conserving energy and using its remaining fuel supply wisely. The newer cars these days have a fuel economy feature that automatically shuts down few cylinders to preserve fuel in a cruising state. These intelligent decisions to conserve fuel and provide maximum miles per gallon are made by the on board computer system in the car.  If technology can mimic nature to a very crude degree then the greatest machine ever built (human body) is expected to perform a lot more. There are many important physiological changes that occur in your body while in the fasted state. The human body is an efficient machine that makes adjustment to its fuel supply and uses the available nutrients wisely to prolong life as long as possible. Let's examine more closely how different nutrients are broken down and used by the body in a fasted state.

   In a fasted state the dietary carbs are taken to liver and stored as glycogen. The liver can only hold about 100 grams of glycogen and the muscles can hold about 400 grams of glycogen. Like an efficient machine, body becomes very stingy with this limited supply of glycogen and uses it to provide glucose for certain parts of the brain and the red blood cells that can only operate on glucose. The muscles and organs also like to run on glucose but they forego their share for keeping the blood and the brain alive and shift to burning fat as their primary source of fuel.

   Once few hours pass and no nutrients are ingested, this kicks the body into an elevated concerned state. Alarms begin to sound. Mainly hormonal activity increases and the proteins are called up to bat. At this point dietary proteins which take few hours to break down in your small intestine are available as amino acids and they are hauled away to the liver and converted to glycogen. The body is concerned about avoiding a glucose crash. The newly converted glycogen from amino acids is converted as glucose and the vital brain tissues and red blood cells continue to function. If no dietary proteins are available then body will convert your muscle into glycogen and into glucose. But this process only happens in a long starvation period. The fat is used before body converts muscles into glucose. Of course, this is not a problem in Paleo Diet, plenty of proteins are eaten and once glycogen from the dietary carbs runs out then glycogen from the amino acids is used to sustain the body for many more hours.

   In a fasted state, the stored body fat and the dietary fat is used as fuel for most muscles and organs. This is where intelligent fuel economy takes place. The fats are converted to ketones and the body begins to use ketones as the source of fuel. This state is called ketosis. Being on a Paleo Diet for a period of time conditions the body to burn fat as the primary source of fuel. This happens instantly for people who are on the Paleo Diet for a while, but may take few days or weeks for folks who have not given up loading up their bodies with carbs. The folks who are not on Paleo Diet may never train their bodies to go into the ketosis state unless they experience hunger for several days. The human body has enough stored fat to go on for months. The state of ketosis stops the muscle from being converted into glucose. The glycerol component of fat can make glucose and body can literally run without food for an extended period of time. However, that is not the case these days. During the month of Ramadan, I eat in the morning at dawn and then do not eat food for about 14 hours. This fasting period is very short compared to the fat supply the body has. On top of it I am consuming enough proteins and fats for breakfast and dinner, so my fat and protein supply is replenished constantly. This is the reason enduring a fast for 14 hours is not a big problem.

   The physical benefit of fasting is that it conditions the body to burn fat as the primary source of fuel. This is exactly what our ancestors did for 2.5 million years during the Paleolithic era. They ate proteins and fats, energy dense foods and then fasted, because hunting was not always successful. While wild game hunting was not available, they gathered berries, wild fruits, nuts, eggs and seeds to make up the calories. This prolonged behavior over the period called Paleolithic (old stone age) made up our genetic programming. The old stone age ended 10,000 years ago when the agrarian societies began to appear in the Middle East. By that time our genetic programming was completed and was designed to burn fat, proteins and carbs from vegetables, fruits,and nuts. Simply put we were designed to consumes and thrive on the Paleo Diet. Fasting simply tries to re-establish the lost connection with our true genetic programming.

No comments:

Post a Comment