The Health Benefits of Fasting


What is fasting?

Fasting is the process of not eating for set periods of time. Our genetics are actually well suited for this process. We are the only species of human to survive the Paleolithic Era, and during this era, we had to experience periods of time where food was abundant, and other times when it was scarce.

Flash forward to our modern society, and we typically eat 3-4 times a day, often snacking in between meals. Now, I’m sure if our Paleo ancestors had the ability to eat all of the time, they would (humans are also programmed to love food). But the fact that our species survived one of the harshest eras of existence (the Paleolithic Era and corresponding Ice Age) means something; our metabolism is programmed to run optimally when food and energy intake is random and varied, not constant (for the technical bent, these are called stochastic processes). As research is starting to show, a constant intake of energy may not be so beneficial for us in the long run, especially if we are living mostly sedentary lives.

The Health Benefits of Fasting

There are a plethora of health benefits associated with fasting, including improvements in metabolism, reduction in inflammation, aging prevention, and a decreased risk of developing disease. Let’s go one by one…

Fasting induces a healthy metabolic state called “ketosis”

During fasting, when our intake of macronutrients glucose, fat, and protein, are zero, our body begins to burn glycogen stores in the liver (our body’s way of storing glucose for periods of no food) to release glucose for the body and the brain. However, once our glycogen stores become depleted, our body switches its metabolism towards burning fat for fuel. When we burn fat for fuel instead of glycogen, we enter a state of ketosis, which is a state where, in the process of burning fat for fuel, ketones are released [Note: ketosis is different from ketoacidosis, and Dr. Peter Attia has a great article describing the difference]. There are two ways to enter ketosis: by fasting, or by eating a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. This is why it is often said that ketogenic diets mimic fasting.

Ketones are miracle molecules and have been shown to do all of the following: 1) suppress oncogenes, 2) decrease inflammation, 3) promote healthy cell metabolism & cell signaling, 4) promote healthy body weight and physiology, 5) improve good cholesterol and other cardiovascular markers, and 6) enhance cognitive ability.

Ketosis is also thought to be the reason behind why ketogenic diets work so well for treating epilepsy and for reversing cancer tumors.

Fasting improves our immune system profile and reduces inflammation

Excellent research by Dr. Valter Longo has shown that by fasting we can drastically improve our immune system by 1) clearing away damaged white blood cells (via a process called autophagy) and 2) regenerating the immune cell population towards one that is more representative of our youth (by normalizing the ratio of myeloid cells to lymphoid cells).

Fasting has also been shown to reduce inflammation via the reduction of the inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-1.

Fasting promotes longevity and prevents aging

Fasting is known for triggering the expression of longevity genes, which are genes that are associated with a longer lifespan. Fasting also promotes healthy mitochondrial function. Healthy mitochondria are critical for preventing the oxidative damage that is associated with aging.

Finally, fasting triggers the production of new stem cells as well as critical cellular repair processes.

Fasting can improve our metabolism and body composition

Fasting triggers weight loss via adipose thermogenesis (a.k.a. “calorie burning”) and promotes metabolic homeostasis. Our metabolism is boosted when we fast, as we alter our hormone profile to favor fat burning while preserving muscle mass.

Fasting has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. When insulin sensitivity improves, our ability to store glucose and fat, as well as properly utilize glucose and fat for energy, improves.

Fasting has potential for preventing and reversing disease

Research has shown that fasting can significantly reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, fasting may also help prevent and reduce cancer via activation of tumor suppressor pathways, lowering of blood glucose and activation of AMPK, as well as by turning our immune cells into tumor killers.

Research has also shown that, by promoting pancreatic beta-cell regeneration, fasting may help reverse diabetes.

Finally, fasting may help prevent neurodegenerative disease and cognitive decline via the increase in production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that is experienced during periods of calorie restriction.

So what is intermittent fasting exactly? And how do you do it?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is the safest form of fasting. It consists of voluntary fasting for short durations, typically 16-48 hours at most. We do not advocate long-term fasting (fasting for more than 48 hours), especially without a doctor’s consent. Long-term fasting is trickier to pull off, and arguably not as healthy as short-term fasting.

