Of the two main faiths in Cyprus, fasting features as an important part of our ritual. Although little known and practised Orthodox Christians should also fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, whilst Sunni Muslims should fast on Mondays and Thursdays.
St. John Chrysostomos (347-407 AD) referred to fasting as “the mother of bodily health” and commented that “When the body becomes sluggish, the soul undergoes damage, as the activities of the soul are determined by the condition of the body… Ailments and weakness of the body… come from great luxury and the love of pleasure. When we leave the table, we feel heavy from the great amount of food; our stomachs hurt, our head aches and our sleep is deep… Food in excess is not nourishment; rather, it can destroy our bodies.”
Fasting predates both those religions. Pythagoras (580-500BC) and Plato (427-347 BC) were known practitioners and Hippocrates (460-357BC), the founder of modern medicine, used it as the basis of some of his treatments. Plato fasted because it cleared the mind and gave him great clarity of thought, which historically is a common theme.
Although largely fallen out of favour fasting is making a comeback with the health conscious, with intermittent fasting or time restricted eating (IF). And they are fasting for exactly the same reasons as our forbearers did, for health and clarity of mind. Not only that, they have the science to prove how it actually works.
When you eat you spike insulin levels in your body. Insulin is your growth hormone and has several important functions, particularly in transporting and feeding the cells of your body. It also helps to stop us from starving by storing excess energy as fat. Carbohydrate food and drink, particularly processed foods and drinks, including wheat, barley, oats, rice, sugar, etc., will drastically increase insulin production by your pancreas. When insulin and excess energy, in the form of glucose (a simple sugar molecule which is broken down from carbohydrate food) is present, then it slows down the body’s other functions so that it can concentrate on creating that lifesaving fat.
In the developed world we are victims of their own success. We don’t go hungry and have long given up eating two or three good meals a day, preferring to graze the sweet shops, supermarkets and delicatessens. We have soft drinks and fruit juices (which are just concentrated sugar) by the litre, not the occasional bottle as a treat. As a result, our insulin level is constantly elevated, our body cannot eat its nutrients properly from the food and we never burn fat. The result, metabolic ill-health, visceral (internal body) fat, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, kidney failure, fatty liver disease, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, blindness, amputations, depression, the lists is endless.
Our food is also now predominantly wheat or other grass based. Wheat is difficult to digest as are bodies are not designed to ferment grass. Cows have 4 stomachs to help in that process. As a result of constantly eating grain based food, complex sugar molecules that cannot be properly digested attack and work their way through our stomach and gut wall, enter the body and cause inflammation. On its own or combined with other plant toxins it causes irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, leaky gut, arthritis, etc.
Every human cell in your body will reproduce itself and will be recycled. Over a 2 year period you’re virtually a new human. The process is called ‘autophagy’ (eating yourself) and whilst we have known about it for centuries, it wasn’t until the Japanese scientist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, identified its mechanism and was awarded the Noble Prize in 2016 when it was fully understood.
We age because over time, particularly with ill-health and a bad diet, during that recycling process our new cells develop gaps in their DNA and an unhealthy cell will reproduce an equally or even unhealthier cell. Because insulin is the growth hormone defective cells can also be encouraged to grow into cancerous cells that feed off the sugar and similarly replicate cancerous cells.
IF is the best way to restore balance and youth to the body. It gives your stomach, guts, liver, pancreas and accordingly the rest of your body time to recover. If you fast for 6-8 hours you will empty your body of its sugar stores. After 8 hours the body will look to burn fat to find energy as your body needs to eat 24/7 (which is when you start to actually lose weight). Once the insulin is low enough after the sugar is gone, your body can start the process of regenerating in earnest. After 8 hours there is a natural boost to autophagy and cell reproduction. After 16 hours of fasting your body begins to create ‘stem cells’, which are brand new cells with a complete DNA sequence. Their job is to search out and replace bad cells. Everything in your body begins to function better, giving you clarity of thought as well as a healthier body.
How does all this relate to COVID-19. Well COVID-19 doesn’t actually kill you. We know that the virus cannot replicate by itself, it’s passed on by contact, works its way into your lungs and infects weakened/unhealthy cells. The virus is then replicated when the infected cell replicates. Your autoimmune system will recognise and attack the cells carrying the virus. Those with underlying health issues will already have their autoimmune system working overtime and, in the panic, to kill off the cells infected with COVID-19 your body releases a deluge of antibodies that kill the infected cell and most of other cells around it. Your lungs cease to function, fill up with fluid and before you know it, you have pneumonia. With your autoimmune system already at full capacity your body cannot fight off the pneumonia, and this is what does kill you, not the virus.
IF is the best way to restore cell health and fight of COVID-19, other viruses and general stave off the diseases of modern life. Is there an optimal IF? possibly but any IF works well. The most popular is the 16:8 hour diet, where you don’t eat for 16 hours in the day leaving an 8 hour eating window. The shorter your eating window, the longer the IF and the more effective the autophagy. Fasting for 2 or 3 times a week will keep your body, cells and immune system in optimal health. We should learn from our forefathers. Even though they didn’t know how the process worked, they knew how to stay healthy.
Andreas E. Alexandrou