Fasting, Ketone Bodies & Long Life: Aging in a Divine Reality (2/2)

Fasting and Long Life

Restricting an animal’s calorie intake is the most famous intervention known to extend life span. Discovered more than 70 years ago, it is still the only one absolutely proven to work. Most diseases, including cancer, diabetes and even neurodegenerative illnesses, are forestalled. The organism seems to be supercharged for survival. [David A. Sinclair and Lenny Guarente, Unlocking the Secrets of Longevity Genes].

Aging is a natural process that becomes more difficult when we remove Divine Reality from our thoughts. Without a purpose or an ultimate end, physical aging can add depression and despair to a process with its own inherent pain and anxieties.Tolstoy

hajji-bkTo a significant degree, longevity depends on our psychological and spiritual health to provide relief from the inherent stressors of aging. Studies have consistently shown that no direct relationship exists between the extent of physical brain deterioration and the manifestation of symptoms of age-related illness such as Alzheimer’s disease.

As our body withers, we are still left with ample mental and spiritual reserves to carry on the battles of existence. Certain conditions inhibit cognitive dysfunction, while others advance it. This simply means that there is more to dementia that just physical withering of the brain. Even when our intellect fails, we are still left with a spiritual reality in which to abide.

The abbot Daniel used to say, “Even as the body flourishes, so does the soul become withered: and when the body is withered, then does the soul put forth leaves.” [Sayings of the Desert Fathers].

Anti-Aging Diet

It is scientifically accepted that restricted calorie intake can increase life span. One theory advanced by science is that oxidation, our internal process that reduces food to energy, is a main cause of aging.

Because caloric restriction can markedly prolong the life span, it is being widely studied to determine the mechanisms of aging. An increasing body of evidence suggests that cumulative oxidative damage to macromolecules such as protein, lipids, and DNA has a major role in aging. Caloric restriction attenuates both the degree of oxidative damage and the associated decline in function. We will review evidence that caloric restriction prolongs life in laboratory animals, evokes an array of responses, including a decrease in oxidative stress and damage, and may retard the aging process in humans. [Richard Weindruch, Ph.D. and Rajindar S. Sohal, Ph.D., Caloric Intake and AgingNew England Journal of Medicine. 1997 Oct 2; 337 (14): 986–994]

According to this theory, our life span is an inverse function of our metabolic rate and is proportional to oxygen consumption. In other words, the very essence of physical existence has a built-in decaying process. This leads to the conclusion that the less we eat, the longer we live.woman-dua

Researchers at the National Institute on Aging have observed that mice that fasted every other day, then ate what they wanted on the intervening days, displayed greater resistance to diabetes. They were also resistant to a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease.  [See: The Amazing Aging Mind].

In order to preserve the mind and body in a perfect condition, abstinence from food is not alone sufficient: unless the other virtues of the mind as well are joined to it . . . And so humility must first be learned . . . anger should be controlled . . . vainglory should be despised, the disdainfulness of pride trampled under foot, and the shifting and wandering thoughts of the mind restrained by continual recollection of God.  [John Cassian, The Training of a Monk and the Eight Deadly Sins, Of the Spirit of Gluttony, (The Book of Fasts and Abstinence) Chapter X].

Cleansing the Mind

Fasting and monasticism have often joined forces during periods of social degeneration and depravity. The need for protection against secular depravity, excessive affluence and dogmatic ritualism often prompts the forming of communities where faith can be cultivated without distractions, oppression and persecution.

The Jewish Therapeutae and Essenes, and many early Christian Desert Fathers separated themselves into congregations dedicated to spiritual life. In Islam, celibacy and extreme excessive austerities are not permissible. Thus, fasting, contemplation and worldly renunciation [Zuhd] for meditative reflection upon Allah becomes even more prominent. monastic-cell

Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It whithers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts — holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor [Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain“].

Monks cultivated piety by engaging in fasting, self-discipline and renunciation. They sought to free the spirit from the body’s claim and to attain an elevated consciousness that enhanced equanimity and sanctity.

Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself. [St. Augustine, “On Prayer and Fasting” quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas].

Monks and Long Life

It is said that the doctor should live longer than the patient. If monks are considered the doctors of the early Christian church, they did, in fact, score pretty well.

Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? [Job 12:12 NIV].

Records show that some monks lived very long lives. Many monks lived to be twice the age of their contemporaries. Even by today’s standards, it is somewhat remarkable to see someone living to 100 years.

The first monk, … we know of to decide to run away to the desert and lead a life of contemplation is Saint Anthony of Egypt … He lived from 251 to 356. I have trouble believing this. The sources are pretty good. I have trouble believing that anybody could live to be 105 in the Roman Empire. Or indeed, at any time before ten years ago or so. But there it is. [Professor Paul Freedman, Yale University].

Aging and faith can intertwine to weave lifestyles that promote longevity. Though not totally reliable, historical records show that long life was one of the distinguishing features of early monasticism. Below is a list of monks who, according to tradition, lived to a ripe old age:

Paul of ThebesSymeon the Stylite – 103 yrs
Saint Cyril the Anchorite – 108 yrs.
Alypius the Stylite – 118 yrs.
John the Silent – 104 yrs.
Anthony the Great – 105 yrs.
Theodosius the Great ― 105 yrs.
Paul of Thebes – 113 yrs.
Paul of Komel – 112 yrs.
Macarius of Alexandria – 100 yrs.
Cyril Belozersky – 90 yrs.
Macarius Zheltovodsky – 95 yrs.

(Fast) a certain number of days . . . and that ye fast is better for you if ye did but know. [Quran 2:184].


Further reading:

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Fasting, Ketone Bodies & Spiritual Consciousness (1/2)

Ketones and Consciousness

… Fasting is useful as atoning for and preventing sin, and as raising the mind to spiritual things. And everyone is bound by the natural dictate of reason to practice fasting as far as it is necessary for these purposes. [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica].

How do we remove the obstacles blocking our view of true reality? How do we limit the influence of technology and media on our mind? Is there a way to increase our focus on the Divine? binary_tunnel

The heightened spiritual consciousness experienced by a fasting person is recognized in every major religion and, indirectly, by science. The unique perspective produced by fasting’s ketonic energy reflects the physical weakness of the body and a heightened awareness of Divine Reality.

What, then! you will say, are we all inspired? Yes, doubtless; but not as were the prophets and apostles. Without the actual inspiration of the Spirit of grace, we could neither do, nor will, nor believe any good thing. We are, then, always inspired, but we incessantly stifle the inspiration.  [Francois Fenelon, Spiritual Progress, p. 55].

Fasting and the Brain

Ketosis is the condition during fasting where the body switches from glucose to ketone bodies for fuel. When the body metabolizes ketone bodies during ketosis, it generates elevated levels of ketones, which are detectable in the breath, urine, and blood. Ketone urine testing strips test for ketones in urine.

With ketone bodies as fuel, the brain may not experience the normal metabolic reactions it does when on a standard diet. Electrical impulses produced by ketone bodies may differ from those produced by glucose.facts_about_our_brain

In comparison with glucose, the ketone bodies are a very good respiratory fuel. Whereas 100 g of glucose generates 8.7 kg of ATP, 100 g of 3-hydroxybutyrate can yield 10.5 kg of ATP, and 100 g of acetoacetate 9.4 kg of ATP [5]. The brain will use ketone bodies whenever provided with them (i.e., whenever blood ketone body levels rise). [Anssi H Manninen, Metabolic Effects of the Very-Low-Carbohydrate Diets: Misunderstood “Villains” of Human Metabolism].

Ketones: The Fragrance of Fasting

In the brain, the ketone bodies are used in the energy producing Krebs cycle. This process is very efficient and more ketone bodies are produced than can be utilized by the body for fuel.

The excess ketones are excreted in the breath and urine. The noticeable odor of a faster’s breath is a byproduct of ketosis and, to an extent, a measure of the degree of our fasting.

