Does Fasting Contribute to a Healthy Lifestyle or Not?
© 2015 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Fasting, or abstaining from some or all food and drink for a certain period of time, has been used for centuries among religious groups looking to gain a greater sense of spirituality.
Some of the most popular fasts done for health purposes involve drinking combinations of fruit and vegetable juice, and broths, for several days.
Though still used by many for this purpose (such as during the Muslim observance of Ramadan, and the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur), fasting has emerged as a way to increase your health.
There are juice fasts, raw food fasts, and many more out there that, anecdotally at least, sound like they can cure everything from asthma to arthritis.
But is fasting truly healthy?
The Benefits of Fasting
During a fast, your body uses up glucose, the body's main source of energy, and then moves on to its next source of energy, fat.
It is therefore said that fasting helps with weight loss and to detoxify your body, as toxins from pollution, food, water and more that are stored in your body fat begin to dissolve and are released by your body.
"There have been some very well done studies on fasting that are entirely scientifically credible," says T Colin Campbell, Ph.D., professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University in Environmental Science. "For example, fasting has been shown to be effective in treating high blood pressure, however, medical journals won't publish the research."
Why not? Perhaps because there is no profit to be earned from recommending that people skip a few meals. This also means that few companies are interested in studying the science behind fasting, and as such very few clinical trials exist.
Still, fasting is also known to lead to increased levels of endorphins, hormones that make you feel good, which may explain why people who fast for a few days or longer often report having a heightened sense of well-being, focus and mental clarity.
Meanwhile, a study by researchers from Intermountain Medical Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City found that people who fasted for one day a month were 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with clogged arteries than those who did not fast regularly.
According to the researchers, fasting not only forces your body to burn some of its fat reserves, but it also keeps your body from being constantly exposed to sugar -- and having to metabolize it.
Fasting, Benjamin Horne, the study's lead researcher said, may provide your body with a brief rest that resensitizes your insulin-producing cells and makes them work better.
The Risks of Fasting
The major risk of fasting is that you may accidentally put your body into starvation mode. In other words, if you fast for too long, your body may start to cannibalize muscle and organs, which is what happens when you starve and is definitely not healthy.
There is also a risk of becoming dehydrated (if you abstain from fluids) and of altering your electrolyte levels, which can trigger heart problems suddenly. Long-term pure water fasts (which are the most extreme fasts, and are less common than juice fasts) are especially risky when it comes to your electrolyte levels.
You may even feel slightly sick during a fast, as you could be exposed to toxins that are being released from your fat stores (ultimately, proponents say, this is a good thing because it means the toxins will soon be eliminated from your system).
Fasting is particularly dangerous for people with diabetes (who may experience dangerous swings in blood sugar), children and teenagers (who are still developing), pregnant and nursing women, the elderly, and anyone who is frail.
Meanwhile, according to Dr. Raymond Gibbons of the Mayo Clinic, fasting may not actually help you to lose weight.
"Fasting resets the metabolic rate," she says in USA Today, "slowing it down to adjust to less food and forcing the body to store calories as soon as people resume eating."
So if you decide to try the ancient practice of fasting, you may very well enjoy some benefits. But there are definitely risks involved, and you should always seek the advice of your health care practitioner before you dive right in.