Fasting for Health: An Evolving Topic


For millennia, fasting has had a strictly religious association, as faith practitioners have used the sacrifice of food and drink as a form of worship. In healthcare, doctors and surgeons have often recommended that patients fast to avoid inaccurate diagnostic test readings and potential procedural complications. Yet only recently has fasting begun to be viewed as a possible means to help increase health and wellness.

The philosophy behind fasting for your health certainly is supported by intuitive assumptions. After all, without an immediate source of carbohydrates to convert into glucose, your body is left to rely on its glycogen stores for energy. Once those are expended, the body then start’s burning fat, which helps assist and improve a number of different aspects of your health. Plus, putting less food into your body means fewer toxins that your liver, kidney, and spleen need to work to neutralize.

Realities vs. Possibilities

Researchers have recently begun to use these facts as the basis for studies to determine exactly how fasting can impact certain aspects of a peoples’ lifestyles, their mitigation of health risk factors, and their management of current diseases. While the work to understand the impact of fasting on a healthy lifestyle is still in its infancy, preliminary research has shown promise.

Fasting and Weight Loss

The obvious health benefit that you might associate with fasting would be to assist with weight loss. However, most healthcare professionals are quick to shoot this assumption down. The prevalent belief is that the calories lost from a day’s worth of fasting remain just that: lost. Yet in most cases, that caloric deficit is made up by overeating once your fast has ended. Any weight loss observed during a fast is typically stored carbohydrates or excess water weight as opposed to actual fat. Thus, doctors and dieticians alike continue to stress that the true path to permanent weight loss is only through managing a healthy diet.

In referencing a healthy diet, routine fasting should be viewed as a component of it, not a replacement for it. A prolonged lack of food depletes your body’s reserves of vital minerals and nutrients. Fewer toxins in the body often can’t offset these losses. Thus, fasting should be viewed more as tool to help establish healthy living patterns in conjunction with sound dietary practices.

Potential Benefits

Yet research has shown that those who are able to safely incorporate fasting into their lives may enjoy certain benefits. These can include:

  • A reduced risk of heart disease: Research recently presented to the American College of Cardiology showed that in a sample of 30 adults who both fasted and ate normally for one day showed that participants had marked increases in human growth hormone following their fasts. HGH is known to contribute to fat burning in the body. That lack of fat cells could contribute to a decreased chance of developing heart disease in the future.
  • Assistance in cancer prevention: The nutrient deprivation that accompanies fasting could potentially slow the rate of cellular division, one of the factors used in determining a patient’s risk for cancer.
  • Increased psychological stamina: Some researchers point to the psychological effect of fasting as having more positive benefits than any other. The habits developed to overcome the temptation to eat while fasting can easily translate into managing other aspects of your diet.

Avoiding Unsafe Fasting

Of course, it’s encouraged that you always speak to your doctor if you’re considering routine fasting. Certain chronic conditions can make fasting potentially dangerous to your health. These include:

Expectant mothers and those battling eating disorders are also discouraged from fasting, as are those on certain medications.

More research is still required on order to better identify the particular health benefits of fasting. Yet except in those cases where healthcare providers and researchers have clearly seen medical disadvantages to fasting, most areas of health and wellness lack evidence to show that it does any particular harm. Thus, if you’re intrigued by the potential that fasting presents to your pursuit of healthy living, you should consider talking to your doctor about incorporating the practice into your dietary regimen.

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