A typical IF regimen is as follows:

  1. Eat lunch at 12 pm.
  2. Eat dinner at 8 pm.
  3. Sleep around 10 pm.
  4. Eat the next day at 12 pm.

This is called the 16/8 regimen (16 hours fast, followed by an 8-hour eating window). The 16/8 is the most common IF protocol because it is the easiest to follow since you are sleeping for the majority of the 16 hour fast. However, there are a variety of other ways that you can structure your IF.

If the 16/8 protocol is too hard for you, or if you are just starting out, trying simply skipping a meal now and then. It may be hard to do at first, especially if you are currently on a high-carb diet since you will experience more “sugar/carb” withdrawal (people on a high-carb diet typically have altered hunger and metabolism hormone function that keeps them in a state of “hunger”). But, it will get easier as you begin to stabilize your hormones; as we ease into IF, we start to improve our leptin signaling, which controls our appetite. Remember, the hunger cravings, if you have any, are temporary and will subside.

As mentioned, we recommend following the 16/8 fasting protocol, skipping breakfast, and only eating lunch and dinner. To help you out with your IF journey, here are a few tips:

  • During the fast, consume only water, black coffee, or tea.
  • To help you prevent hunger during each fast, try eating a low-carb Paleo diet or Ketogenic diet during your allowed eating time.
  • Stay busy during your fast
  • Remember that any hunger symptoms you may have will go away as you begin to correct and balance your hormone profile
  • Don’t binge eat after your fast
  • Avoid alcohol consumption before and after your fast
  • Get plenty of sleep (consider a good quality sleep mask and ear plug kit, as well as taking a small amount of melatonin)

Is it safe? Is it for me?

As we mentioned, short-term IF is safe for almost everyone (although you should always consult your doctor first), and there are a plethora of health benefits (as described above). The only side effects that may occur are headaches and constipation, which are usually temporary and are a by-product of your body going through high-carb withdrawal as well as hormone stabilization.

We don’t recommend long-term fasts. We also DO NOT recommend that you try to fast if you are a child, are underweight, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Furthermore, you should consult your doctor if you are taking medication, if you have diabetes, or if you have high uric acid.

Still curious? Want to learn more about IF?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about IF, nutrition, and health & fitness in general.

Other Links & Resources

  1. Intermittent Fasting for Beginners
  2. Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications
  3. 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

NOTE: Nothing in this post is written or intended to be medical advice or to replace medical advice. We are not doctors. We are merely individuals with a passion for health, fitness, nutrition, and scientific research.

Meditation and Health: Why You Should Meditate & How To Start


Meditation and Health in the Modern Era

These days, we live in a very high-paced, agitated, and fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) culture. We are constantly stressed, and surrounded by stress. Our jobs, the news, deadlines, traffic, emotional life events, and even our family and life partners can all be potential triggers of stressful states of both mind and body. Unfortunately, exposure to chronic stress can lead to a variety of health issues. Luckily, as you’ll discover after reading this, we can easily manage our stress, and thus improve our health, with meditation.

Why is chronic stress unhealthy? How can it lead to health problems?

Stress triggers activation of the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal axis) which is responsible for inducing our fight-or-flight response to dangerous situations. The HPA axis provides an evolutionary advantage that helped humans to survive when, for example, we encountered a pack of saber-tooth tigers or lions in the wilderness.

When our brain receives danger signals, the HPA axis is initiated and leads to a cascade of events that eventually leads to release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones help prioritize the energy use within the body, ensuring that energy is available for your muscles so that you can run away, and that energy is available for your brain so that you can make quick decisions.

These are all good things. However, our environment has drastically changed and the chance of a lion encounter is much lower than it used to be. But, in this modern world, everyday stressful situations like traffic or deadlines, while non-life threatening, also trigger the activation of the HPA axis. In a sense, we are responding to everyday stress in the same way as we respond to encountering a lion or crocodile.

Activation of the HPA axis and release of cortisol and adrenaline are meant to be one time deals. Once the threat is over, these hormones stop acting, and we can return back to a normal state. Unfortunately, the chronic stress we experience in the modern era leads to constant activation of the HPA axis and continuously high levels of cortisol and adrenaline throughout the day.

The impact of chronic cortisol release

Normally, our cortisol levels are highest in the morning and decrease throughout the day. However, when we are stressed, we experience elevated levels of cortisol throughout the day, which can impact our bodies in a very negative way. Chronic release of cortisol can lead to brain fog, adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, altered immune function (stress and high cortisol can lead to “leaky gut”), metabolic dysfunction (due to increased levels of insulin in response to cortisol), loss of sex appetite, and accelerated aging.

