Fasting as medicine

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

I have always wanted to understand medicine and health. My family would always joke about me being a pharmacist as I had a spiel in kindergarten when I exclaimed in a program on careers “I want to be a pharmacist!” The only reason I chose it was because I was absent the day before when everyone had a pick of the usual doctor, teacher, lawyer and what was left for me was “pharmacist” (if not “blacksmith”).

And as a self-fulfilling prophecy I soon was tasked with organizing my father’s daily medicines when he was ill, with me understanding what each pill or medicine did to the body. But that is what my interest in medicine is limited to, because I cannot stand blood, gore and anything messy. Thus, I never considered further studies in the subject and instead went to business and entrepreneurship.

I talk about medicine because many people just do not read about it or sorely lack interest in what medicines they take (“it’s a pink pill but I forget the name” is a common statement) or procedures they may need to undergo. And many more people are unaware about milestones in a person’s life – turning 40, 50 or 60 – and what to watch out for. We definitely need more education on common sense with regards our health, especially physical and mental health.

At 40, usually people start to need reading glasses but many do not know this. Or they just start to look at reading matter farther and farther away to be able to read. It’s called presbyopia and I know many just stop reading because it’s painful or tiring to do so. Our staff bought reading glasses in the public market and was wondering why she was getting headaches while using it. So I gave her an old pair of mine which was much better. Reading glasses also come in degrees starting with 1.25 to 3.00 as you get wiser and older. It’s good to know what you wear.

At 50 or 60 people start to feel different things in their bodies and some just accept it as aging and need for medication or what is commonly called “maintenance.” Even the poorest lot will be on a generic pill for hypertension and diabetes, while the more affluent buy branded and of course more expensive medicines. That is a pharma phenomenon for another column. Same old medicine, different prices. Socialized pricing happened when the Generics Act was passed, allowing your househelp to drink the same hypertension medicine as you are taking, only cheaper. But again, that is subject for another time.

Then there is our family-influenced dietary habits. And the ability of the body to actually heal itself – called Autophagy. There is a growing community of Intermittent Fasting (IF) advocates who believe that the body can actually heal itself of lifestyle diseases through fasting. Fasting may mean what we can do everyday. Stop eating at 6 p.m., start breakfast 12 hours later or even 15 hours later. Or totally skip breakfast and have your first meal at lunch.

But what do you eat to break the fast? Many believe it should be protein and fat, and not carbohydrates (oatmeal, bread, rice, crackers, etc) as the first meal. That’s because your body has a lot of stored fat that can be burned for energy use, a process called ketosis. So you lose unwanted extra fat, you feed your body the food it needs and eventually you may not even need your “maintenance” medicines.

It is natural detoxification or “detox” and they say it happens after 18 hours of not eating. It may not be recommended for those with medical conditions and may be best started upon the advice of a doctor. But if you are young and healthy, it is worth a try to refrain from eating for an extended period so your body can rid itself of extra weight, or extra of anything. The body is smart and can correct itself almost immediately.

Another basic nugget of information is the number of calories in food. Many people do not know that a sedentary lifestyle demands only 15 calories per pound of body weight you wish to maintain. That means a 150-lb person who is not athletic and quite sedentary only needs 2250 calories to maintain his or her weight on average. That means 700 or so per meal. That means counting a cup of rice, a palm-size cut of meat or protein, vegetables plus butter, oil or any fat in the fried viand – the total of which often exceeds 700 calories. Then add alcohol, soft drink or juice and you may be over by a few hundred calories. Add that everyday and it equals weight gain, especially when we are in middle age. One pound is 3500 calories. Simple math. So a daily habit like drinking two glasses of wine adds 350 calories multiplied by 10 days is one pound. Or two extra cups of rice, or four slices of toast, or three bottles of soda or juice.

But all these nuggets of medical information are only for the curious. It is on Google, medical sites and journals (but do not read unreliable sites). Know your source of information or ask a doctor. Why is it not common knowledge? Well, how will the pharma industry survive on just selling vitamins and not maintenance medicine?

What if every doctor was just a nutritionist who prescribed food instead of medicines? Would that not be Utopia? But medicine exists because people do not know their bodies well enough I think. Or they fail to know even the most basic facts about biology, aging and every milestone one goes through over time.

Be curious about your body. Maybe we all need to fast. Maybe we can turn around and stop taking our maintenance medicines if we correct our eating habits. The medicine may really be in what we eat or when we do not eat...for a while. Think about it.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates (400 BC)


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