Fasting, the deprivation or restriction of food, water, or both, for the enhancement of a person’s physical and/ or spiritual health has been practiced all over the world for thousands of years. Personally, I have fasted at different points in my life for a variety of reasons. I strongly believe there is power in intentional fasting, and when planned and executed appropriately, can have profound effects on physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health.
Types of Fasting and Their Physical Health Benefits
There are many varieties when it comes to fasting. Below are descriptions of a few common types.
Intermittent Fast– the abstinence of food for a specific period of time typically ranging from 14 to 18 hours, or a maximum of 36 hours without food. During this time however, water and other non-caloric beverages can be consumed.
Time- Restricted Fast– Abstaining from food for anywhere between 12–16 hours. During your eating window, you can eat as much of your favorite healthy foods as you’d like, according to Dr. Axe.
Alternate Day Fast– Fast every other day with the consumption of only water and non-caloric beverages, but eat foods you normally would on non-fasting day.
Normal Fast – Going without food of any kind for a certain number of days. Plenty of water should be consumed, and depending on the length of the fast, you may also choose to take have clear broth and juices in order to maintain your strength, according to New York Times Best Seller and pastor Jentezen Franklin.
Prolong Fast– Going without food for a period of 48 to 120 hours. Only water and occasional herbal tea should be consumed.
The Daniel Fast (Partial Fast)– A fast based off Daniel’s experiences in the Book of Daniel. Only vegetables, fruits, and anything edible that grows from the ground, and water should be had for 21 days.
Absolute Fast– Consume nothing. No food, no water for very short periods of time. Depending on your health, this fast should be attempted only with medical consultation and supervision, according to Jentezen.
Physical Health Benefits of Fasting
Weight loss is one of the first visible benefits of the types of fasts mentioned above. According to Dr. Axe, a 2015 study found that alternate day fasting, cut down body weight by up to 7 percent and lowered body fat by up to 12 pounds. In addition, this type of fast resulted in reductions in glucose and insulin concentrations.
Brain health also seems to be improved by intermittent fasting as some research indicates. Fasting activates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) protein, which is active at the connections between nerve cells (synapses), where cell-to-cell communication occurs. This protein promotes the survival of nerve cells (neurons) by playing a role in the growth, maturation, and maintenance of these cells. BDNF is also active in the hippocampus, cortex, and forebrain—areas vital to learning, memory, and higher thinking. Click here to learn more about this protein and other natural ways to increase it. Fasting also powers up the Nrf2 cell signaling pathway in the brain, and this combined with the boost of BDNF, according o Dr. Perlmutter leads to enhanced detoxification, reduction of inflammation, and increased production of brain- protective antioxidants.
When it comes to chemotherapy, a 2009 study conducted by colleagues at the University of Southern California tested the role of prolong fasting in reducing the side effects of chemotherapy on the recovery of three male and seven female cancer patients ages ranging from 44 to 78 years old. The types of cancer varied, however all reported a significant reduction in the side effects associated with chemotherapy such as nausea, mucosis, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and weakness, compared to patients who did not fast. The book of Francis R. Umesiri, a medicinal chemist, college professor, and medical writer, titled Fasting for Life: Medical Proof Fasting Reduces Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, and Diabetes, discusses the reasons behind this and goes into further details on the profound benefits fasting has on people with cancer, cardiovascular disease as revealed in the CALERIE study, diabetes, stroke, and memory loss including Alzheimers disease.
In humans, a growing body of literature suggests that fasts such as intermittent fasting can trigger similar biological pathways as caloric restriction. This can have beneficial biological effects including increased circulation and cardiovascular disease protection. Also, long term dietary restriction of about 1 to 3 months has been shown reduce the incidence of cancer over the entire life. However, further concrete and clinical research in humans need to be conducted in this area.
Clearly, fasting can improve overall health of humans and animals including our health span, the time of life in which we are free from disposition to disease. Now let’s discuss how fasting can play a healthy role in our spiritual life.
Anton, Stephen, and Christiaan Leeuwenburgh. “Fasting or Caloric Restriction for Healthy Aging.” Experimental Gerontology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3919445/.
“BDNF Gene.” U.S. NationalLibrary of Medicine, 27 Feb. 2018, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/BDNF.
Cohen, Joe. “All You Need to Know About BDNF and Natural Ways to Increase It.” SELFHACKED, 2015, www.selfhacked.com/blog/a-comprehensive-list-of-natural-ways-to-increase-bdnf/.
Franklin, Jentezen. Fasting. Charisma House, 2008.
Ghezelbash, Philip. “Prolonged Fasting Benefits (48-120 Hours Without Food).” The Stoic Body, 6 Nov. 2017, thestoicbody.com/prolonged-fasting-benefits/.
Munoz, Kissairis. “7 Benefits of Fasting + the Best Types of Fasting.” Dr. Axe, 10 Jan. 2018, draxe.com/benefits-fasting/.
Obesity Research Center. “Can Short-Term Dietary Restriction and Fasting Have a Long-Term Anticarcinogenic Effect?” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17063039.
Patterson, Ruth E., et al. “INTERMITTENT FASTING AND HUMAN METABOLIC HEALTH.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Aug. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516560/.
Perlmutter, David. Grain Brain: the Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers. Little Brown, 2015.
Perlmutter, David. “More Good News About NRF2.” Empowering Neurologist, 2015, www.drperlmutter.com/good-news-nrf2/.
“WHEN LESS IS MORE.” Fasting for Life: Medical Proof Fasting Reduces Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, and Diabetes, by Francis E. Umesiri, books.google.com/books?id=Uh0uCwAAQBAJ&dq=fasting+and+cardiovascular+health+in+humans&source=gbs_navlinks_s.