Managing stress through meditation

As you can imagine, it is vital for humans in the modern era to manage and reduce stress by any means necessary. There are many ways to do this, such as getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and staying fit. However, the best and easiest way to reduce stress (aside from removing ourselves altogether from the stressful situation) is to change and manage how we respond to stressful situations. As it turns out, one very simple and easy way to do this is to train through meditation, a time-tested and proven method to help manage and reduce stress. Lets talk a bit more about meditation, how you could benefit from meditating, and how you can start right away.

What is meditation?

Meditation has been around for a very, very long time. Originally practiced by monks and religious figures since antiquity, it has gained significant popularity worldwide over time. It is now practiced by a multitude of cultures, religions, and communities.

The goal of meditation is to train in order to calm the mind, to improve self-awareness, and to increase awareness of the current moment (a.k.a. mindfulness). While meditating, your body becomes relaxed as your mind goes into a state of mental silence. Your goal is to calm the chatter of your mind, and enter a state of thoughtless awareness (for the science fans out there, it is thought that meditation does this via its action on the posterior cingulate cortex).

Meditation and Health

Something interesting happens when you start to practice this on a regular basis. Not only do you become a happier individual overall, but you also inevitably become immune to stress, and more adept at handling stressful situations. Not only that, but there are a plethora of health benefits of meditation. Research is showing that meditation can help regulate the HPA axis and reduce cortisol levels, slow aging, improve brain health and cognitive function, boost and restore the immune system, and resolve anxiety, depression, and addiction. In fact, it is thought that the reason for reduced stress and improved stress management via meditation is due to the triple action of 1) increased serotonin and dopamine levels (the happy hormones) during meditation 2) lower cortisol release, and 3) heightened cognitive function. [Tip: if you want to learn more about the research on meditation and health, just type in mediation and health in PubMed.]

How do I start meditating? 

There are many forms of meditation, but the simplest, most popular, and most effective form to get started with is Transcendental Meditation (TM). One of the major benefits of TM is how relatively easy it is to be learned and mastered. A myriad of influential people including Ray Dalio, Tim Ferriss, Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, and Jerry Seinfeld, to name a few, regularly practice this form of meditation.

TM techniques quickly and effortlessly enable your body to go into a deep state of relaxation. In TM, you don’t concentrate on chanting or breathing, you just focus on quieting your mind, and you only need to practice for 20 minutes at least once a day (although twice a day is recommended).

TM is a great way to enter the realm of meditation, but if you don’t yet have 20 minutes to practice twice a day (you should, or you must be crazy busy!), or don’t have the time to learn TM, then here are a few tips and tricks that you can employ right away to start meditating, practicing mindfulness, and releasing stress:

  1. Find a song that puts you in a good mood. Once you’ve chosen your song, take about three minutes of your time and sit in a comfortable place with your legs crossed in front of you with a straight spine. Close your eyes, listen and reminisce about positive memories.
  2. Listen to a guided meditation. A few suggestions are guided meditations by Sam Harris, or the Tara Brach Smile meditation guide, both of which are free and highly recommended.
  3. Practice breathing. Start every morning with three to five minutes of sitting down with your eyes closed and just work on your breathing. Additionally, you can use an eye mask and earplugs to help filter out light and sound distractions (we offer a very affordable high-quality eye mask and ear plug kit on Amazon). Or, if you prefer, you can use an app like Calm to provide background ambiance (e.g. sounds of waves crashing, or a river stream flowing with birds chirping) while practicing your breathing.
  4. Practice the “three breath break” throughout the day. This is a technique consisting of taking three deep breaths every time you start to feel angry, sad, or driven by your emotions. This will help you clear your mind, and train you to take control of the situation.
  5. Use an app. Headspace is a great app to use to quickly and easily start practicing meditation any time of day.
  6. Practice gratitude. Think about at least three things that you are grateful for. These could be people, things, or situations. Just sit comfortably and take about five minutes to reflect on your gratitude. This will help you relax, and help you rid yourself of stress and angry emotions.

Still curious? Want to learn more about meditation and health?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about meditation and health, tips on how to meditate, as well as info about nutrition, and health & fitness in general.

