Is Fasting Healthy?
Fasting has been practiced for centuries. But can it really help you lose weight and get healthier?
Fasting to Treat Disease continued...
In his practice, Fuhrman tells WebMD, he has seen fasting -- combined with
improving the diet before and afterward -- eliminate lupus, arthritis and
chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. He says he has also
seen fasting heal the digestive tracts of those with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's
disease, and lower blood pressure.
"Fasting followed by a vegetarian diet interferes
with the immune system's activities, especially if the immune system is
overreacting, as it does with ," and other auto-immune
diseases, he says. He cites half a dozen studies published in medical journals
ranging from the American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism to the Scandinavian
Journal of Rheumatology.
Studies published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and
The Journal of Nutrition in 2003 showed that mice forced to fast every other
day, while eating twice the normal amount of food on non-fasting days, had
better insulin control, neuronal resistance to injury, and other health
indicators than mice fed calorie-restricted diets.
Fasting may yield psychological benefits as well.
"I use very brief fasting with my patients to help them cope with stress and depression," says Agnese Barolo, a life
coach in contemplative practices in New Rochelle, N.Y. "I start them with
just a few hours â so they learn to say no to food. Itâs the first step in
taking control of their lives."
Many are so encouraged that they try longer fasts, she says.
"I know some doctors say there is no scientific evidence for the
curative powers of fasting," Barolo says. "But there is a reason every
culture in every country has practiced some form of fasting for thousands of
Fasting is not advisable for everyone. But for those whose medical
conditions do not respond to other treatments, Fuhrman says, "sometimes
fasting four to five days a month can help them break to a next level of immune
He adds that "it will only work if you frame the fast with good
nutrition before and after. For most medical conditions, if you stick to a
strict diet, you donât even need fasting."
Fuhrman cautions that certain people should not fast, including:
- Pregnant women.
- People with wasting diseases or malnutrition.
- Those with a history of cardiac arrhythmias.
- People with hepatic or renal insufficiency.
And anyone who fasts for extended periods should do so only under close
Fasting for Longer Life
"There are hundreds of studies showing that when animals are fed
fewer calories they live longer," says Fuhrman.
Studies on animals ranging from earthworms to monkeys have shown that
alternating cycles of fasting and very calorie-restricted diets is a reliable
way to extend the lifespan.
"The excess calories Americans eat shorten their lives," says
If you want to live longer, Fuhrman's best advice is to "eat healthy and
The time may come," Fuhrman says, "when not offering this
substantially more effective nutritional approach will be considered