From COVID-19 to fighting for racial justice, right now stress is high for all of us — including our kids. While we encourage you to continue having necessary conversations with your children about racism and COVID-19 often (recent Sesame Street specials can help if you don’t know where to begin — get them here and here), it’s also important to help yourself and your kids to self-care by giving them tools to manage big feelings (and the awareness from us that those big feelings may manifest differently in our kids’ behaviors than they do in ours). To help us with…

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We need to fight for our right for recess, even if we’re adults, no matter what country we’re in. And I can’t think of a better person to remind us how important it is to go outside and play than our friend Darryl Edwards.

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What’s the best way to optimize our anabolic hormones? Two words: compound movements. Studies have found that explosive full-body movements will simultaneously increase our anabolic hormones (growth hormone, testosterone, etc) while decreasing circulating cortisol, lowering our body’s chronic stress response.

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fasting with a coldFasting is a great tool for so many things. You can use it to regulate food intake and lose body fat. Fasting can help you shift body composition, normalize your appetite, and gain control over your relationship to food. Many people report cognitive enhancements from fasting, and it’s a surefire way to speed up the transition into ketosis and full-blown fat adaptation. There’s strong evidence that we look, feel, and perform best skipping the occasional meal—that it’s the evolutionary norm for humans not to have constant, unceasing access to food. After all, we didn’t always have 24 hour grocery stores and fast food restaurants. But what about fasting with a cold?

And what about intermittent fasting and the immune system? Should you fast at all when you’re sick? What about fasting with the flu? Or how about bacterial infections—can fasting help with those? These are actually some of the most common questions I receive. Because intermittent fasting seems to help with so many other conditions, it makes sense to wonder about its relationship to the immune response.


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There are two main types of infections that most people worry over: viral infections and bacterial infections.

  • Viral infections include influenza (flu), the common cold, viral gastroenteritis, and the various coronaviruses. There are also things like measles, chickenpox, and viral meningitis, but most people aren’t very worried about catching those these days.
  • Bacterial infections include pneumonia (most pneumonias are bacterial in origin, though some can be viral), bacterial gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and bacterial sinus infections.

Fasting With a Cold – Viral Infections

In general, fasting doesn’t look like a great idea if you’re dealing with a viral infection like the flu or common cold. Why?

Studies on Fasting and Viruses

Animal studies show that mice who fast have a worse response to subsequent viral infections. In one paper, mice were either fasted every other day or placed a normal diet, then exposed to a “viral mimetic” (a type of chemical that replicates a viral infection). The mice who fasted ended up with higher cortisol, a more inflammatory immune response, more severe symptoms, and acted sicker than the mice who ate.1

Another mouse study found that in animals exposed to an infectious virus, a fat-based (fasting) metabolism was detrimental to survival and a glucose-based (fed) metabolism was beneficial.2

Viruses Deplete Nutrients

Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and generally cause trouble by hijacking cells and using your body’s machinery to replicate. To do so, they often steal nutrients from the host. One example is selenium, a crucial nutrient for viral replication. Studies show that viral infections can induce selenium deficiencies and that correcting those deficiencies by, well, eating selenium-rich foods can improve the outcome of infections.3

Most viruses will deplete nutrients and you need to eat to replenish them.

Fasting Inhibits MTOR, Which is Good and Bad

Blocking MTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) through fasting reduces expression of another major immune component: the interferon-inducible transmembrane protein (IFITM). 4 Think of the IFITM as a barrier preventing some viruses from gaining a foothold in your body, including influenza, Ebola, SARS, MERS, Marburg, Dengue, and hepatitis C. These are IFITM-sensitive viruses, but there are also IFITM-resistant viruses, like the common cold.

In fact, one study found that increasing IFITM levels increased vulnerability to infection by the common cold virus.5 Using fasting to reduce mTOR and lower IFITM expression could conceivably increase resistance to the common cold while increasing vulnerability to flu (and the others like Ebola and so on). Double edged-blade.

Or perhaps it’s triple-edged.

Part of dealing with an infection is learning from it. Our immune systems have to seroconvert antibodies so that when we encounter the infection again, our immune system is better equipped to head it off at the pass. This is the concept behind vaccination—a measured dose of the infective agent that trains our immune system to defeat the real thing in the future. As it turns out, inhibiting mTOR through fasting could affect our ability to seroconvert antibodies in response to viral infections.

In studies of older adults, higher levels of mTOR predict lower rates of seroconversion, and giving them an mTOR inhibitor improves seroconversion after a flu vaccine. If fasting reduces mTOR (and it does), it should in theory improve the antibody response to a vaccine or infection.

