FASTING: BODY CLEANSING OR BODY STARVING?
The Purpose of Fasting
Every fasting method, suited individually to a personís needs, cleanses toxins from the personís body. The nutrients in fresh juice provide energy and support to the body while stimulating the detoxification process by clearing waste from its systems. This detoxification process is an important corrective process in our nutritional cycle. We allow our body to breathe and naturally cleanse itself. (Haas)
The Ancient Practice of Fasting
The history of fasting goes back thousands of years. Many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Eastern religions used and still use fasting as a healing process for spiritual purification and communion with God. Philosophers, scientists, and physicians have used it as a healing process to cure sicknesses. Fasting effects not only our physical being, but our mental, emotional, and spiritual self as well. Physicians with a spiritual orientation are more likely to prescribe fasting to their patients because they are also more likely than other doctors to use the fasting method for cleansing.
The rationale behind fasting places an emphasis on control over our habits. When we need to recharge, we take a break from life and go on vacation. When our body needs cleansing, fasting is time away from food. Both methods of withdrawal from normal routine help us get back in touch with what our bodies need. (Haas)
The process and benefits of fasting
Fasting is a multidimensional experience in which total body transformation occurs. There are a wide range of metabolic changes and experiences. The benefits of fasting include heightened spiritual awareness and relaxation of the body, mind, and emotions. Many feel a sense of letting go of pain from the past and developing a positive attitude towards the present. During fasting, the body is able to clean out its system because it is not expending energy towards the digestive organs. The blood and lymph are detoxified. When fasting, the release of toxins from the colon, kidneys, bladder, lungs, sinuses, and skin clears out complications that have arisen from a bad diet and unhealthy lifestyle. (Haas)
The lack of calories consumed during fasting has dramatic effects on the bodyís systems. Because of the lack of glucose consumed, the liver converts glycogen stores into glucose and energy. The brain and the central nervous system need direct glucose, so they must get it either from the breakdown of proteins or fatty acids. The body resists breaking down the proteins, so fatty acids, after being converted into ketones, become the primary source of energy. Ketosis is subdued by drinking plenty of fruit juices, which provide simple carbohydrates for energy and cellular functioning.
How to fast
Both Dr. Haas (www.healthy.net/hwlibrarybooks/haas/detox/fasting.htm) and Dr. Chaitow (www.healthy.net/library/books/chaitow/chap13.htm) outline a typical short fast, the kind that can be done by almost anyone (except for those mentioned in the next section) without medical supervision. Short-term therapeutic fasts rely on a low-stress, quiet environment. They rely also on educating yourself about the course of treatment and what side effects you might expect to experience. Avoiding exercise and medications is vital. All of these instructions, in addition to what sorts of fruit and vegetable juices should be consumed at what times of the day, are available on the websites.
For information on spiritual fast look at Bill Brightís 7 Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer at www.ccci.org/7steps/index.html.
Who does fasting work for? What are some of the conditions for which fasting is beneficial?
Fasting is a safe preventive method to enhance existing well-being. Short-term fasts (48 hours or less) usually can go unsupervised. For longer fasts or fasts used to treat medical conditions, medical doctors recommend a physical evaluation by a qualified professional, the prescription of a particular fasting pattern, and monitored physical and biochemical changes. Fasting has been successful treating conditions such as:
Headaches back pains
Constipation mental illness
Food and environmental allergies cancer
Insomnia skin problems
Back pain caused by tight muscles is usually alleviated with juice fasting by unclogging congested organs and the colon area. Fasting is frequently used in the traditional medical system to treat obesity; however, some doctors take issue with whether overweight people should be fasting at all. A change of diet might be the first step to a healthier lifestyle- the fast might be the push that person needs to get their diet started. In cases of severe obesity one needs to be closely monitored by a trained professional Patients with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia may also be helped- not as a cure, but as an indication of what foods and drugs should be used or avoided in the patientís treatment plan.
Who should avoid fasting?
Chaitow explains that the Lancet, a very conservative medical journal, regards supervised fasting as extremely safe. Some cases of fever and fatigue should not be accompanied by fasting, usually because a nutritional deficit requires nourishment rather than deprivation of food. There are a number of groups of people who should not fast. People with life-threatening conditions should not fast, especially those who are emaciated due to cancer, TB, or AIDS. Both Type I and Type II diabetics should be under supervision if they decide to fast, but it is not recommended. Pregnant women, infants, and those with kidney failure are discouraged from fasting. Anyone who takes prescribed medication should avoid fasting because of unpredictable reactions. People with liver disease and anaemia should avoid long fasts. Chaitow goes into greater detail on this website-www.healthy.net/library/articles/chaitow/fasting.htm
How effective is fasting- where are the examples of when it has worked?
Medical reports and personal examples of fasting stories suggest the effectiveness of the alternative therapy. Thousands of website testimonials cover the personal success stories of people who have fasted and explain the specific treatment or program they used. Fasting Center International (FCI) has dozens of personal testimonies on its website (www.fasting.com/supervision.html) that advocate its program as the most effective one on the market for supervised long-term fasts (Archer).
NaturalDoc fasting and health vacations provide safe and tranquil sites in beautiful locations. Various programs throughout the year provide different treatment programs that are guaranteed to work. But they only tell you what the fabulous results of these treatments will be. They donít tell you about the side effects and the possible hazards, at least not at their website www.naturaldoc.com/.
What is the evidence that it is bad and dangerous for your health? What are the hazards of fasting?
