Fasting is voluntarily limiting or cutting off completely your food or liquid intake (not including water) for a specific period of time. It may also be intermittent, meaning you only restrict a particular kind of food or limiting calorie consumption. In the last decades, numerous studies suggest that fasting from time to time may be beneficial to you. It provides many health benefits but it’s popularly known for its weight loss effects.
Fasting basically limits calorie intake, in effect, it forces the body to burn stored fats in the body for energy instead. It also allows the body to flush out toxins in the body. However, if conducted improperly it may lead to health problems. Before incorporating fasting in your daily routine, be sure to consult a health professional first.
Other reasons to fast may include as part of medical recommendations by a doctor or impending medical procedures like colonoscopy or surgery.
Religious Perspectives on Fasting
Fasting is in practice since the Biblical times; however, this practice isn’t exclusive to the Christian faith and Judaism but also to other religious sectors like Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism—it’s primarily an expression of devotion to God or god(s). The following are a few religious sectors and their own views on fasting:
Fasting is eminent in most Christian churches since this is how Jesus showed His love to God—when He fasted for forty days in the wilderness. It’s usually practiced during church occasions, for instance, some Christians celebrate the Lenten season by fasting. This includes the Roman Catholics, Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, Methodists Church, and Reformed Churches. This practice is usually observed by most communicants of the church by partially fasting for forty-days to memorialize Jesus’ fasting and triumph over temptation in the desert.
While some Christians still observe fasting as a whole, today, most denominations promote Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as the normal day of fasting.
Other denominations like the Seventh-day Adventist observe fasting differently. Some churches within the sect observe fasting for two days once every quarter.
Buddhists observe fasting during periods of intensive meditations. In these times, they don’t eat any meat-based products though they are allowed to drink milk. They also avoid consuming the five pungent foods which include leeks, garlic, welsh onion, garlic chives, and asana.
Buddhist monks also follow a rule called the Vinaya which requires them to refrain eating after the daily noon meal. Though, this is more of a disciplinary routine than fasting. It’s believed to help them meditate and maintain good health.
It’s also commonly known as Sawm or Ruzeh, which is observed during the Ramadan (Islamic holy month). Observance starts at dawn (Fajr) until sunset (Maghrib) when adhan is broadcasted. Muslim’s usually refrain from meat-based products, drinks (except water), sex, and smoking.
For Muslims, it helps them strengthen their perseverance, reflect on God’s love, and develop greater empathy towards others’ suffering.
According to their teachings, anyone is exempt from fasting during Ramadan when a person is ill and cannot afford to miss meals. Anyone is also exempt if the person is traveling. Individuals who missed fasting are required to make up for next month if he has the ability to do so and a payment called Fidyah may also be necessary.
Reasons to Fast Aside Weight Loss
Fasting is popularly known because of its weight loss effects. Though, it may also provide other health benefits like lowering cholesterol levels and blood sugars.
Early experiments were conducted on rodents and showed significant improvements in terms of blood and cholesterol levels. In recent years, it was tested on human volunteers. Results show promising results, aside from weight loss, the same improvements observe on rodents were also present in human volunteers.
Here are a few of the other health benefits of fasting:
Improves blood sugar level
Some studies have shown that fasting occasionally may improve individuals’ blood sugar level by reducing insulin resistance of the body. It reduces the risk of diabetes and could be especially helpful to people with ongoing symptoms of diabetes.
When insulin resistance is reduced, it will cause an increase in insulin sensitivity. Thus, it enables the body to efficiently distribute glucose to the bloodstream and then to the cells.
In one research, ten volunteers with type-2 diabetes were exposed to short-term fasting and showed a significant decrease in blood sugar levels. In another study, they suggest that by practicing either alternate-day fasting or intermittent fasting regularly; it may as effectively decrease insulin resistance as limiting calorie consumption.
In addition, other studies also suggest that the effects of fasting may react differently depending on gender. In a three week study of fasting effects, researchers observed that blood sugar management in women practicing alternate-day fasting was impaired. Meanwhile, it showed no effects on men.
Improve overall heart condition
Heart complication is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In fact, according to statistics, about thirty percent of deaths worldwide can be attributed to heart diseases. Most health professionals agree that one way to prevent and treat heart complications is a change in lifestyle.
Heart disease is primarily caused by high cholesterol levels and since fasting is known to burn fats, scientists suggest that by practicing it regularly may help lower cholesterols in your body.
In one study, volunteers were exposed to eight-week alternate-day fasting. They observed that participants significantly reduced blood triglycerides by an estimate of thirty percent, while bad cholesterols by an estimate of twenty-five percent.
Another study was conducted on a hundred obese participants that conducted fasting for about three weeks. They observed that participants have significantly reduced bad cholesterols, blood triglycerides, and improved blood pressure.
Improve cognitive ability and prevent the risk of neurodegenerative diseases
Studies on this topic are inconclusive, but it shows promising results. Of those studies, it suggests that occasional fasting may help improve brain activities.
In one study conducted on mice, it revealed that the mice exposed to an eleven period of fasting improved their brain structure and cognitive function. In another research, it shows that intermittent fasting may prevent any cognitive-related disorders and promote regeneration of nerve cells essential in overall brain function.
Cancer prevention and aid chemotherapy effectivity
In a study conducted on rodents, it indicates that fasting regularly may hinder cancer development. In addition to this study, scientists also observed that aside from preventing the development of cancer-causing tumors, it may as well aide effectivity of chemotherapy.
However, studies on fasting as part of cancer treatment are limited and provide inconclusive results. Though it shows promising results it still needs extensive studies to validate research claims.
One study conducted on fifty adults that were practicing intermittent fasting for one month showed that levels of inflammatory-causing compounds were reduced significantly. In a different study, a group of healthy participants was put into a fasting practice for twelve hours a day in one full month. After one month, they also showed a lowered level of inflammatory markers.