The concept of fasting has always had the character of psychosomatic preparation, in the form of a test, through the abstinence from certain foods for religious reasons. Could such a way of eating be practiced more often, and even for health reasons? The University of Thessaly through its spinoff Foodoxys and the famous Vüchinger clinic provide the answers.

Intermittent fasting is generally defined as the conscious abstinence from food for some hours of the day, usually 14-16 hours. That is, for some hours we are fed normally, while others we are under restriction. “It is a way of eating that is not similar to the one usually applied by dietitians who suggest eating every two to three hours to lose weight and constantly counting calories, which is mind-numbing and often doesn’t work,” he points out, speaking to Deutsche Welle. Professor of Physiology of Animal Organisms – Toxicology at the University of Thessaly, Dimitris Kouretas. The intermittent fasting diet is based on fermented dairy products, leafy vegetables and legumes. Meat and fish complement each other. “We avoid starches, sweets, sugar and fried foods, which they are empty calories. The difference lies mainly in abstaining from food for some hours, and not in abstaining from certain foods”, says Mr. Kouretas.

The Foodoxys team from the University of Thessaly

“Fasting is something revolutionary, the medicine of the century”

This way of eating has been proven by the research team of the University of Thessaly to have beneficial effects on the body beyond losing weight. “The main mechanism that comes into play is that of autophagy. When the cell has no food, what it does is digest its own ingredients and especially these which are defective and creates new ones. Thus, the cells are rejuvenated and there is a greater anti-inflammatory cytoprosthetic and antiaging effect” explains Mr. Kouretas.

“What it teaches you is to change your way of thinking, to demystify food, the satisfaction you used to get from it, and start getting it from other things. Fasting activates self-will, the imposition of the spirit over the body. Fasting is something revolutionary, the medicine of the century,” says the Greek professor. He himself suggests that we implement it no more than eight weeks a year and then if we want twice a week and claims that it can be comfortably combined with mental work and physical exercise with wider health benefits. “The body’s defense increases a lot. Applied to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, it helps cancer cells die faster. It has also been found that intermittent fasting strengthens the antiviral mechanism and protects in the event of an infection with the coronavirus”, emphasizes Mr. Kouretas. The next step for his research group is to study monks and nuns on how fasting affects those who do it for years.

Wilhelm Klinik

The Buchinger Clinic next to Lake Constance

The practical application in the Buchinger clinic

The protocols of the University of Thessaly are successfully applied at the Buchinger clinic in the small town of Uberlingen, next to Lake Constance in Germany. “We have evaluated how the body can maintain antioxidant functions during fasting with Mr. Koureta’s group at the University of Thessaly. A ten-day fast at the Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic in Ueberlingen reduced oxidative stress and increased antioxidant capacity of blood in 109 adults. Furthermore, body weight, abdominal circumference, blood sugar and lipid levels decreased while physical and emotional well-being improved. Total antioxidant capacity increased significantly. Fasting, on the other hand, reduced TBARS, a marker for oxidative damage to lipids that can lead to arteriosclerosis,” Robin Mesnage, Chief Data Scientist at the Buchinger Clinic, explains to Deutsche Welle.

Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinics is the only group of clinics that offers under medical supervision a multidisciplinary long-term fasting program based on the so-called “Heilfasten” method (healing fasting) started by Dr. Otto Buchinger and developed by four generations of doctors, researchers and family members. Since their establishment, the Buchinger Wilhelmi clinics have expanded and today treat a total of approximately 6,000 patients each year.

The side effects of intermittent fasting are mostly minor. “Medically supervised fasting had only very few side effects, which can are easily dealt with and without breaks in fasting. In isolated cases, people experience restless sleep, headaches, fatigue or discomfort in the lumbar spine during the first three days. Long-term fasting is the most effective if it is accompanied by a lifestyle change,” says Mesnaz.

He himself followed such a fasting program for twelve days and shared his experience. As Mr. Mesnaz says speaking to Deutsche Welle: “The hunger stopped on the second day which is the moment my body started burning fat. Blood glucose and insulin decreased. I was hungry on the 11th day when I saw what I would eat after the fast. It was probably the psychogenic anticipation of the re-introduction of the food. I was full of energy and could walk a lot. Walking during fasting highly recommended to maintain muscle mass”