When the rate of production of acetoacetate and β-hydroxybutyrate exceeds the rate of their utilization, the result is ketosis. Under these conditions, acetone, a spontaneous breakdown product of acetoacetate, accumulates and becomes noticeable as “acetone breath”.  [Jeff D Cronk, Gonzaga University, BIOCHEMISTRY Dictionary].

Our congested cavities echo the braying emanating from putrid thoughts. As we gorge on earthly knowledge from message boards, mundane news and office gossip, a stench forms on our breath that we spew regularly.

By contrast, what we partake of spiritual nourishment remains as scent on our breath to the Day of Judgment for the fragrance of a fasting mouth is as perfume to God:

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is more fragrant to Allah [God] than the fragrance of musk.” [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 115].

The Mellowed Brain

The body reflects the altered metabolic condition produced by the energy of ketone bodies. The fast dispels self-centeredness and egotism as we humbly plead for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Our primary attitude while fasting becomes submission. With the glucose levels of a standard diet reduced, pride or arrogance have little to sustain them. The restraining bit of fasting in our mouth provides the discipline necessary for enhancing God-consciousness.

Fasting MELLOWS a man and enhances his character, giving jolt to the human instincts of ‘PRIDE, HAUGHTINESS, ENVY and AMBITION, for when fasting, a man’s energies are too sapped to follow these instincts which are the chief causes of discord and conflict among men. [Marhum Ahmed Sheriff Dewji].

Mind Your Synapses

Piety and its effect on our metabolism are not easily measured or controlled. Our thoughts may often be just a few synapses away from egotism, pride and delusion. When we fast for God, our intention establishes the goal. Our mind sets out to attain an altered state of consciousness that opens the soul to the Divine.Synapse_in_brain2

Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God. [Pope Benedict XVI].

When we harbor negative emotions, we hardened hearts. When we excessively indulge in worldly matters, we transform whims into passions, pleasure into lust, and pastimes into addiction.

There is nothing more harmful to the believer’s heart than having too much food, for it brings about two things; hardness of heart and arousal of desires. Hunger is a condiment for believers, nourishment for the spirit, food for the heart, and health for the body. The Holy Prophet said, ‘The son of Adam fills no worse vessel than his belly.’ [Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, Lantern of the Path, Section 34].

Spiritual Energy 

Spiritual fasting emerges from an emotional condition produced by sincere faith. Having abandon our prodigal lifestyle, we rush with fervent enthusiasm to restore our relationship with God.

The fasting prescribed by the religion is to abstain from eating and drinking and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset, while spiritual fasting is, in addition, to protect all the senses and thoughts from all that is unlawful. It is to abandon all that is disharmonious, inwardly as well as outwardly. The slightest breach of that intention breaks the fast. Religious fasting is limited by time, while spiritual fasting is forever and lasts throughout one’s temporal and eternal life. This is true fasting. [Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, Spiritual Fasting].

Spiritual energy produces spiritual thoughts. It is the energy found in sacred places, in majestic scenes from nature, in Scripture — and in fasting. It is the Divine energy that calls us to reflect on our existence and proclaim, “Praise God!”

And whoever does more good than he is bound to do, it is better for him; for to fast is better for you – if you only knew. [Quran – 2:184].


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Fasting Works: Putting Faith into Action

Fasting Works

One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life  . . . This principle can be appropriately applied to the mass media. Their usefulness is indisputable, but they must not become the “masters” of our life. In how many families does television seem to replace personal conversation rather than to facilitate it! A certain “fasting” also in this area can be healthy, both for devoting more time to reflection and prayer, and for fostering human relations. [Pope John Paul II, Sunday Angelus – March 10, 1996].

We often place strict boundaries around our spiritual life. Our inner values and deepest beliefs by which we live usually remain private. We tend to relegate religion to rituals and certain social functions relevant to a limited portion of our total existence. Our spirituality rarely travels with us in public.quran-plate

Fasting provides a convergence of the religious and the spiritual. While observing a prescribed ritual, we satisfy an inner need for greater consciousness of the Divine.

