The Health Benefits of Water Fasting by Stephen Harrod Buhner
Copyright © 2003 Stephen Harrod Buhner
Fasting is an exceptionally ancient, and powerful, approach to healing many common disease conditions. It allows the body to rest, detoxify, and to heal. During fasting the body moves into the same kind of detoxification cycle that it normally enters during sleep. It uses its energy during a fast, not for digesting food, but for cleansing the body of accumulated toxins and healing any parts of it that are ill. As a fast progresses the body consumes everything that it can that is not essential to bodily functioning. This includes bacteria, viruses, fibroid tumors, waste products in the blood, any build up around the joints, and stored fat. The historical record indicates that human beings are evolutionarily designed to fast. It is an incredibly safe approach to healing and the body knows how to do it very well.
The Physiological Changes of Fasting
Many of the most dramatic changes that occur in the body during fasting take place on the first three days of the fast. These occur as the body switches from one fuel source to another. Normally, the primary form of energy the body uses for energy is glucose, a type of sugar. Most of this is extracted or converted from the food we eat. Throughout the day, the liver stores excess sugar in a special form called glycogen that it can call on as energy levels fall between meals. There is enough of this sugar source for 8-12 hours of energy and usually, it is completely exhausted within the first 24 hours of fasting. (However, once the body shifts over to ketosis or fat as fuel, this new fuel is used to also restore the body's glycogen reserves.)
Once the liver's stores of glycogen are gone, the body begins to shift over to what is called ketosis or ketone production - the use of fatty acids as fuel instead of glucose. This shift generally begins on the second day of fasting and completed by the third. In this interim period there is no glucose available and energy from fat conversion is insufficient but the body still needs fuel. So it accesses glucose from two sources. It first converts glycerol, available in the body's fat stores, to glucose but this is still insufficient. So it makes the rest that it needs from catabolizing, or breaking down, the amino acids in muscle tissue, using them in the liver for gluconeogenesis, or the making of glucose. Between 60 and 84 grams of protein are used on this second day, 2-3 ounces of muscle tissue. By the third day ketone production is sufficient to provide nearly all the energy the body needs and the body's protein begins to be strongly conserved. The body still needs a tiny amount of glucose for some functions, however, so a very small amount of protein, 18-24 grams, is still catabolized to supply it - from 1/2 to 1 ounce of muscle tissue per day. Over a 30 day water fast a person generally loses a maximum of 1-2 pounds of muscle mass.
This conservation of the body's protein is an evolutionary development that exists to protect muscle tissue and vital organs from damage during periods of insufficient food availability.
From the third day onward the rate of the breakdown of fatty acids from adipose or fat tissue continues to increase, hitting its peak on the tenth day. This seven day period, after the body has shifted completely over to ketosis, is where the maximum breakdown of fat tissue occurs. As part of protein conservation, the body also begins seeking out all non-body-protein sources of fuel: nonessential cellular masses such as fibroid tumors and degenerative tissues, bacteria, viruses, or any other compounds in the body that can be used for fuel.
This is part of the reason that fasting produces the kind of health effects it does. Also, during this period of heightened ketosis the body is in a similar state as the one that occurs during sleep - a rest and detoxification cycle. It begins to focus on the removal of toxins from the body and the healing and regeneration of damaged tissues and organs.
Fasting and Healing
Fasting has been found to help a number of disease conditions, often permanently. There have been a number of intriguing clinical trials and studies treating numerous disease conditions with fasting.
Here are some of those findings.
* In one clinical trial of hypertension and fasting, 174 people with hypertension were prefasted for 2-3 days by eating only fruits and vegetables. They then participated in a 10-11 day water only fast, followed by a 6-7 day post fast in which they ate only a low-fat, low- sodium vegan diet. Initial blood pressure in the participants was either in excess of 140 millimeters of mercury (mm HG) systolic or 90 diastolic or both. Ninety percent of the participants achieved blood pressure less than 140/90 by the end of the trial. The higher their initial blood pressure the more their readings dropped. The average drop for all participants was 37/13. Those with stage 3 hypertension (over 180/110) had an average reduction of 60/17. All those taking blood pressure medication prior to fasting were able to discontinue it. Fasting has been shown in a number of trials like this one to be one of the most effective methods for lowering blood pressure and normalizing cardiovascular function. Blood pressure tends to remain low in all those using fasting for cardiovascular disease once fasting is completed.
* Fasting is exceptionally beneficial in chronic cardiovascular disease and congestive heart failure, reducing triglycerides, atheromas, total cholesterol, and increasing HDL levels.
* Fasting has been found effective in the treatment of type II diabetes, often reversing the condition permanently.
* Because of its long term effects on metabolism, fat stores in the body, leptin, and disease conditions associated with obesity, fasting has been found to be one of the most effective treatments for obesity.
* A number of studies have found that fasting is beneficial in epilepsy, reducing the length, number, and severity of seizures. Fasting is especially effective for helping alleviate or cure childhood epilepsy.
* In a 1988 trial of 88 people with acute pancreatitis, fasting was found better than any other medical intervention. Neither nasogastric suction or cimetidine were found to produce as beneficial effects as those from fasting. Symptoms were relieved irrespective of the etiology of the disease.
* A number of studies have found that fasting is effective for treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Fasting induces significant antiinflammatory actions in the body and researchers found decreased ESR, arthralgia, pain, stiffness, and need for medication.
* Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rosacea, chronic urticaria, and acute glomerulonephritis have all responded well to fasting.
* Severe toxic contamination has been shown to be significantly helped with fasting. Clinical trials have found that people poisoned with PCB experienced "dramatic" relief after 7-10 day fasts.
* Poor immune function improves during fasting. Studies have found that
there is increased macrophage activity, increased cell-mediated immunity,
decreased complement factors, decreased antigen-antibody complexes, increased immunoglobulin levels, increased neutrophil bactericidal activity, depressed lymphocyte blastogenesis, heightened monocyte killing and bactericidal function, and enhanced natural killer cell activity.
* Other diseases that have responded to fasting are: psychosomatic disease, neurogenic bladder, psoriasis, eczema, thrombophlebitis, varicose ulcers, fibromyalgia, neurocirculatory disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, bronchial asthma, lumbago, depression, neurosis, schizophrenia, duodenal ulcers, uterine fibroids, intestinal parasites, gout, allergies, hay fever, hives, multiple sclerosis, and insomnia.
* The historically lengthy claim that fasting increases life span is beginning to garner some support in research literature. Regularly repeated 4-day fasting has been found to increase the life span in normal and immunocompromised mice.
* Although the use of fasting in the treatment of cancer is controversial, there is some emerging data SHOWING that fasting helps prevent cancer. Intermittent fasting (2 days weekly) has shown an inhibitory effect on the development of liver cancer in rats.