This article talks about should you do intermittent fasting when sick? Especially with the virus.
Nowadays we live in a pretty hectic world with many things that can make us sick. Fortunately, there’s a lot of things you can do to bolster your immunity against those stressors. Instead of stacking up on toilet paper like there’s no tomorrow, you should strengthen your immune system on a regular basis.
One of the most important factors to not getting sick in the first place is being healthy, with optimal body composition, and resilience. That’s why good lifestyle practices like eating the right foods and exercising are essential. However, research also shows that fasting can affect the immune system in a positive way[i]. Not only does it protect against immune system damage but it also helps to induce its regeneration by activating stem cells.
Fasting boosts your immune system in many ways:
- Lowers inflammation and oxidative stress
- 48-120 hour fasts reduce pro-growth signaling and enhance cellular resistance to toxins[ii]
- Increases mitochondrial functioning, which strengthens your cellular functioning
- Triggers stem cell growth which is regenerating cells of youthfulness
- Activates autophagy which recycles old weak cells back into energy
- Imposes hormetic stress on the body that makes you stronger in the future
Fasting and not eating are physiological stressors that in the right amounts will strengthen the entire body.
Does Fasting Reset the Immune System?
One study in particular done by one of the leading researchers of fasting Valter Longo et al showed that you can reset your immune system by fasting[iii].
Mice and chemotherapy patients who didn’t eat for several days saw a significant reduction in white blood cell count. This then turned on signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), which are responsible for the generation of blood cells and the immune system.
Valter Longo said:
When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.
We noticed in both our human work and animal work that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back.
While fasting, your body starts mobilizing a lot of its internal fuel sources, such as body fat stores, stem cells, glycogen, and old cellular debris. Some white blood cells also get broken down as a means of throwing away unnecessary material.
This study shows that extended fasting has a profound impact on the way your body can self-heal itself and strengthen its accord. There are also a lot of potential applications for this, starting with bolstering your immune system against the cold and ending with providing a healthier option for chemotherapy.
Should You Do Intermittent Fasting When Sick?
Fasting boosts your immune system but you may still get sick sometimes during a fast. It’s better for disease prevention rather than treatment.
Fasting can weaken your immune system only if it becomes an overbearing stressor on your body. It’s like any other physiological stressor your immune system has to deal with.
For the body to adapt to stress through hormesis, it needs to be taken at the appropriate dose and followed up with enough recovery. Too many stressors will eventually lead to under adaptation.
If you’re already sick, then it’s definitely not advisable to go on these multi-day fasts because chances are you’ll get worse as a result. Instead, you should stick to the daily time-restricted eating ala 16/8 or OMAD.
Even if you’re not sick those things are great for keeping the immune system in check and upregulating autophagy.
Autophagy and Immunity
Autophagy’s broad roles in immunity can be collectively dubbed as ’immunophagy’[iv]. It functions in both the innate as well as the adaptive immune system by regulating thymic function, presentation of antigens, lymphocyte homeostasis, T-cell regulation, cytokine production, control of inflammation and survival[v][vi].
Autophagy plays a role in shaping immune system development, fueling the host’s immune responses, and directly controlling intracellular microbes as a cell-autonomous innate defence[vii].
Therapies that aim to enhance immune response and anti-tumor effects of immunotherapy with autophagy have become quite popular[viii]. However, autophagy may also help tumor cells escape and survive it.
Autophagy is a „double-edged sword“ in tumors that can either promote or suppress tumor development.
That depends on the cell/tissue type and stage of a particular tumor. For disease prevention, increased basal autophagy is probably a good thing. During early stages of tumor development, autophagy eliminates damaged organelles and DNA to maintain normal cellular functioning[ix]. In later stages, however, autophagy can promote tumor cell proliferation and metastasis[x][xi].
Autophagy and Viruses
The process of degrading foreign microbial invaders is called xenophagy[xii]. It describes the breakdown and degradation of bacteria by autophagy.
Bacteria like Streptococcus pyogenes[xiii], or pathogens such as M. tuberculosis[xiv], Salmonella[xv], and Listeria monocytogenes[xvi] can be eliminated by autophagy. Autophagy can protect host cells against toxic products generated by pathogens, such as Vibrio cholerae cytolysin[xvii], Bacillus anthracis lethal toxin[xviii], and Helicobacter pylorivacuolating toxin[xix]. That’s a pretty positive thing and may provide protection against these infections.
Unfortunately, as an evolutionary counter-strategy, some pathogens have evolved to block autophagic defense against them and hijack its mechanism for their own survival and growth[xx]. Viruses that escape or block autophagy include herpesvirus[xxi], HIV-1[xxii], Human cytomegalovirus[xxiii], and Coxsackievirus B3, B4[xxiv]. Influenza A virus can also use autophagy to replicate itself[xxv]. So, there are plenty of infections that are not killed off by autophagy.
There are some signs that show how coronaviruses use autophagy’s self-replicative process to spread because it induces autophagy. However, this is deemed to not be the case and not needed for viral replication[xxvi]. Coronaviruses actually inhibit autophagosome expression[xxvii]. In a 2019 study on MERS (Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome), upregulating autophagy prevented the replication of this coronavirus[xxviii].
How to Fast for Better Immunity
The Optimal Amount Of Fasting For You Depends On Several Things:
- If you’re doing daily intermittent fasting, then you can probably have fewer extended fasts
- If you’re exposed to more inflammation or other toxins then you need to fast more frequently
- If you’re eating crappy food and you cheat very often, then your body needs to be cleaned out with longer fasts as well
- If you’re overweight then you should definitely fast and lose the fat as fast as possible so you could get your immune system healthy again
- If you have some disease or medical condition then extended fasting can probably help to treat that quite effectively
- If you’re physically more active and exercising a lot, then you can’t fast for too long too often because you’ll hinder your performance
- If you’re experiencing a lot of other stressors in your life like working, anxiety, emotional issues, or other responsibilities then it’s harder for you to fast. At that point, you have to also think about what’s more important – your health or those things you’re trying to hold onto.
Another critical component that gets overlooked is properly refeeding after the fast. If your body doesn’t get access to the essential minerals and nutrients it needs, then you won’t be boosting anything as you’ll become frail and weak instead. The best foods for keeping the gut healthy and preventing muscle loss are meat, fish, eggs, fermented foods, some vegetables, some fruit, and some starchy tubers.
If you want to learn about how to do intermittent fasting, then check out the Full Guide to Intermittent Fasting FREE BOOK!
This article was reproduced with kind permission from Siim Land, the author.
Siim Land is an author, content creator, public speaker, coach, and biohacker. He talks about human optimization, optimal nutrition, and peak performance.
Find our more about Siim on his website – www.SiimLand.com