Dag Kättström

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The Scientific Answers About Fasting

What does current science and evidence say about fasting and health benefits? It’s hard to make accurate studies and easy to just point out things that support what we ourselves believe. And when it comes to food and health, there are a lot of strong emotions tied into the debates. Perhaps we need to take a step back and ask more questions.

The fact that fasting leads to weight loss is perhaps the only thing everybody can agree on right now. If you eat nothing or eat much less than normal during a time period, parts of your body will be converted to energy.

What scientists are curious about though and what many studies are conducted for today are the effects of fasting. The problem is that it is hard to obtain significant results that are translatable to humans. Most research is done on cell cultures, worms and mice.

To do research on people costs a lot of money. You have to have a large study group, tight control on what they eat and observe them for a long time. It’s basically impossible to show a significant reduction in for example, cancer, among those that fast regularly from midlife and 30 years onward.

There are however, many indications that fasting protects our cells against cancer  and of course such information affects us. If a person begins fasting for weight control and experiences that it works, the knowledge that the routine also might protect against cancer might then strengthen the behaviour.

When everything about fasting is taken into account, the sense of control in the present, a feeling of connection with other people that are fasting, an affinity with traditions. How do those aspects of fasting affect health and aging? I would like to see more research with a holistic approach on fasting that poses new questions. Biochemistry is fascinating and important, but from the other end psychology, sociology and theology we could reveal new perspectives on fasting.

Today fasting is icreasingly used as a treatment option in healthcare which opens up for more research groups to conduct studies. Soon we will obtain more data about the effects of fasting on humans. We will learn more about what fasting can do – and cannot do – for our health.

In healthcare the term evidence based medicine is used, which means that a person receives treatment based on science, but also what is called proven experience. You do not always need replicated studies behind a treatment, as long as the health professionals know that a treatment works. Within evidence based healthcare it is also important that the needs and values of the patient is considered.

If you bring an evindence based perspective to fasting, it becomes increasingly irrelevant to argue over specific studies. Of course false information has to be corrected and all risks disclosed, but food shortage is a natural thing. Humans are made to fast. While some scientist still hold the attitude that fasting is close to unscientific nonsense, others argue that to dissuade from fasting based on what we know today is basically irresponsible.

Diets have notoriously been proven wrong by science and health experts as facts unveil. One example is the fat scare before the millennium. Food is personal as well as diets. There will likely never be one diet that is unanimously good for every human, hence why it is important to listen to your body and what works and doesn’t for you. Even when it comes to fasting, you have to be vigilant, pay attention to your reactions and not force yourself to follow a diet or habit that does not feel good for you. 

This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.



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