Fasting may seem like a rather recent trend, however, it’s been around for centuries and has proven its value ever since. Next to many benefits in health, well-being and longevity comes the fact that fasting needs no external gadgets and, depending on the variation of fasting you decide on, also does not require calorie deficit or restrictment in certain foods and drinks – the only thing it needs is consistency and dedication. However, as with any biohacking tool, they are great to use and combine with each other. Red light, for example, can bring out even more benefits out of fasting, helps you stay motivated and consistent with your routine and fuels you up with its own benefits all at the same time. The benefits of fasting and photobiomodulation sound too good to be true? In this article, we’ll provide science and research backed information on why it’s not!
What exactly is fasting?
Let’s start from the beginning: Fasting by definition means the abstinence from food or drinks. This can have health, ritualistic, religious or ethical purposes. This abstention may be complete or partial, in a longer or shorter period, or intermittent. There is already quite a lot of research on the benefits of shorter-termed fasting, such as intermittent fasting. (1)
The main idea behind fasting is that it drastically cleanses the body of toxins, and forces our cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when receiving fuel (from foods and drinks) on the regular basis. Meaning usually we eat within shorter timeframes which restrict the cells to start processes that only occur when abstaining from food for a longer period of time. But what’s going on in our bodies when we fast? What are the benefits of depriving ourselves from food or caloric drinks? In the next section, we’ll show you step by step, phase by phase, hour by hour.
What happens to and inside the body during fasting?
When fasting, we restrict our body’s continuous access to glucose and therefore forcing the cells to resort to other means and materials to produce energy. Resulting from this, the body begins to produce its own sugar – a completely natural process called gluconeogenesis. Because our bodies want to conserve their energy during fasting, our metabolic rate becomes more efficient, lowering both our heart rate and blood pressure. In a later period of the fasting cycle, the body eventually hits ketosis, where the body burns stored fat as its primary source of energy. It sounds like a lot of medical talk, however it is beyond fascinating what is going on in our bodies while we’re fasting! (2)
What goes on in our bodies while we’re fasting, is best described in stages. While said stages actually being starting from 0 hours, we leave this phase out, as the actual “fasting” phase begins after 12 hours of non-food and drink consumption:
Stage 01: 12 – 18 hours
Fat burning begins, insulin levels start sinking.
As we’ve mentioned above, the body’s main source of energy is glucose, which we get from the foods we consume. Once our body runs out of this external power source, it begins to produce its own. When it comes to our hormones, a few hours after eating, the insulin levels rise and tell our body to break down glucose as an energy-deliverant. However, after ca. 12 hours of fasting, the insulin levels drop. Leptin, the hormone telling you when you’re full, will fall as well. The hormone ghrelin, which tells us that we’re hungry, will rise. (3)
Stage 02: 18 – 24 hours
The body reaches ketosis, amount of glucagon begins to rise.
After this first stage, it takes about 4 – 18 hours of fasting for the body to burn all the glycogen storages. Once there is no more glycogen to use, the body has to resort to alternative sources for energy: fat. In order to use fat as a source of energy, the body uses a process called “lipolysis”, which breaks down a certain type of lipid in your fat cells. At the same time, it also breaks down amino acids as an energy source.
After the 18 hour fasting-mark, the body starts to transition into “ketosis”, where the body relies on fat as it’s main source of energy. In this stage, the insulin levels remain low, but the glucagon starts to rise again as a means to prevent the blood glucose from dropping. (4)
Stage 03: 24 – 48 hours
After a full day of fasting, the body starts a process called autophagy – in other words, it begins to repair itself. Yes, you’ve read correctly! In this state, your cells start to get rid of any old, damaged, poorly or malfunctioning components. Autophagy is a natural process that declines as we grow older. When fasting is used to induce autophagy, it can be a way of slowing down the aging process, increasing our health span and longevity. Amazing, isn’t it? (5)
Stage 04: 48 – 54 hours
HGH (= human growth hormone) surges, inflammation reduces.
After about 48 hours of fasting, your body will go into a long-term fasting state. In this state, the levels of your growth hormones will increase, stimulating faster muscle repair preserving muscle mass. If you’re wondering what happens to your feeling of hunger after not eating for this long, the hormone ghrelin (the hunger hormone) continues to rise and fall throughout the day, but at a rather low in- and decrease, meaning that throughout your fast, your hunger levels will head towards a flatline. (6)
Stage 05: 54 – 72 hours
Insulin levels sensitize, autophagy reaches its peak.
