How Fasting Improves Autoimmune Conditions

by Dr. Nick Zyrowski March 30, 2023

Most of us either have some type of autoimmune issues or know someone who has suffered from them. Think of the people close to you. Who do you know dealing with illnesses like arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, and other similar issues?

Often people who get sick with these autoimmune problems are told they need antidepressants and other mainstream medicines to help with the symptoms. Before you know it, you’re taking a handful of pills every morning to start the day. Fortunately, there are numerous things you can do to help treat your autoimmune issues that don’t involve pharmaceutical drugs. One of the most effective methods is fasting and we’re going to tell you why and how you can start using this tool to get all the benefits it can offer to calm down those autoimmune issues.

The growing problem

According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, there are over 100 autoimmune diseases that we know about so far. These diseases affect around 50 million Americans every day. (1)

An autoimmune disease occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the tissues and organs in the body that it was designed to protect. It mistakes these as foreign invaders, like infections. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Hashimoto’s
  • Psoriasis
  • Ulcerative colitis

That is by no means an exhaustive list. There are tons of diseases that have been classified as autoimmune problems. So how do we fix this growing concern that so many people face?

Traditional treatments

The standard treatment for someone with autoimmune issues has historically been one or more pharmaceutical drugs combined with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Sometimes doctors will also prescribe high doses of immune system-suppressing drugs, in more severe cases. (2)

Why is this the wrong way to treat these illnesses? For one thing, these drugs can be harsh on your body and cause even more issues later. Take immunosuppressant drugs, for example. These medications inhibit the activity of your immune system. That means you’re more vulnerable to viruses and bacterial infections because your immune function is compromised. Steroids are prescribed to reduce inflammation but can come with risks and side effects. They can make you swell, retain fluid, and cause problems with memory and mood. For some people, steroids increase blood sugar and raise the risk of other infections. (3)

Most doctors tell their patients they’ll have to learn to live with the issues because there is no cure. They treat the symptoms with different medicines that pharmaceutical companies recommend. These drugs only cover up the symptoms. Frequently, patients leave the doctor’s office feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

A better treatment

Since we’ve established that autoimmune merely refers to your immune system fighting against you, what you need to do is find a way to reverse that attack and rebuild your immune system. You don’t want to take medicines that suppress your immune function.

What is this treatment that can help all autoimmune diseases? The natural way to fix any autoimmune issue is by fasting. That’s right. It’s a free tool that you have at your disposal all the time.

What is fasting? Fasting is simply time-restricted eating. It’s not about counting calories or macros. You give yourself an eating window and then don’t eat the rest of the time. There are different fasting methods, but one of the easiest is intermittent fasting. (5)

Intermittent fasting for autoimmune issues

When you use intermittent fasting as a tool for your autoimmune disease, you’re focusing on when to eat, not necessarily what you eat. Yes, you’ll still need to eat a healthy diet. Fasting is not an excuse to eat everything in sight in a shorter time frame. It merely gives your body a rest, so it can use that energy to help heal rather than burn calories. These are some of the benefits intermittent fasting has been shown to help:

  • Heart health - fasting can improve your blood pressure and resting heart rate.
  • Cognitive health - fasting boosts your verbal memory.
  • Performance - fasting helps with fat loss and maintaining muscle mass, which may improve overall physical performance.
  • Type 2 diabetes and obesity - fasting helps lower the number of calories you take in, which improves your weight. It also lowers fasting glucose and insulin, helping with insulin resistance.
  • Reduces inflammation - One of the biggest aspects of fasting is that it reduces inflammation, which will calm down your autoimmune condition. Anyone who suffers from a disease is inflamed. (6)

There is ongoing research about all the benefits of fasting, but routine fasting seems to help with tons of health problems.

So, what do you need to begin fasting now? Well, all you need is a little discipline to start. Don’t worry, you won’t be starving all the time. That’s a misconception that many people have when they start fasting for health benefits.

What you want to do is get your body adapted to fasting. Then, your body will get into a state where the hunger goes away.

How to fast

When you fast, you’ll let your body decide when you eat. You may experience some slight hunger in the beginning, but that’s normal. Your blood sugar is adjusting to the new way of eating.

One of the easiest ways to curb hunger is to cut your carb intake. If you add some healthy protein, fat, and veggies, you’ll start healing your body and lowering your hunger hormones. You will notice you can go longer between meals and not even feel hungry. If you’re thinking you don’t have time to make a healthy meal to break your fast, consider implementing healthy shakes that give your body enough fat, protein, and vitamins to keep you satiated.

The 16:8 method

One of the simple ways to start fasting is to do a 16:8 window, where you eat your meals within eight hours and then you stop. The way to add this to your routine is to stop eating in the late afternoon and then extend your eating time to late morning the next day. Part of the fasting time goes by when you’re sleeping.

OMAD

Eating one meal a day has gained popularity in recent years. Many people find that once they get used to fasting, eating one meal a day is easy and convenient. They also experience much less inflammation and feel better. Most people do without food during the day and then eat a meal in the evening.

Other fasting protocols

There are other methods of fasting, like a 24-hour fast every week, fasting two days per week and not fasting the other five days, or any number of these combinations. You can try them all and see what works for you. The 16:8 and OMAD are the ones that many people find they can sustain. The main thing to remember is that you want to reduce your inflammatory markers so you can feel better and possibly reverse your autoimmune condition. Fasting can also decrease the severity of a flare.

Getting the most from fasting

As we mentioned earlier, fasting is not a tool for you to eat whatever you want during your feeding window. In order to get the most benefits for your illness, you need to maintain a steady diet of healthy fats, proteins, and some vegetables. What you don’t need are processed carbs and sugar because they are highly inflammatory and will significantly reduce any benefits you may get from fasting.

Give yourself some time for adjustment. Fasting won’t come naturally to you if you’re used to eating three or more meals per day. Don’t give up if you make a mistake. Start again, and eventually, you’ll find that you’re not nearly as hungry as you used to be, and you’ll notice symptoms of your autoimmune disease start to taper off.

The research shows that fasting can dramatically improve the symptoms of and, in some cases, reverse autoimmune conditions. The best thing is that it comes without side effects, and you don’t have to pay a penny for it. We’d love to hear how fasting helps you, and if we can assist you with your nutrition and health questions, please contact us for more information.

References :

https://autoimmune.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/1-in-5-Brochure.pdf

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/autoimmune-disorders

https://www.mayoclinic.org/steroids/art-20045692#:~:text=Side%20effects%20of%20corticosteroids%20taken%20by%20mouth&text=Side%20effects%20depend%20on%20the,such%20as%20confusion%20or%20delirium.

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work

https://www.mountsinai.org/about/newsroom/2019/mount-sinai-researchers-discover-that-fasting-reduces-inflammation-and-improves-chronic-inflammatory-diseases

https://www.ariaintegrative.com/2019/12/11/intermittent-fasting-for-autoimmune-diseases/#:~:text=Fasting%20can%20also%20help%20reduce,immune%20system%20during%20a%20flare. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28137612/

https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/intermittent-fasting-autoimmune-disease

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7474734/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34836210/

Dr. Nick Zyrowski
Dr. Nick Zyrowski



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