Weird, right? Fasting reduces mTOR, which could impair your short term response to an infectious insult (or improve it if it’s the common cold) while improving your long term response. You might still get sick but at least your chances of developing longterm immunity should increase.

Fasting With a Cold – Bacterial Infections

In general, fasting looks like a better idea when you’re sick with a bacterial infection.

Research on Fasting and Bacteria

Animal models of bacterial infections find that mice tolerate them much better in a fasted, ketogenic state. In fact, the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate is able to directly nullify some of the oxidative stress associated with bacterial infections;6 while “ketogenesis was required for survival in bacterial inflammation, it was dispensable in the case of viral inflammation.”

Bacterial Infections Reduce Appetite Naturally

One indicator is that your appetite often falls off a cliff when you have a bacterial infection. The last you want to do when you’re dealing a bout of food poisoning is eat. This doesn’t usually happen with viral infections, and I believe that’s important. In those “base” states of survival, what you crave is a good indicator of what you need.

Fasting Improves Phagocytosis (and Sugar Inhibits It)

A key component of the innate immune system’s ability to deal with bacterial infections is phagocytosis: When a class of immune cells called neutrophils surrounds, engulfs, and destroys individual bacteria. The phagocytic index describes the number of bacterial cells a neutrophil is able to engulf and nullify in a set time. Generally speaking, higher phagocytic activity means you have a better response to bacterial infections.

Luckily, we know pretty well how to increase and decrease phagocytic activity in people. To decrease phagocytic activity (make neutrophils worse at engulfing and destroying pathogenic bacterial cells), you simply feed a person sugar.7 It could be orange juice, honey, sucrose, fructose, or glucose—any simple source of sugars—and if you give 100 grams to a person, their phagocytic capacity drops for at least five hours. Give the person nothing—let them fast—and their phagocytic capacity climbs. Even at 5 hours after eating the sugar, the phagocytosis still hasn’t caught up to that of the fasting person.

Later studies confirm that low fasting blood glucose is a strong predictor of a strong neutrophil:leukocyte ratio8. Lower glucose, more neutrophils available to take on bacterial pathogens. Fasting is a reliable way to drop your blood glucose.

Phagocytosis doesn’t work so well against viral infections because a virus sequesters itself in the host’s cells. Neutrophils can’t engulf and kill the host cells; that’d just be counterproductive and probably quite dangerous. However, there’s evidence both ways: that neutrophils can enhance the immune response to viral infections but they can also exacerbate the damage done to host tissues. It isn’t clear what role they play so I’d advise against consciously manipulating them through fasting.

Intermittent Fasting While Sick: Making Sense of it All

There are no easy, straightforward rules governing the optimal fasting strategy for infections, whether viral or bacterial. Each virus is different. Every bacteria is separate. Nothing in biology is simple. What we do know:

  • If fasting stresses you out, it will be bad for your immunity. Cortisol depresses the immune system.
  • If fasting ruins your sleep, it will be bad for your immunity. Proper sleep is absolutely essential for an optimal immune response.
  • If you’re hungry, let that be your guide. Eat. Don’t force the issue.
  • If you’re not hungry, skip the meal. Again, let your body’s signals be your guide.
  • When faced with an immune insult, or if something’s “going around,” cut back on the fasting or at least keep it shorter than normal. 16 hours instead of 30. 20 instead of 48.
  • Realize that fasting is not a panacea. It’s not the answer to everything.
  • Understand that bacterial and viral infections often tag along with each other. A virus will weaken the host enough to allow bacterial pathogens to flourish. You’ll often be dealing with both at once. I’d imagine that something that allows you to stay fed while also enjoying a fat-based metabolism—like a lazy ketogenic diet—could work well here.
  • Fasting can prune damaged parts of your immune system and replace them with renewed components.9 This is good for long term immune health, but if an infectious agent happens to catch you in the middle of an extended fast while you’re doing the pruning, your risk of infection probably goes up. There’s always a give and a take.

There are no magic bullets, but it cuts both ways. You are resilient. While most of the humans throughout history didn’t make it through hundreds of thousands of years of death, destruction, famine, and disease, your gene line did. So don’t think you have to pick one or the other—fasting or feeding—in response to illness. Go with what feels best, don’t get dogmatic, and just take it easy.

What’s your go-to feeding strategy for dealing with sickness? Do you differentiate between viral and bacterial illnesses? Let me know down below!

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The post Fasting with a Cold: How Does Fasting Impact Viral and Bacterial Infections appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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why willpower doesn't workHi folks, in this edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin discusses why fasting might feel harder right now, why you need more than just a good workout plan, and what to eat when you’re sick of having eggs for breakfast every day. Keep your questions coming in the MDA Facebook Group or in the comments below.

