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Fasting and Weight Loss continued...

Even worse for dieters is that fasting for weight loss "distracts people from the real message of how to lose weight: lower fat intake, eat five fruits and vegetables a day, drink water and stop drinking other liquids, walk 30 minutes a day, and get more sleep," says Fernstrom, an associate professor of psychiatry, epidemiology, and surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In addition, other practices that are often combined with fasting for weight loss, such as colon cleansing, carry their own risks.

"Fasts are sometimes accompanied with enemas to cleanse your intestinal tract, and that can be very dangerous," says Fernstrom. "The intestinal tract has a lot of good bacteria. When you are changing that balance, the good bacteria are affected, too."

Does Fasting Detoxify the Body?

Here's where the debate gets intense.

"There is no scientific evidence it will detox the body. The issue of fasting to cleanse the body has no biological basis because the body is real good at that by itself," says Fernstrom. "The liver is a natural detox center; the lungs, the colon, the kidneys, [the lymph glands] and the skin get rid of toxins."

But Fuhrman, who has supervised hundreds of patients' fasts for medicinal purposes, disagrees.

"We know that the body is unable to rid itself of toxins when we eat a diet low in nutrients," and that applies to most Americans, even those who think they are healthy, he says.

"Americans eat 51% of their diet from processed foods and foods low in phytochemicals and antioxidants," he says. "So you see a buildup of waste products in the cells -- AGE, advanced glycation end products -- that build up in cellular tissues and lead to atherosclerosis, aging, diabetes, nerve damage, and the deterioration of organs. This is basic science and physiology every doctor learns in medical school."

Along with improving your overall diet, fasting is one solution to that buildup of AGE, according to advocates like Fuhrman.

"Fasting allows the body to most effectively remove these waste products," he says. "The body is designed to fast; we do it every night."

How does fasting remove toxins from the body? When you go without eating for more than a day or two, the body enters into ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body runs out of carbohydrates to burn for energy, so it burns fat.

"And the fat is where the body stores many of the toxins it absorbs from the environment," Fuhrman says.

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