Why Do We Sleep? Why Is It Important and How Do We Improve It?

Why do we sleep

Why do we sleep?

At first glance, “why do we sleep?” seems like such a silly question to ask. It’s obvious, we need sleep in order to 1) stay sane, and 2) to survive. We all need to rest and recover if we want to be as healthy, functional and successful as possible when we wake up every morning and face a new day.

But why exactly do we need to sleep, rest, and recover in order to stay sane and survive?

If you really think about it, sleep is an incredible phenomenon, and by diving deeper into the question “why do we sleep?” we can gain some important insight into how our bodies work, thus giving us more appreciation of the process of sleep, as well as giving us insights into how to better improve our sleep.

So, why DO we sleep? Why don’t we just continue on with our merry lives uninterrupted by this pesky process? Each cell in our body, throughout the course of our life, is always in the “on” mode, on “active duty”. It’s always doing things; synthesizing proteins, metabolizing compounds for energy, communicating with other cells, etc. It’s always on. But, since we as humans in total are nothing but a big clump of cells acting together in synergy, why are WE not always in the “on” mode, the “active duty” mode? The reason lies in the control center of the body, the brain. It turns out that, in order to be an effective control center, the brain needs specific periods of rest. Sleep is rest occurring in 4 consecutive stages followed by a stage called rapid eye movement or REM. REM is critical to successful sleep, and these cycles are often repeated many times at night. While our cells are always on, our brain rests. And since our brain is the master control center, when our brain rests, so do our vital organs and muscles.

Why does the brain do this? Well, the reasons are a bit unclear, but it is known that during these phases, very important things occur in the body. In a sense, the body’s repair mechanisms kick on during this process. The body recovers from the day’s activities and carries out certain vital functions: healing damaged cells, boosting our immune system, recharging our heart and cardiovascular system.

Not only that, but successful completion of adequate sleep cycles also helps the brain function properly by maintaining connections between neurons (i.e. preserving the neural network). Thus not only brain function, but also memory, is improved.

We can actually physically feel the repercussions of this “recharging” mechanism of sleep: when we experience a good night’s sleep, we feel refreshed and energetic (albeit usually with the help of a cup of coffee), and when we experience a poor night’s sleep or lack of sleep, we feel deeply fatigued, and can even feel depressed.

So, now that we have some understanding of why we sleep, how do we obtain good sleep? What factors are responsible for our quality of sleep? Why do we sleep at night?

Why Do We Sleep At Night? Circadian Rhythms

We each have a “master clock” which is a biological clock based on circadian rhythm. The clock is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus of the brain, which controls our biological state based on the incoming light that is processed through our eyes. However, the SCN doesn’t respond to all light equally, and it turns out that the SCN is particularly sensitive to a certain frequency of light, blue light. Blue light is the primary component of daylight from the sun. However, we also are exposed to blue light from artificial devices like LED lights, or the screens of electronic devices.

As light traveling to our eyes diminished, our master clock releases chemicals that trigger changes in activity levels in different parts of the brain in order to prepare us for sleep. This set of chemical reactions also sends signals to an area of the brain called the pineal gland to notify us that it is time to let our guard down and relax. The pineal gland, in turn, releases a hormone called melatonin.


Melatonin is not only a hormone, but also an anti-oxidant, and is found in all forms of life in varying concentrations. It is produced in the brain and helps regulate our master clock and our adaptation to light-dark cycles. During the daytime, the light that enters our eyes triggers a sequence of events that prevent this hormone from being produced, making us stay awake and attentive. During the night, darkness stimulates its production and helps us wind down.

The production and release of melatonin is thus critical for proper functioning of our biological clock and circadian rhythm. Anything that disturbs melatonin production and function can throw off our master clock, and thus impact our sleep. For example, using cell phones, computers, and tablets in the evening before bed makes it difficult for us sleep since we constantly perceive the blue light from these devices, which impedes melatonin production.

Light isn’t the only thing that affects melatonin production, however. Our environment, nutrition, toxins, and stress, all can impact how melatonin is produced and released in the brain. Thus, it is no wonder that, in a modern world where electronic devices and stress abound, most of us likely experience poor sleep due to an altered production of melatonin and/or alterations in melatonin signaling.


