Fasting: Types, Benefits and Risks

Fasting has been practiced for centuries, but does that mean it’s healthy? And can it help you lose weight? The answer isn’t really straightforward, but it may depend on the type of fasting you do, as well who you are individually.

While fasting for a day or two is rarely a problem if you’re healthy, it can be dangerous if you aren’t already eating a healthy diet, have a compromised immune system, suffer from certain health conditions like liver or kidney problems, or are on medication.

There are a number of reasons for fasting, such as:

Religious fasting. Many religious texts call upon followers to fast periodically as a rite of purification, penitence or preparation for spiritual union.

Medical fasting. Examples include fasting before surgery or prior to tests, such as to check blood sugar levels or cholesterol.

Fasting to treat disease. Some health experts have noted that fasting, when combined with an improved diet before and afterward, may help improve health conditions like lupus, arthritis and chronic skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.

It may also aid in healing the digestive tracts of those suffering from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. A 2003 study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The Journal of Nutrition, found that mice forced to fast every other day, while eating twice the amount of food on days they didn’t fast, had better insulin control and experienced neuronal resistance to injury.

Fasting for longevity. Numerous studies, including one recent study involving monkeys, have shown that when animals are fed fewer calories, they tend to live longer. Many health experts believe this could translate to better health and longevity for humans.

Fasting for weight loss. The majority of health experts are in agreement that fasting for weight loss is not effective, or healthy. While the weight may come off easily, it’s generally gained back quickly as the metabolic rate slows to a crawl.

It also distracts from the important message of maintaining a healthy weight for life through regular exercise, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, drinking lots of water and getting enough sleep, among other positive lifestyle habits.
Types of fasts

Just as there are numerous reasons for fasting, there are several different types of fasts, including:

Water only fast. This is a very strict fast that requires consuming only water; generally around two quarts per day. While medically supervised water fasts have shown some success in helping to stabilize blood pressure, this fast shouldn’t be implemented without consulting your healthcare provider.

Cleansing fast. A cleansing fast, also known as a detox fast, is designed with the intention of cleansing the colon of food and toxins. One example of this type of fast is the lemonade diet, which calls for water mixed with lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

It can last from one to 14 days, but is known to have a number of negative side effects such as fatigue, general malaise, muscle aches, low blood sugar, dizziness, inability to focus and nausea.

This is a very rigid diet, and can be costly for those that purchase supplements and other products to complement their “cleanse.” A better idea may be to try “clean” eating rather than this starvation diet.

This involves focusing on whole foods from the earth such as lots of fresh organic fruits and veggies, as well as lean protein from foods like organic, raw nuts and seeds or wild-caught salmon. Another crucial step is eliminating processed foods.

Intermittent fasting. This type of fasting is not as extreme, and there are many different variations. The premise is to enjoy better health by repeatedly fasting for longer periods than what you typically would on a normal breakfast/lunch/dinner schedule. Some skip lunch, others may skip dinner, while still others may fast all day every other day, third day, once per week or once per month. This calls from abstaining from solid food while still allowing for plenty of water, herbal tea and other nutritious beverages to ensure hydration.

fastingA number of animal and human studies have found positive effects from intermittent fasting, such as a 2007 review by the University of California at Berkeley. Researchers concluded that alternate-day fasting may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as improve cognitive function and protect against some of the effects of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Renowned naturopath Dr. Andrew Weil believes that this type of fasting may offer physical and mental benefits to many people, including greater energy and concentration, better sleep and improved overall well-being.

At the same time, he does not recommend it to children under 18, diabetics, women who are pregnant or lactating, or those who have certain health conditions like GERD.

No matter which, if any, type of fasting you choose, consulting with your healthcare provider is essential for ensuring your good health.

-The Alternative Daily


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