About 2-3 days of fasting, or after around 54 hours of fasting, your insulin levels will have hit their lowest point since the beginning of the fast. Having low levels of insulin come with a few advantages of their own, such as reduced inflammation and the activation of autophagy. (7)
Stage 06: 72+ hours
Stem cells start forming, the immune cells refresh.
Once you get close to the end of your third day of fasting, some of the last benefits start to show: triggering stem cell production to create new immune cells and reduce oxidative stress. In other words, slow down the aging process. (8)
The human body is incredible, isn’t it? During the fasting period, the body is put under a mild stress, as it is stripped from the constant energy sources it has gotten used to. This forces our cells to adapt to its “new” surroundings – resulting in them becoming stronger. A good comparison to this process is when we “stress” our muscles and cardiovascular system when we exercise. However, our body can only grow stronger after a workout, during the rest and recovery phases. Which is why short-term fasting is recommended. (9)
Fasting comes with many benefits:
Fasting may seem like a rather recent “trend”, the practice of fasting dates back centuries. In general, most types of fasting are performed over 24-72 hour periods. Intermittent fasting, one of the most popular types of fasting, cycles between periods of eating and fasting, with a duration of a few hours up to a few days at a time. Fasting has many benefits, both mental and physical. These benefits make the rather uncomfortable and sometimes challenging process of fasting worth while:
- Boost cognitive performance
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve overall fitness and performance
- Support weight loss
- Can extend the life- and health’s-an
- Increases heart health
… to name a few. (10), (11)
If you consider fasting for any reasons other than improving your overall well-being, please consult your doctor first!
There are many different types of fasting to try and chose from:
There are many types of fasting out there, but in this blogpost, we’ll focus on the most common and popular one: Intermittent fasting. As we’ve mentioned in the section above, intermittent fasting involves periods of eating and fasting over the course of a single day, up to multiple days at a time. There are countless different types of intermittent fasting, but for the sake of this article, we’ll quickly go over the most popular ones:
1. Daily time-restricted fasting
This method is the most common one under the subtypes of intermittent fasting, the most popular variation being the “16/8 method” – meaning 16 hours of fasting and an 8 hour period in which food is consumed. Most people skip their breakfast and plan their eating-period, so it includes lunch and dinner. Unlike most diets, intermittent fasting does not involve tracking calories and focusing more on intuitive eating. (12)
However, more and more science is being published stating differences in the outcome, health and side effects on male and female bodies during the 16/8 fasting. During the fasting period, many women have stated shifts in their menstrual cycle. This happens because the female body reacts much more sensitive to calorie restriction than the male body does. At a lower calorie intake, a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus is affected, which can disrupt the secretion of vital reproductive hormones such as FSH – the follicle stimulating hormone.(13), (14), (15)
A miscommunication – or no communication at all – between the reproductive hormones and the ovaries can lead to irregular periods, infertility and other negative effects on health and well-being. To reduce the risk of these negative effects, it is recommended that those with a menstrual cycle consider a modified version of the “16/8 method”, such as shorter fasting periods (between 12 – 16 hours) and a shorter span of fasting overall. (16)
2. Eat – Stop – Eat
This method is also called the “24-hour protocol”. It involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week (no more than twice a week for those who menstruate). It is recommended to not start right away, but gradually increase the fasting periods. For example, starting with 12 hours of fasting and then slowly extending the fasting period by adding 2 hours of fasting the next time. (17), (18)
3. The 5:2 method
During this method, you reduce your daily calorie intake by consuming roughly 500 – 600 calories (should be about 25% of your usual daily intake) on two days a week, but eat how you normally would during the remaining 5 days. It is important that the two restrictive days are nonconsecutive. Meaning your two fasting days could be tuesday and thursday, and eating normally on monday, wednesday, friday, saturday and sunday.
Whatever type of fasting you would like to try, it’s important to keep track of your nutrients and eat healthy, clean and preferably unprocessed foods. That way you will not only provide your body with healthy nutrients, but will also most likely get the most out of fasting. (19), (20)
Fasting and Photobiomodulation – are they the new dream team?
When done correctly, fasting can come with immense benefits for the overall health and well-being. But, like any other biohacking tool, you can get even more and increased benefits out of fasting when combined with other tools of the biohacking kit: such as photobiomodulation. Red light technology has shown many positive effects on the outcome of fasting by enhancing the positive results.
