This article is intended solely for informational purposes. It is not meant to be taken as, and should not be construed, as medical advice. Any changes to your lifestyle or diet should be done in consultation with your doctor or health care professional.

People pay thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars for stem cell therapy. But prolonged fasting not only kills your senescent cells, it results in the creation of new stem cells, for free. This is not identical to the medical procedure called stem cell therapy, but does share many features in common with it.

When the fast is over, if we then eat enough highly nutritious foods (including ample protein rich in taurine, a necessary building block for cells), the body will replace the cannibalized senescent cells with new, healthy stem cells. 

This is truly remarkable, and was only recently verified in laboratory studies. It was thought for a long time that only very young humans (babies) could produce new stem cells; adult bodies could not. But it turns out that they can, and will do so when we fast. Doing a prolonged or extended fast followed by a re-feed is the only known way for an adult to create new stem cells.

Being true stem cells, the ones created in the hours and days after a fast can become heart cells, liver cells, pancreas cells, or even brain cells, increasing our intelligence and our “processing power.”  (This is why it’s important that periods of fasting be balanced by periods of feasting, during which we’re eating the most nutritious foods we can find. We can’t simply fast then eat a poor quality, low calorie diet; we’ll be damaging ourselves if we do. We need to eat foods rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and even some carbohydrates. For those of us who are carnivores or omnivores, foods like fish and organ meats are a highly nutritious choice.)

So, to summarize:

  • We reach autophagy by fasting.
  • We reach apoptosis, an even more beneficial process, by continuing to fast.
  • Three to five day fasts should give most people a good dose of both processes. The longer you fast, the more of both processes you’ll experience.
  • Of course, past a certain point, being deprived of nutrients starts doing harm. We can’t fast forever! And people with medical conditions that contraindicate fasting, need to exercise extreme caution when doing longer fasts.
  • Animals who are fasted in a laboratory setting, and experience both apoptosis and autophagy, have been found to live 30 to 50 percent longer than ones which don’t fast. (No one has tested this in people, because it would take several generations of study to test. But due to similarities between humans and lab animals in other respects, many researchers, including Dr. Jason Fung and Dr. Valter Longo, believe that it may work the same way in us.)
  • Dr. Valter Longo, who did much of the original research that established the benefits of fasting, pointed out that the “refeed” after a fast is the period when the real benefits occur.  The fast sets you up for regeneration; but if you skip the refeed, it won’t happen.
  • He recommends doing a several-day fast four times a year. Some people do it more often.
  • It’s important to remember that fasting alone does not rejuvenate the body. It clears out the debris and kills the malfunctioning cells, setting the stage for the real miracle to begin. It’s the stretch right after a prolonged fast, when we meet the most highly nutritious foods available, that the body uses the nutrients in those foods to create new stem cells. So it’s essential to pay as much attention to what we eat, and eating enough nutrients, as we do to the fast itself. Fasting needs to alternate with feasting, eating the most nutritious foods we can, rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, to be fully effective.

As a side note, there are foods that can deepen autophagy, or trigger it. They include drinking coffee and green tea, and eating coconut oil, MCT oil, and ginger.  Oh, and getting some exercise.  Here’s an excellent article about things that we can to support autophagy in addition to fasting.

Want to try it? 

If you’re new to fasting, you may want to start with intermittent fasting, such as just skipping breakfast, and seeing how you feel. If you have dinner at 7 pm, then don’t eat till noon the next day, you’ll have fasted (gone without food) for 17 hours.  This will give you about three hours of autophagy. Then work your way up to a day long fast (spend a day a week not eating at all.) If that works well, consider a longer fast. Apoptosis kicks in during a prolonged fast of three to five days. And remember to eat highly nutritious foods when you stop fasting, rich in high quality proteins and healthy fats, and particularly the amino acid taurine, so that your body will have the nutrients it needs to make new stem cells, including the ones that can make new neurons in your brain.

Myths about fasting: There are many, many very silly myths about fasting, such as the notion that if you skip dinner, you’ll keep over and die, or that your metabolism will slow down. It’s true that low calorie eating can slow down your metabolism. But lab test after lab test has shown that fasting actually speeds it up. It also appears to sharpen out wits, as we need more intelligence when we’re out hunting for food.  Another myth is that we lose muscle when we fast. We may lose a little but we primarily lose fat. And any lost muscle mass will be quickly regrown, because fasting makes our growth hormone levels shoot through the roof.

Hunger and fasting: If you’ve been eating a high carb diet, you may feel ravenous when fasting, because your body is used to running on glucose, which isn’t being provided. As you start burning your stored body fat, releasing ketones in your bloodstream, the hunger should go away. If you’ve already been eating a high fat, low carb diet, you should feel little if any hunger when fasting.

Electrolytes and fasting: Most researchers agree that it’s helpful to replenish your electrolytes when fasting for more then a few hours. You can do this by adding some sea salt to the water you’re drinking. I recommend using Real Salt, a type of sea salt which incidentally is free of plastic contamination.  (Some people make an electrolyte drink, made up of water, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, a splash of lime, and some cream of tartar, to replace the full range of electrolytes.) (See the video below for the recipe).

Don’t overdose on water; just drink when you’re thirsty. Drinking too much water, especially if you’re not adding electrolytes, can be as damaging to the body as drinking too little.

Types of fasts: Most people who think of fasting picture themselves drinking only water (with some sea salt added for electrolytes). This is the most common type of fast.  But technically, a fast can involve restricting any nutrient, or only eating certain foods.  Water fasting is usually a good place to start. (One fast I would personally never try is a “dry fast,” which involves avoiding both food and liquids, and can result in dehydration and even death if done for an extended period.)