Is Fasting Healthy?
Fasting has been practiced for centuries. But can it really help you lose weight and get healthier?
Spiritual and Religious Fasting
Whether fasting can help rid the body of waste buildup is a matter of
controversy. But fasting has been used for religious and spiritual purification
Nearly every religious text you can name, from the Old and New Testaments of
the Bible to the Quran and the Upanishads, calls upon followers to fast
periodically as a rite of spiritual purification, penitence, or preparation for
union with God.
Medical Reasons for Fasting
Another topic on which there is medical agreement is the benefit - actually,
the necessity -- of fasting before surgery.
"You don't want the body to be digesting food as it manages the slower
breathing [and other body changes] under anesthesia," says Fernstrom.
Fasting is also required to get accurate readings for certain medical tests.
Short-term fasting before tests for cholesterol and blood sugar
levels, for example, helps achieve a more accurate baseline count.
Fasting to Treat Disease
Fasting advocates also claim that the practice can effectively treat serious
health conditions, from arthritis and colitis to heart disease and depression.
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."