Fasting for Health
Posted By Dr. Ben Kim
Historical records tell us that fasting has been used for health recovery for thousands of years. Hippocrates, Socrates, and Plato all recommended fasting for health recovery. The Bible tells us that Moses and Jesus fasted for 40 days for spiritual renewal. Mahatma Gandhi fasted for 21 days to promote respect and compassion between people with different religions.
For much of human history, fasting has been guided by intuition and spiritual purpose. Today, our understanding of human physiology confirms the powerful healing effects of fasting.
Fasting is a powerful therapeutic process that can help people recover from mild to severe health conditions. Some of the most common ones are high blood pressure, asthma, allergies, chronic headaches, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, adult onset diabetes, heart disease, degenerative arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, acne, uterine fibroids, benign tumours, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Fasting provides a period of concentrated physiological rest during which time the body can devote its self-healing mechanisms to repairing and strengthening damaged organs. The process of fasting also allows the body to cleanse cells of accumulated toxins and waste products.
Fasting gives the digestive tract time to completely rest and strengthen its mucosal lining. A healthy intestinal mucosal lining is necessary for preventing the leakage of incompletely digested proteins into the bloodstream, thereby offering protection against autoimmune conditions. A healthy digestive tract also helps to protect the blood and inner organs against a variety of environmental and metabolic toxins.
A fast that is appropriate for your situation will allow for you to experience some or all of the following:
Healthier teeth and gums
Better quality sleep
A clean and healthy cardiovascular system
A decrease in anxiety and tension
Dramatic reduction or complete elimination of aches and pains in muscles and joints
Decrease or elimination of headaches
Stabilization of blood pressure
Stronger and more efficient digestion
Stabilization of bowel movements
Loss of excess weight
Elimination of stored toxins
Improvement with a wide variety of chronic degenerative health conditions, including autoimmune disorders
It is important to understand that the detoxifying and healing processes that occur during a fast are also active when a person is consuming food. A fast can be helpful for people whose conditions are not improving as quickly as they would like, or for people who have health conditions that require a concentrated period of healing to resolve. It is also important to understand that the most important part of a fast is how a person lives after the fast. Fasting can provide a clean and revitalized foundation upon which you can build and maintain a strong and well-conditioned body by consistently making healthy food and lifestyle choices.
What follows are answers to commonly asked questions about fasting:
Q. How do I know if I need to fast?
A: The answer to this question depends on your health status and goals. For many people, adopting an unprocessed, whole food diet, engaging in a sensible exercise program, acquiring restful sleep, and living in a relatively unpolluted environment will provide the necessary conditions to recover and maintain vibrant health. If a person is having a difficult time making necessary dietary and lifestyle changes, fasting can be a powerful way of accelerating health recovery. Fasting can also reset the sensitivity of the nervous system, providing an effective way of overcoming dependencies on caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, other recreational drugs, salt, sugar, and other stimulants. After fasting, many people marvel at how sweet romaine lettuce is, how refreshing apples are, and how wonderfully delicious baked potatoes are – without sour cream and butter! Many of us have been eating rich, salty, and sweetened foods for so long that we are unaware of how good foods taste in their natural, unprocessed states.
Some people choose to fast in the absence of overt symptoms of disease, knowing that a period of complete physiological rest can allow the body to rejuvenate itself from the toxins that build up in our tissues despite our efforts to live healthfully.
Q. How long should I fast for?
A. If you choose to fast to recover from acute illness, you can fast until you feel well enough to eat again. In the case of a chronic health challenge, the length of the fast is determined by the progress of the fast. The healing processes that take place during a fast are predictable. Blood levels of cholesterol and uric acid tend to elevate during a fast, a result of the body stirring up stores of undesirable materials and expelling them into the circulation to be eliminated from the body. Shortly after the fast, these levels tend to be lower than they were before the fast, indicating a cleaner system. ESR, a marker for inflammation, tends to decrease during the course of a fast. As a part of the detoxification process, some people experience vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Fasting under the supervision of a health care professional who is trained to distinguish healing responses from harmful processes can be helpful in allowing a person to "ride out" uncomfortable symptoms of detoxification.
It is not uncommon for people to experience significant improvement in their health from fasting between 3 and 30 days. The idea is to fast as briefly as possible, but as long as is necessary to allow the body to restore health.
Q. Can anyone fast?
A. There are a handful of exceptional circumstances in which it is not advisable to fast. A small portion of the population has an inborn error of metabolism whereby they lack an enzyme that is needed to process fatty acids. Since fatty acids are needed as an alternate source of energy during a fast, it would not be safe for such a person to pursue a fast of significant duration. This disorder can be recognized early in the fasting process by a trained observer.
Intake of certain medications, certain liver and kidney disorders, states of extreme weakness or malnutrition, pregnancy, and certain types and stages of cancer are other examples of conditions that are not conducive to fasting.
Q. Can fasting cure specific conditions?
A: It's important to keep in mind that fasting is not a cure for specific health challenges. Rather, it is an opportunity to give the body a prolonged period of rest to do what it does best – heal and restore itself. The same healing mechanisms that are at work during a fast are also at work while a person is eating. The difference is that during a fast, all of the body's resources are channeled towards its self-healing and restorative mechanisms.
Conditions that tend to respond favourably to fasting and dietary modification include high blood pressure, asthma, allergies, chronic headaches, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, adult onset diabetes, heart disease, degenerative arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, acne, uterine fibroids, benign tumours, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Q. How much weight will I lose if I fast?
A. On average, a typical faster loses approximately one pound per day during a water-only fast. Initially, the loss may approach two or even three pounds per day for the first few days if the person is retaining significant sodium and water. This can decrease to approximately half a pound per day in the later stages of a fast. From day two onward, the body begins utilizing fatty tissues for energy, thereby conserving as much muscle tissue as possible, a mechanism called protein sparing.