April 23

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Does Fasting have any Health Benefits?

By Chris

April 23, 2021


We accumulate several kilo's of waste in our bodies, especially in our intestines. These are mainly fats but also toxins that cannot be easily dissolved by our body. On the one hand, the overconsumption of sugar (in almost all ready-made meals), proteins or empty carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta (which I also love). On the other hand, the lack of vegetables or fruit is not beneficial to our intestinal flora 😉

My approach to fasting

Six years ago, as a result of information gained during my formation as a yoga teacher, I decided to do my first hydric fast (drinking only water or tea). The aim was to:

  • cleanse my body
  • eliminate excess toxins
  • regenerate my immune system

My first fast was strange, but not unpleasant. I allowed myself 5 days. The first two days, I continued to go to work, but with fewer hours of attendance and the last three days I had a long weekend.

It's true that fasting is a bit tiring and my energy levels were dropping day by day. My working days were bearable, my evenings very short and the nights long.

I did not refrain from going for long walks in the fresh air and doing yoga and pranayama (breathing exercises). Physical activity helps the lymphatic system to function properly, among other things (more on this below).

To support the effectiveness and benefits of fasting I chose to do a colon cleanse with warm water, and opted to take :

  • psyllium, a seed that lubricates the intestinal walls;
  • Chlorella, an algae that captures toxic heavy metals such as mercury;
  • probiotics to replenish my intestinal flora.

The benefits of fasting

The body, deprived of food from the outside, must turn to nutrition from within. It will first look for fats and carbohydrates, then lipids and proteins (muscles). At the same time, cells that have stocked toxins will be cleaned and restored to a healthy state.

You can also experience a rush of vitality and well-being. The energy gained from the lack of digestive activities is used to regenerate the body.

The result is an alleviation of symptoms of illnesses such as asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, stomach and intestinal diseases or diabetes. But fasting also has a positive effect on, for example, high cholesterol and cancer, and may even help in the prevention of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Too much of anything... food, fat, alcohol can make the digestion after every meal a real torture for our body. At the end of the day, let's be conscious of the fact that "we are what we eat"! Let's help our body, which will have no trouble with easily digestible food.

Hippocrates said it as long as 2500 years ago:

"Let thy food be thy only medicine."

Accumulation of waste

Digesting food is a chemical process designed to assimilate the nutrients we need to survive. The resulting waste products, when stored in excessive quantities, lead to inflammation of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system has a double function:

  • defence, i.e. immunity against attacks by viruses or bacteria, and
  • the elimination of waste/toxins from the body.

The small intestine is responsible for mixing the food, which is broken down into fine particles, and for absorbing these nutrients, which pass through its wall into the bloodstream. The large intestine then transports the waste, but a large amount of it cannot be reduced and is stored there, often for a very long time...

Specialists estimate that up to 5 kilos of waste is stored in the walls of the intestine. If they are not evacuated quickly enough, they end up rotting. This causes pain. And in the long run various illnesses that will one day become chronic.

To avoid this, eat less, and also more slowly so that the body can communicate the feeling of satiation in time. Learning to listen to your body is a great adventure. Eat as much as you want, not too much or too little and eat foods rich in fibre. Avoid sweets, fat and industrially produced foods. The 1.5 kilograms of bacteria in your gut will be happy to have less work to do.

Introduction to fasting

Fasting is an integral part of all cultures. It is also used as a therapy for (mental) illness, as a detox or for weight loss. The benefits and advantages of fasting are undeniable.

There are different forms of fasting depending on the desired results. All people, regardless of region and culture, have drawn the same conclusions. Already in ancient times, the benefits of abstinence from food were recognised and practised.

And even much earlier, more than 100,000 years ago, fasting was a natural part of life. For our ancestors, especially in winter, food was not available every day. In the animal kingdom, many species are also forced to fast. Large predators do not find enough to satisfy their hunger every day, and injured or sick animals systematically fast. An extreme example is the emperor penguin in the Antarctic, which can fast for 150 days at a time. Humans have a reserve that allows them to survive for at least 30 or 40 days!

Autophagy

In 2016, the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi, for his pioneering work on autophagy, a mechanism that takes place inside cells.

Autophagy is like an alternative source of energy for the cell, used for example during fasting. Clearly, during periods of stress (low blood sugar, intense effort, or lack of oxygen...), the cell generates energy by "burning" its waste products.

Which method of fasting to choose?

There is a multitude of studies and research on the subject of fasting and the method to choose depends on the desired result. For example, for obese people or people with certain diseases, the duration, methods and results of fasting will vary greatly.

5 to 7 days of fasting can already give our body a good rest with a significant purification and detoxification. Beyond that, fasting over a period of several weeks, it is not just recommended but even necessary to be under medical surveillance.