How Photobiomodulation can improve the outcome of your fasting-goals
- Photobiomodulation iIncreases hydration of the cells
Red light particles, when absorbed in the mitochondria – the powerhouse of the cells – improves the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which serves as an energy source for cellular activities*. A lesser known byproduct of this production of energy is endogenous water! Meaning that not only energy is produced, but also water – helping you stay hydrated, which is especially beneficial during fasting periods, where we often also consume less fluids. (21), (22), (23)
- Both fasting and photobiomodulation increase blood circulation
Both the red- and NIR lightwaves penetrate the skin. When hitting the tissues, it simulates the blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow and circulation, which again is a great added benefit when fasting for detox purposes, as an increased circulation helps clear out toxins faster. So you receive all the benefits of fasting and photobiomodulation. (24), (25)
- Fasting and Photobiomodulationhelp preserve muscle mass
Fasting is a common method to increase weight loss. Since you are restricting calories, one of the concerns people have is loss of the muscle mass they’ve worked so hard to grow. Because with lesser energy resources the body has lesser energy to fuel the muscles with. Luckily, red light technology is known to help in muscle recovery as well as increasing muscle mass! If you want to know more on the “how” and the topic of increased muscle growth and recovery with the help of photobiomodulation, we’ve covered it all in this article on our Blog! Another tip we want to give you is to keep track of your protein intake, if keeping muscle mass is important to you. However, muscle mass doesn’t just disappear overnight. So, if you increase your protein intake by just a little bit (!), you should be on the safe side. (26), (27)
- Photobiomodulation works as an extra source of energy
One of the most common side-effects of fasting is a reduced feeling of energy-levels throughout, as the body doesn’t get as much energy as it usually would. Food is energy for the body, and less food means less energy – until the body adapts to this. Photobiomodulation on the other hand is known to recharge the cells and therefore being a great energy booster! Which can not only help in enduring your fasting periods, but also help in staying motivated and energized throughout – those are the great additional benefits of fasting and photobiomodulation. Another quite common energy-booster that is safe to consume even during your fasting period, is black coffee (without added milk or sugar!). Coffee has the added benefits of not only providing energy, but also suppressing hunger and helping you endure the fasting period for longer. (28), (29), (30)
- Red light technology can help improve sleep
Sleep is essential. It’s the phase where the body works solely on repairing and recharging itself. Lack of sleep, or lower quality sleep is known to cause more harm than good. During your fasting period, your cells and body are under stress and working overtime – which has many health benefits, as mentioned before. However, this added stressor can also have a negative effect on your sleep and quality of sleep. When used correctly, red light applied in the evening can boost the body’s melatonin production and can help you achieve deeper and better sleep. When it comes to fasting, we sometimes find it hard to sleep and stay asleep. Or like to use sleeping phases to help endure the long periods without food.
We have a whole other article covering all things “sleep”, feel free to check that one out if you’re looking for more information on the topic. (31), (32)
- Photobiomodualtion is a known mood-booster
Especially in the beginning of the fasting phases, as the body is just starting to adapt to the new conditions, we can experience shifts in our mood, as hunger makes us feel uneasy. But also after the initiative phase, mood swings can stay consistent. Photobiomodulation is also known to increase hormonal production, including all the “happy maker” hormones, increasing our mood as well. (33), (34)
What to consider when using red light technology during your fasting periods
When it comes to fasting, it probably won’t sound as surprising that one of the main side effects of intermittent fasting is hunger. Shocking, right?
However, fasting comes with other side effects as well. You may feel “foggy” or as if your brain doesn’t perform as well as you’re used to. This “fogginess” is a shared side effect of both fasting and photobiomodulation. This might only be temporary, as these issues mostly occur in the beginning and adapting phases of the fasting period and new meal schedule. One of the most common side effects of photobiomodulation is – when overdosing -a light to mild headache or “fogginess”, quite similar to the side effect of fasting mentioned above. To get all the benefits of fasting and photobiomodulation, a great way to avoid any correlations of their side effects is to reduce the intensity of the red light and reduce the duration. Or to schedule in your red light session in your eating phases, after taking in a meal.
Intermittent fasting overall is safe to use, as you’re not focussing on restricting your calorie intake. When restricting your caloric intake, we recommend doing so gradually. In any case, before starting a new and restrictive diet, we do recommend consulting with your doctor beforehand! (35), (36)
(3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8) https://usetemper.com/learn/metabolic-step-by-step/#:~:text=About%20four%20hours%20after%20you,that%20form%20proteins)%20for%20energy
(19) LED Lights Used in Plant Growth Experiments for Deep Space Missions
(35) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/intermittent-fasting/faq-20441303(36) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-for-women#safety-and-side-effects