Side effects of fasting due to the physiological changes taking place on the body include headaches, nausea, and muscle aches. Everyone responds to detoxification differently, depending on the level of toxicity in the body. While one personís body becomes sick immediately after beginning a fast another person may feel energized and renewed The initial changes are replaced with a sense of well-being and clarity of mind. Hunger disappears after the first day. However, more serious complications arise during long-term fasts if necessary precautions and safety measures are not taken.
There are rare side effects that can occur during long term fasting. These side effects include a drop in blood pressure, a persistent cold, and acute emotional distress. A complete listing and description of these side effects can be found at www.healthy.net/library/articles/chaitow/fasting.htm. If they persist, the fast should immediately be stopped.
There is a fair amount of dissension to fasting. At a U.C. Davis website, a protein lecture describes and a chart illustrates the potential dangers of fasting. (The chart can be see at http://medtstgo.ucdavis.edu/endo/lecture/metProNit.htm) The physiological consequences of long fasts are very similar to those during a period of starvation for a homeless or anorexic person. According to George True, the body canít tell the difference between a spiritual fast and starvation. It reacts the same way regardless because it simply is not getting enough food. He quotes Barrett, a board member of the national Council Against Health Fraud, Inc.: "A prolonged fast can lead to anemia, impairment of liver function, kidney stones, mineral imbalances, and other undesirable side effects. Deaths due to prolonged fasting have occurred, usually in people who believe this would Ďpurifyí their body or cure them of some disease." www.netasia.net/users/truehealth/Fasting.htm.
Once glycogen and fat stores are used up, the body turns amino acids from protein into glucose to supply the brain with energy. Then the fat stores are turned into ketones to supply brain fuel. The body essentially eats away at itself by taking protein from the heart, kidney, liver, and skin. Fasting can slow you down, according to George True. He has evidence from different nutritionists who say that fasting is unnecessary. Because we fast between meals and while sleeping it is not necessary to make ourselves feel weak and sick as well.
The Medical Evidence
There are more than several research studies that illustrate the benefits of fasting. The medical researcher Sir Robert McCarrison discovered patterns of health within the subcontinent of India that correlated with their eating habits. As the nutritive value of their food got progressively worse from north to south, so did the health of the people. He saw that the people in the south ate more processed foods, stripped of their vitamins and minerals, while the people in the north consumed more fruits and vegetables. McCarrison developed an experiment with rats in which he mimicked the groups. He gave different groups of rats varying levels of nutritive foods. After 140 days, the rats with a diet abundant in nutrients were much healthier than the rats with a diet high in poor quality carbohydrates and deficient in protein and other nutrients. His experiments provided a basis for understanding the relationship between nutrition and health, and the need to have the right nutrients, whether fasting or not, in order to sustain healthy living. (Chaitow, Chapter 4)
A Norwegian research study tested fasting on rheumatoid arthritis patients. They found that fasting was an effective treatment, but patients lost the benefits of the fast once they fell back into their normal lifestyle and began eating unhealthy again. In this study the patients took a fast for four weeks and maintained a strict vegetarian diet for a year afterwards. The benefits of the fast included reduction in swollen joints, increased strength, and overall better health. They were still evident at the end of the year. They found that there was a substantial reduction in disease activity as well. The researchers concluded that sustained long-term health benefits result from fasting and keeping a strict diet (Kjeldsen-Kragh).
Hormonal changes are one of the many biochemical changes that takes place during a fast. Most of these changes are unpredictable and depend largely on your state of health at the beginning of the fast. In a study by Kernt et al, they discovered a change in the production of Growth Hormone (GH) by the pituitary gland. This is seen to have a positive role in strengthening the immune system.
These three studies show how important our diet is to our well-being. It effects our growth patterns and the health of our body systems.
The websites I found had an enormous amount of information both for and against the use of fasting as a method of preventative medicine. On the one hand, fasting sounds like a good way to eliminate wastes that have built up in the body for many years. There is research showing that certain ailments have been helped with fasting, but usually when it was later accompanied by a change in diet and lifestyle. Medical literature also shows that the side effects of long-term fasting are potential hazards to health and that change in diet is sufficient without utilizing drastic measures to bring the body back to homeostasis. At first I was convinced that I needed to go on a fast. Cleansing myself sounded much needed and extremely cathartic. But a fast takes at least a couple days of time if you want to do it right, and frankly, as a college student, itís a crazy notion that I can do without for now.
Archer, J. Fasting Supervision: Is It Necessary? Fasting Journal-Fasting Center International. Found at www.fasting.com/supervision.html.
Bright, B. Seven Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer.Found at www.ccci.org/7steps/index.html.
Chaitow, L. Diet, Fasting, and Reduction of Disease. Found at www.healthy.net/hwlibrarybooks/chaitow/chap4.htm.
Chaitow, L. Fasting for Health and as an Anti-Aging Strategy- Is it Still Safe? Found at www.healthy.net/library/articles/chaitow/fasting.htm.
Chaitow, L. Fasting, Mono-diets and Raw Food Days.Found at www.healthy.net/library/books/chaitow/chap13.htm.
Haas, E. Fasting. Found at www.healthy.net/hwlibrarybooks/haas/detox/fasting.htm.
Kernt, P. et al, ĎFasting: the history, pathophysiology, and complications" Western Journal of Medicine (1982) 137:379-99
Kjeldsen-Kragh, J. et al, ĎControlled trial of fasting and one-year vegetarian diet in Rheumatoid Arthritisí Lancet (1991) 899-904.
NaturalDoc: Fasting and Health Vacations. Found at www.naturaldoc.com/.
Protein and Nitrogen Homeostasis. Found at http://medtstgo.ucdavis.edu/endo/lecture/metProNit.htm
True, G.N. How Fasting Can Slow You Down. Found at www.netasia.net/users/truehealth/Fasting.htm.
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