On the other hand, there is intermittent fasting from 12 to 18 hours. We (Karen and I) often do this, as it is easy to do. It is quite effective in keeping the body clean and allows a beginner to experience the first benefits of this method. It is also very suitable for weight loss without the yo-yo effect!

Our method is simple: we have a good breakfast with musli, fruits and nuts, and we eat our main meal between 3 and 5pm. The next meal will be the next day's breakfast at around 9:00 (after our yoga session). This allows us to fast for up to 18 hours.

Beware of dehydration

When fasting, it is absolutely critical to drink enough (water and herbal tea). Let's not forget that our body is made up of at least 60% water and the lymphatic system of more than 90%... Under normal circumstances we should drink regularly to avoid dehydration, when fasting it is even more vital.

"The feeling of hunger is often the body's need for water."

We often confuse hunger for thirst. The hypothalamus, which regulates our needs, manages thirst and hunger in the same way. So if you think you are hungry, you may just be thirsty. Most people eat too much and don't drink enough!

Fasting and Ayurveda

Ayurveda is often regarded as just an alternative medicine. In reality, it is much more and fasting is considered a spiritual experience in Ayurveda. The body is at rest, so the energy is available for the mind to reflect and find itself. It is a time for reading and meditation. According to Ayurveda, good health is earned every day, with the greatest respect for the body and its needs.

In Ayurveda the practice of fasting for several days is not recommended as a regular routine. For example, it is not suitable for Vata constitutions and can aggravate dosha imbalances for all constitutions. Ayurveda recommends doing a liquid day on a weekly basis avoiding all solid foods. Fresh fruit juices and vegetable broths are drunk along with warm water.

This is a different approach that has its purpose. If we learn to listen to and understand our bodies, it is possible to find the right balance between eastern and western methods.

In addition, with a small daily yoga session we can relieve lymphatic congestion by activating the lymphatic flow through inversions or compressions of the abdomen.

Contraindications

I would like to remind you that it is not advisable to start fasting alone in order to lose weight, especially if you suffer from an eating disorder!

It goes without saying that good health is a major prerequisite for individual fasting. Here is a list of the most common contraindications:

  • Anorexia or cachexia (extreme weight loss)
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Advanced liver or kidney failure
  • Decompensated hyperthyroidism
  • Advanced cerebral arteriosclerosis
  • Advanced coronary artery disease
  • Type I diabetes
  • Retinal detachment
  • Stomach or duodenal ulcer
  • Tumour diseases
  • Medicated mental or behavioural disorders
  • In general, any pathology under heavy chemical medication

When in doubt about one's own physical or mental capabilities, it is the responsibility and duty of each individual to seek the advice of a doctor or health professional before undertaking a dietary fasting or detox cure over several days.

Dry fasting

A little known alternative is dry fasting, which is widely practiced in Russia. A slightly more radical and spectacular approach that was developed by Dr. Filonov who is an internationally recognised expert. He accompanies patients on therapeutic dry fasting in the remote Russian province of Altai, but in Europe several institutes offer it. It is a method of healing and cellular purification.

There are advantages, but also dangers in the practice of dry fasting. Without professional guidance, in a well-studied setting to monitor the patient, dry fasting can be really dangerous. 1 day of dry fasting represents about 2 days of hydrated fasting, so it should be undertaken with great caution. It also takes up to 3 months to prepare the body for this food deprivation.

Conclusion

Fasting, done correctly, has only health benefits. I recommend that beginners start with intermittent fasting, because it is easy to do. And above all, take small steps, for example 12 to 14 hours of fasting at the beginning. Get enough rest and as always listen to your body and not that little voice that makes you vulnerable to temptations in the fridge, a piece of cake or chocolate, chips or peanuts.

In the end, it's not too difficult to live a healthy life. You just have to be really aware of the need for change for your health and find a routine. I was lucky enough to find a partner who shares my interest in this kind of purification. Because it is very difficult to fast surrounded by people who are eating, and it is more pleasant and easier when done together.

For those who want to learn more about our digestive system and thus better understand the benefits of fasting, I recommend the book "Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ". It is written with great humour by a young PhD student, Giulia Enders. A very funny, accessible and instructive book that will give you a good insight into the functioning of your digestive system.

Chris

About the author

Chris has been a mainframe programmer for almost 30 years. His interest in health, the body and meditation made him enrol in 2014 in a 2-year yoga teacher training course. His love for yoga began over 20 years ago. He has been starting his days with a series of yoga exercises, breathing and meditation ever since and his passion is to help others on a healthy journey. Since meeting his partner Karen, he has learnt to create websites and reach more audience. Life offers so many possibilities to study new areas, both geographically as well as intellectually, that he’s interested in just about everything. In 2018 he became a digital nomad to discover the world.

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