Fasting asserts the will against the appetite … Ascetic practices, which in themselves strengthen the will, are only useful in so far as they enable the will to put its own house (the passions) in order, as a preparation for offering the whole man to God. [C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 112].

Bringing Out Our Best

We have been given prescribed days for fasting. However, many of our fasts are private. No one knows if we are really fasting. Yet, we know that God knows.

Fasting sharpens our focus, intensifies our spiritual awareness and promotes faith to a place of prominence. While fasting, we concentrate on the spiritual, even while engaging in the secular. Fasting is an extended devotion that adorns our daily affairs, a continuing piety we carrying into our most mundane tasks.

In today’s secular environment, we often find faith hiding beneath entertainment, employment and transient trivialities. Rarely do we meet individuals truly dedicated to cultivating a devout life. They are normally far from our regular path.

Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do. What, alas, is our life, compared with theirs? The saints and friends of Christ served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in work and fatigue, in vigils and fasts, in prayers and holy meditations, in persecutions and many afflictions.  [The Imitation of Christ, Thomas À Kempis, Chapter 18].

Even among those who loudly proclaim their faith, and who work to call others to it, the lure of our technologically innovative culture demotes worship to fleeting moments of scurried devotion. Actual connection to God accounts for an insignificant fraction of their day.nun-cell

When we fast, we turn from the “things” that daily grab our attention and focus deeply on Him. During that time, we come to realize how much food and the things of this world are occupying our thoughts, time, activities and finances. Some may realize, too, that they have been famished for spiritual food. [Bill Bright, The Importance of Fasting].

We cannot fast our way into bliss any more than we can buy our way out of perdition. Fasting is merely a spiritual exercise in preparation for Divine service, a vessel we board to cross turbulent waters.

We need to rehearse what we have learned, put into practice what we believe. This is usually very difficult. Spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, help us cleanse our inner being of the impurities clogging our thoughts and inhibiting our best qualities.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. [James 1:27].

Fast Thinking

Right thinking is not easy. Our mind often runs amuck, out of our control, into delusion, fancy and egotism. We harbor negative feelings toward our brothers and sisters. We harbor resentment and grudges in our hearts. We remain bound to our carnal thoughts. Obviously, we can always use some spiritual discipline.

We rarely carry out what we aspire spiritually. Our actions fall far short of our intentions. We intend, wish and hope to do what is good, what is best, but often procrastinate, prematurely quit or simply fail.

In the same way that even a felled tree will grow again if its root is strong and undamaged, so if latent desire has not been rooted out, then suffering shoots up again and again. [Dhammapada 24:338].

On the inner battlefront of thoughts, on the outer battle front of words and deeds, spiritual warfare rage, even among hermits and recluses. We are never free of temptations.

Fasting is a proven shield and a tested practice. Well placed and used correctly, it can protect us from many missiles directed at some of our weakest points.

Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. [St. John Chrysostom, On Fasting].

Fasting Works

Neither the therapeutic value nor the spiritual benefits of fasting are ends in themselves. We must make careful distinction between ascetic self-mortification leading to withdrawal, and the abstinence devoted to an active spiritual life. We must be ever cautious of evading reality and avoiding compassionate involvement.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions [during Ramadan], Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)” [Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 127].

Spiritual living requires constant reaffirmation of faith through daily works. Daily activity must be patterned by Divine guidance.prayer__muslim2

After the fast, we should feel ready to act, to engage in a better directed life. Life’s purpose should be clarified and our intentions to act righteously affirmed. We should feel ready to dive into the service of God with renewed vigor and strength, if God’s so wills.

The penitential practices suggested by the Church especially during this Lenten season include fasting. This means special moderation in the consumption of food except for what is necessary to maintain one’s strength. This traditional form of penance has not lost its meaning; indeed, perhaps it ought to be rediscovered, especially in those parts of the world and in those circumstances where not only is there food in plenty but where one even comes across illnesses from overeating. [Pope John Paul II, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, Sunday Angelus – March 03, 1996].


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