The immune system is an incredibly important – and incredibly complex – part of the body which helps to protect against illness and disease. It is made up of the lymphatic system, the thymus and spleen and the bone marrow as well as the white blood cells in the circulatory system, all of which work together to kill off pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungus before they can cause serious health problems.
Keeping the immune system fit, therefore, is incredibly important for the health of the whole body. Consuming certain foods like lemons, asparagus and cucumber for instance can help to detoxify the body and improve health, but it has also been shown that short fasts can give the immunity a boost as well.
Fasting and Immunity
Going far back into human history, different peoples from around the world used fasting not only for spiritual purposes but also to improve their health. Modern science appears to be confirming these benefits, including the recent research conducted by the University of Southern California. This research has found that short fasts, lasting around 72 hours, can have a strengthening effect on the body’s immune system and that the elderly or immunocompromised patients like those recovering from cancer can greatly benefit from this.
Why Does this Work?
A short fast is healthy for the immune system because it acts like a regenerative switch, rejuvenating the immune system completely. While the body fasts, it is able to get rid of old or damaged parts of the system which are recycled for energy in the absence of food.
Professor Longo, one of the lead authors on this paper, cautions that further research is necessary to confirm these benefits. He acknowledges, however, that preliminary results from these studies have proven promising and may lead to new treatments for those who suffer from a compromised immune system.
Fasting and Cancer
Cancer patients can benefit from this kind of short-term fast as well. Not only can it help to strengthen a compromised immune system, but it has been shown that even a brief fast can help rid the body of a large amount of toxins, such as those that build up during a course of chemotherapy. Many patients find that combining a course of chemotherapy with a short fast can actually reduce the more difficult side effects of the chemo.
Longer-term fasting may also be beneficial for those who are battling cancer. According to the USC study, fasting reduces levels of a hormone known as PKA which has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
It is good to remember, however, that there are many types of fasts, some more restrictive than others, and it is best to consult with a naturopath or similar professional to discuss which type of fast would be the most beneficial, based on individual needs and medical history. However, this study is part of a growing body of evidence which seems to point to the many benefits that short-term fasting can bring with it.