Being home all day has been a real test to my willpower. Fasting is harder and I’m hungry all the time. Any tips for navigating this “new normal?” – Stephanie

I’m with you Stephanie. A lot of things feel out of our control right now and with so much uncertainty, just rolling with it might be your best bet for the next few weeks. Does that mean saying “screw it!” and scarfing down a few donuts every morning? Or grazing on chips and cookies throughout the day? No. But it does mean acknowledging your new routine, your new struggles, the fact that you’re under more stress than usual, and of course, the reality that you’re surrounded by food 24/7.

Usually when my clients talk about willpower, I find that they’re white-knuckling it through their day. Flat out resisting the temptation to eat with no strategies other than trying not to think about food. By definition, willpower is simply ignoring hunger. You’re choosing not to eat when your body is begging you to feed it!

Stress Triggers Sugar Cravings

Hunger is a biological survival mechanism triggered by our cells and driven by our brains. When you’re eating food, you’re feeding your cells. And when you’re resisting or restricting it, you’re starving your cells. Also keep in mind that extra stress puts you into fight-or-flight mode, making those donuts, muffins, leftover Easter candies look extra good. Your cells are craving sugar! And when you give in, you start the vicious cycle of sugar high, followed by sugar crash, followed by feeling hungry, hangry, and craving everything in sight.

Sure, you might just be bored or procrastinating on a looming deadline, but if you’re genuinely hungry, put a sheet of bacon in the oven, fry up a few eggs with butter, and sit down to a meal. Actually sit down — don’t check emails, do chores, or stand in front of the fridge with the door wide open. And when it comes to intermittent fasting, no one’s going to come knocking on your door and tell you you’re doing it wrong. There’s no fasting police. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you usually fast for 20 hours and now you’re fasting for 12. As a matter of fact, there’s research that proves that fasting for as few as 10 hours has solid benefits.

Finally, if you are working from home, make sure your setup isn’t at the kitchen table. I know a lot of people have limited space, but having a designated place to work that doesn’t involve you smelling your family members’ lunches or putting you at arm’s reach from the fridge will serve you well.

I’ve been following Mark’s Daily Apple for 6 months, but I still have 30 pounds to lose. What’s the best workout for someone on a Primal diet? -Gerald

I love that you have a specific goal, Gerald. Determining your end point is so important for long-term success. It could be losing 30 pounds like you mentioned, or improving the way your joints feel, or being able to chase your kids around the yard without stopping to catch your breath.

Honestly, there are tons of workouts out there. Free ones too. In fact, I just Googled “workout plans for Primal diet” and came up with this, this, and this  in about 1.5 seconds. But it’s not just about picking a plan and following it. If it were that easy, everyone would do it.

Identify your Obstacles and Make a Plan to Get Past Them

Wellness is a journey. One that requires navigating obstacles and determining the path of least resistance. So, before you dive into your first set of squats, take some time to think about what barriers might stand in your way. Do you have the right exercise equipment at home to complete your workouts? Do you have the support of your family? Have you carved out time and space to exercise? You need to get real about what your obstacles are, so you can devise a plan to get past them and reach your goal. If you need a hand with this step, online health coaches and personal trainers can be a great resource.

A plan is just a plan. It’s two-dimensional. And things always come up. That’s why it’s crucial to have a strategy for all the ups, downs, and unexpected in-betweens that come with your individual journey.

I’m tired of eating eggs for breakfast every day. Got recommendations for changing things up? – Jeanine

You were probably in a nutrition rut before you started the eggs-for-breakfast routine. Let me guess: a light yogurt and banana before work, sandwich for lunch, instant oatmeal packets, cans of soup, take out… Somehow you got yourself out of that rut and into another one.

Listen, everyone likes the things they’re familiar with, and most people don’t like change. It’s a human truth. You were familiar with eggs. You liked them. You started making them every day. And now you’re completely sick of them. Totally understandable.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

I’m in the business of getting people out of their comfort zones, but I don’t do meal plans or recipes, simply because they’re too fussy. If I say, “how about venison patties and chopped up veggies” and you don’t happen to like those, what good does it do?” As a health coach, I supply my clients with a comprehensive list of supportive foods they should be eating. I provide the education, but I expect them to go out into the world and figure out what that looks like for them, so they don’t need me to tell them specifically what to eat at every meal.

Like I’m sure you are, I’m a big fan of protein-rich breakfasts since they’re known to keep you feeling satiated throughout the day. Remember that breakfast doesn’t have to look like a typical breakfast though. There are lots of great protein sources out there — everything from bone broth, beef, and bison to salmon, sardines, and sausage, just to name a few.

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The post Ask a Health Coach: Why Willpower Doesn’t Work, Primal-Inspired Workouts, and What to Eat for Breakfast appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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