While eating is necessary for maintaining good health, infrequent refrain from eating and drinking can also do some good for the body. Several studies have also shown that fasting can help in alleviating several health conditions if done properly.
That being said, let us take a look at what fasting entails before going on to look at some of the benefits of fasting to the body.
What is fasting?
Fasting is the abstinence from foods and/or drinks for a period of time, usually lasting for some days. While it more common in religious circles, fasting is also done for medical reasons. The abstinence can be from a particular type of food or complete refrain from all foods.
Health benefits of fasting
You can derive some health benefits from fasting if done appropriately. Some of these benefits include:
- Detoxifies The Body
Abstaining from food for some days is a good way of detoxifying the body. Harmful chemical substances in the body can affect the proper working of the body organs; getting rid of these toxins will help to keep the body in good shape.
- Promotes wound healing.
Contrary to what you may think, fasting can help in promoting the healing process of a wound. Although the underlying chemical process behind this is still to be understood, fasting does, however, help in fastening the wound-healing process.
- For reduction of stress.
While some little and short-term stress can benefit the body, long-term stress is definitely unhealthy. By lowering the insulin levels in the body, the risk of oxidative stress which is as a result of free radicals is reduced.
- For protecting the brain.
The effects of aging on the brain can be reduced by fasting. The process of abstaining from foods can benefit the brain by protecting it. Brain-related diseases can be prevented by sporadic fasting.
- For treating diabetes.
The symptoms of diabetes such as hyperglycemia (abnormally high blood sugar level) can benefit from fasting. Research proves that the blood sugar levels reduce during the initial stages of fasting, but normalizes as the fasting continues.
- Weight loss.
Studies have shown that timed fasting can be a healthy way of losing weight. This is because of the fact that the body burns excess fat in an efficient way or more simply, the body makes use of stored fat to provide energy during fasting.
- For lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
Bad cholesterol levels and blood triglycerides are effectively reduced when the body is starved of food.
- Immune system protection for cancer patients.
Certain hormones in the body promote the growth of cancer cells; the withdrawal from eating for a specific period can reduce the production of these hormones. In addition, chemotherapy patients can find fasting helpful as there is a reduced risk of cancer cell growth due to high caloric content.
- Prevent Production Of Free Radicals
Some foods like dairy and refined sugar can lead to inflammations in the body due to the release of free radicals from the consumption of the foods. Apart from the effect of these foods, free radicals can also result from chemical reactions in the body caused by hormonal imbalance. Fasting can help in reducing the effect of hormones as well as preventing the production of free radicals from foods.
- For lowering blood pressure.
Abstaining from foods such as salt can help in lowering the blood pressure. This is true because hypertension patients are advised to abstain from too much salt which can increase the blood pressure.
- For cardiovascular health.
Fasting helps to improve cardiovascular health by promoting proper blood circulation as well as to regulate blood pressure. This ultimately leads to the reduced risk of heart-related diseases. In addition, fasting helps to promote the development of veins and arteries around the heart as well as in reducing the risk of damage due to free radicals.
- Improves metabolism.
Fasting helps to correct improper digestion, which can affect body metabolism. Intermittently refraining from food is a good way of controlling digestion problems and for improving body metabolism.
- Fasting is sometimes recommended before and after surgery.
Fasting for a short period of time like between 3 to 8 hours can help in preparing the body for surgery.
- For treating arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that is marked by painful sensation around the affected areas. Medical research has shown that supervised fasting can help in the treatment of this type of arthritis. A word of caution though: you will need to feed on vegetables after you end your fast.
- Restoration of tissues.
During fasting the body metabolism is reduced, cell reprocessing is promoted, tissue degeneration is also reduced. This means that worn out body tissues will be repaired, leading to a rejuvenation of the body.
- For maintaining body fitness.
Athletes have been known to fast for the purpose of keeping fit. Fasting helps to promote weight loss as already stated, and leads to a good body composition.
- To stop food cravings.
Food cravings can be controlled by staying away from food for some time. Although it might not be easy at first, with time it becomes less difficult and you reap the benefits afterward.
- Treatment for pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis refers to the inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a vital organ in the body that is responsible for the production of hormones including insulin. When the pancreas is not functioning properly, it can affect the entire body. Pancreatic can be treated by fasting.
- Fasting helps to increase hunger.
In contrast to the last point, starving the body of food for long hours actually helps to increase hunger.
- For treatment of epilepsy.
Epileptics can also benefit from fasting. There are recent studies that lay credence to this claim.
- For cell reprocessing.
Under performing cells and tissues in the body can be killed through fasting to make way for the optimally performing ones. This is because of the fact that fasting helps to protect the healthy cells while the unhealthy ones cannot stand the starvation.
- Promotes insulin sensitivity.
Persons with insulin resistance can benefit from fasting as it helps to improve the sensitivity of insulin. Fasting helps by stimulating the release of low amounts of insulin due to the fact that the body is not getting enough sugar.
- For long life.
As the body ages, the metabolic rate tends to slow down; this is the reason why we consume more food when we are young. Research results have shown that there is a relationship between what much we eat and how long we’ll live. So, if you want to live longer you should consider fasting.
- Fasting is good for the intestines.
Aging affects many parts of the body including the intestines. Fasting helps to repair the effects of aging on the intestine by stimulating the synthesis of fatty acids in lieu of glucose.
- Promotes the production of growth hormones.
It has been observed that the production of growth hormones is increased during fasting.
- Fasting is good for the skin.
Skin problems such as acne can be effectively treated by fasting. This is because some of the free radicals that cause these problems are found in foods. Staying away from foods is an easy method of avoiding the release of these free radicals.
Risks and side effects of fasting
While there are many health benefits that the body can derive from fasting when done properly. Nevertheless, there are health risks that are linked to fasting.
- Low blood sugar or hyperglycemia.
Since fasting can help to lower the blood sugar level in the body, it can lead to hyperglycemia if done excessively and without proper monitoring. It is advised that diabetes patients should consult with a doctor before and during fasting.
- Acid reflux.
Fasting may increase the risk of acid reflux, which is the backflow of stomach acids in the body. Acid reflux can cause heartburn which is a burning sensation in the chest.
- The risk of dehydration.
The body tends to lose more water during fasting especially if it is a dry fasting (no food and water). Hence, it is recommended that you drink water while on a fast if you are prone to fast dehydration.
- Starvation can lead to headaches.
When you have headaches during fasting it is advised that you drink fluids and eat healthy foods to remedy the situation.
That said, the following groups of people are advised not to fast as their conditions can become aggravated when they do: pregnant and breastfeeding women, people suffering from gout, terminal cancer patients, cardiac arrhythmia patients, and those dealing with malnutrition.
Fasting is a simple and safe way of dealing with many health problems. Perhaps, the most important advantage of fasting is the detoxification of the body. Nonetheless, it is strongly recommended that you seek medical advice from your doctor before going on a fast as there might be health risks.
Finally, because someone is fasting for 4 hours a day for 7 days doesn’t mean that you should do exactly the same. We all have different bodies which function quite differently, hence, you need to understand your body to know what works for you.