Fasting is defined as abstinence from all food and drink apart from water for a limited period of time to maintain or improve health, or treat a specific illness. Juice fasting, a popular variation, is abstinence from all food and drink except water, vegetable juices and fruit juices. A modified fast includes small amounts of solid food, usually raw fruits as well as raw and steamed vegetables. Some advocates of fasting include other modifications as well, such as vegetable broth, herbal teas and nutritional supplements. Most of the research into the therapeutic value of fasting has explored the ‘only water’ method.
A short fast, lasting from one to three days, can generally be tolerated by most people. An extended fast like more than three days should be supervised by a doctor, preferably one trained in fasting therapy.
Fasting has been known since ancient times. In fact, there are references to it in the Bible, the Koran and ancient Indian, Chinese and Greek medical texts. Historically, people have fasted as part of religious rituals, as a way of expressing grief, and as part of political protests. Fasting to benefit health is a relatively new practice and is generally undertaken only in prosperous Western societies.
Published research into therapeutic fasting first appeared in the late nineteenth century. Since that time articles have appeared in conventional medical journals in both the United States and Europe showing the positive results of supervised fasting in treating various diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, skin disease, gastrointestinal disease, arthritis and allergies. How fasting positively affects these diseases and what its long-term effects are, depends on the ailment. If anyone has a chronic medical problem and is interested in the benefits of fasting as a therapeutic modality specific to the condition, the best bet is to locate a nutritionally oriented physician or naturopath with some experience in the field.
There is very little published evidence that fasting has any value for a healthy individual. Even so, practitioners of naturopathic medicine regularly recommend fasting as the therapeutic tool for internal cleansing, otherwise known as detoxification. Periodic fasting, naturopaths believe, helps overworked systems like the gastrointestinal tract, skin, liver, and kidneys remove potentially damaging toxins from the body.
A naturopathic definition of what constitutes a ‘toxin’ vastly exceeds that of conventional medicine. While both camps tend to agree that certain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and chemical compounds like pesticides, herbicides, solvents are toxic, naturopaths expand the list to include food additives, many commonly prescribed drugs, cigarettes, recreational drugs and alcohol. Substances produced by bacteria-induced chemical reactions in the intestine.
In addition to using fasting for cleansing purposes, many healthy individuals find it a useful way of weaning themselves off of unhealthy foods. A fast of no more than three days can be used to launch a healthier diet for example, changing to a vegetarian diet from a meat-based regimen.
A fast can also be an effective way to begin a low calorie diet, a signal to the body that it is altering the way you eat. The hunger produced from a fast can lead some people to splurge afterward. The ‘to and fro’ effect of fasting and binging can slow down metabolism, making it harder to lose weight in the long run.