The SCN is responsible for regulating another region of the brain called the Ventrolateral Preoptic Nucleus (VLPO). The VLPO is a small cluster of neurons situated near the hypothalamus. Depending on the information received from the SCN and from our environment, the VLPO stimulates the production of a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Just like melatonin, this neurotransmitter is involved with our sleep/wake cycles. GABA’s primary function is to reduce the excitability of our nervous system. However, while GABA can reduce the activity of our nervous system, external activity like physical activity can prevent the SCN from triggering the production of GABA via the VLPO.

Thus, blocking blue light is not enough to get a good sleep; it is necessary that before bed we stop working, exercising, or overthinking about our day. That´s right, when you are laying down thinking about all of the embarrassing moments of your day, or your stressful job experiences, you’re impeding the production of GABA.

While getting enough sleep is important, the quality of sleep also matters. So, once we do finally fall asleep, we need to ensure that we’re actually getting high-quality rest. Enter heart rate variability.

Heart Rate Variability

Heart-rate variability (HRV) is the variation in time interval between heartbeats. It is a complicated topic, beyond the scope of this post, but by closely monitoring our HRV, we can gain insight into our quality of sleep, and ultimately, our health.

From the moment we fall asleep we lose control over our motor and sensory systems. When this happens we enter into a state where our brain is at the mercy of our autonomous nervous system. The autonomous nervous system controls things that we normally don’t have to “think” about, like heart rhythm, digestion, breathing and more. The autonomic nervous system has two entities: the sympathetic, which is responsible for the acceleration of heart rate (e.g. by adrenaline), and the parasympathetic, which is responsible for heart rate deceleration.

To obtain the best quality of sleep, we need to ensure that these two parts of our nervous system are in balance. If there are imbalances, our HRV will be altered. For example, if we are stressed and constantly reminiscing over the hectic activities of our day, the sympathetic nervous system will dominate and our heart rate variability will be reduced. A reduced HRV can imply that we lack optimal sleep, are sleep deprived, and can even give us clues that something may be wrong with our health.

So, What Should I Do If I’m Not Getting Enough Sleep?

If you´re having trouble falling asleep, or feel like you aren’t getting the best quality sleep possible, here are ten things you can do right now to help:

  1. Stop working at least one hour before going to bed: e.g. stop checking emails and working online etc.
  2. Avoid physical exercise or strenuous activity at least two hours before bed.
  3. Minimize any emotional activity a few hours before you lay your head on the pillows.
  4. Eliminate sugars at night, including fruits.
  5. Eat a big meal at most four hours before going to sleep (no later).
  6. Relax your mind to wind down before bed by doing soft activities like reading a book, solving a crossword, doing yoga stretches, sharing time with your partner, or listening to music. These are activities that help the brain understand that it is time to sleep.
  7. Reduce the entrance of blue light to our eyes at least three hours before going to bed. You can do this with eye masks (such as our Premium 3D Memory Foam Sleep Mask), and/or by placing blue light shields on your smartphones or electronic devices.
  8. Eliminate all other light illuminations, e.g. from lamps. Even though they’re not a significant source of blue light, these light sources still can stimulate the brain.
  9. Prepare your day in such a way that the most stressful activities, or those which demand the most energy, are reserved for the earliest part of your day (the farthest from bedtime).
  10. Take a small dose of a high-quality melatonin supplement. You can find great quality supplements on, which is a third-party services that extensively tests supplements by a variety of brands to ensure accuracy and safety.

Improving our quantity and quality of sleep is the best strategy to enhance our health in both the short term and long term. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with stimulation (smartphones, social media, etc.), and experience an ever-increasing stress from our jobs and daily life, we must take extra precautions to protect our sleep, adopting habits that facilitate and improve our sleep. In the end, doing so helps make our body the best tool to reach any goal we desire.

Other Links & References

For more info on sleep and how to improve, see the links below which are great posts by Dr. Kirk Parsley, Robb Wolf, and Dr. Sarah Ballantyne (a.k.a. “The Paleo Mom”):

  1. How We Are Wired To Sleep, Part 1
  2. How We Are Wired To Sleep, Part 2
  3. How We Are Wired To Sleep, Part 3
  4. Trouble Sleeping?

Interested in our Premium 3D Memory Foam Sleep Mask? Check out our product page for more info.