Fasting has gained popularity in recent years, particularly in relation to weight loss regimes. However, fasts have been used since ancient times for their benefits to body, mind and spirit. Muslims fast from dawn until dusk during Ramadan. Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus traditionally fasted on designated days throughout the year as a way to purify the body, atone for sins or draw closer to God.
Current research is finding significant improve-ments in a wide range of health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory joint diseases, allergies, cognitive impairment and type two diabetes, to name but a few. Leaky gut and imbalanced gut flora benefit enormously from regular fasting; also, the immune system which is so closely linked to gut health can be stimulated in this way.
Fasting allows the digestion a rest, during which time the systems undergo a re-set; a little like switching off and re-starting a computer that has crashed. It’s one of the simplest pieces of advice, but in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle practices it is one of the most effective.
Benefits for the Gut
- Heal the gut lining1 – Bloating, griping, and alternating diarrhoea and constipation on a regular basis are signs that the gut lining is compromised. Fasting tightens and tones the junction cells which become overly porous in leaky gut. Inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis as well as more generalised autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis are thought to be related to leaky gut.
- Positively influence the balance of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Cleanse the digestive system getting rid of harmful toxins and improving the functions of the digestive organs.
- Regulate the appetite, restore the taste buds to appreciate flavours of healthy foods and improve insulin sensitivity.
Benefits for The Immune System
- Stimulates the breakdown of non-essential and damaged immune cells.
- Increases the function of natural killer cells, monocytes and other immune cells.
- Triggers stem cell-based regeneration of new immune cells
Fasting for protection from Covid and mutating viral strains
A dysfunctional immune response is thought to be a factor in severe cases of covid19. Autophagy is a process in the body in which old or damaged cell parts are broken down and recycled. This mechanism is triggered by fasting and is critical for the regulation of the immune response; when autophagy is impaired viruses are able to replicate far more effectively. In a Science Direct article by MD. Abdul Hannan and his associates, intermittent fasting is suggested as a tool for enhancing defence against the virus that causes Covid192.
How to Water Fast Successfully
There are many ways to fast. A water fast involves the complete cessation of eating for a set period of time, during which only water or herbal teas are consumed. A 24-36 hour fast can be completed relatively easily by most people. A 3-10 day fast requires more planning and should be undertaken under the guidance of a health care professional.
Planning a fast well is the key to an easeful and enjoyable fasting experience. Decide in advance when to do the fast, for how many days and how you will break the fast. Obtain all necessary ingredients in readiness. When you become more experienced with fasting you can adapt the structure to suit your own preferences but initially it is advisable to follow the guidelines outlined below.
Take time off: During a fast you may feel more sensitive and vulnerable than usual so choose to do the fast at a time when you have no other commitments or responsibilities. Your plan for the day should focus on nourishing yourself through gentle restorative and restful activities. Do some gentle yoga and breathing exercises, take a bath and read a good book, make time for meditation. You could take a stroll in nature and spend quiet time with loved ones. Keep a journal in which you can write any thoughts, experiences or emotions that arise. If possible don’t answer emails! Allow yourself a retreat space and let people know that you will be out of contact for the duration. This can feel like a treat, not deprivation!
Build up to and wind down from the fast: A cleansing diet prior to a fast is very important as it allows the body to adjust gradually so that you are less likely to get unpleasant withdrawal symptoms during your fast. It also allows you to hone your skills in healthy cooking and experiment with recipes that you can use when back to your usual routine. Eat plenty of vegetable-based meals, avoiding dairy, wheat, meat, sugar, deep fried foods and caffeine. After the fast it is just as important to eat carefully, re-establishing a healthy gut microbiota through positive food choices. Ideally break your fast with a fresh vegetable juice diluted with 50% warm water. Other suitable meals on the first day of breaking your fast include vegetable broth made with a little added miso, steamed vegetables and fresh fruit. Chew well and eat slowly as you allow your digestive enzymes to start working once more.
The time spent on a cleansing diet depends on the length of the fast – allow at least one day of cleansing either side of a one day fast, three days of cleansing either side of a three day fast.
Drink plenty of warm water: You will need to drink a little more water than usual during the fast, around 3 litres for a well-built frame or 2.2 litres for a more petite person. Ensure it is filter-ed or distilled water and drink it warm as this encourages the release of toxins and puts fewer demands on the body. Sip throughout the day and whenever you feel hungry or thirsty.
Test run: See how your body reacts to a 24 hour fast before attempting a longer fast.
For Herbs to support fasting see the ‘Posts’ section on our website.
What to expect during fasting
Many people feel light, bright and clearer think-ing whilst fasting. Hunger may come and go but is usually less of an issue than people expect. Relatively common symptoms of detoxification can also include dizziness, fatigue, blurred vision, weakness, back pain, tight muscles, leth-argy, mild headaches, coated tongue and bad breath.
What to expect after a fast
Following the fast a taste for healthier food may be re-established. Skin may be clearer, eyes brighter, energy levels and vitality increased. For shorter fasts healing of the gut is more apparent. For longer fasts, old injuries may heal and chronic conditions begin to resolve. Don’t hold onto expectations about what you want to achieve – the body will organise its own healing at its own rate.
When to break a fast early
If you experience any extreme reactions when fasting, then break the fast and consult a natural health professional for advice before continuing. Irregular heart rate and mental con-fusion are signs of low potassium levels and the fast should be broken immediately.
Fasting is not suitable if you are pregnant or nursing, for children or the elderly, those with poor kidney function or who have suffered with anorexia. Anyone with health conditions or taking medication should seek medical advice before fasting.
The Herbal Clinic, 32 King Edward Road, Swansea SA1 4LL MEILYR JAMES BSc(Hons) DBTh DAcu AcuC Dir MGNI Registered Medical Herbalist, Iridologist & Acupuncturist
T: 01792 474356 W: herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk E: email@example.com
- Beate Ott et al. Effect of caloric restriction on gut permeability, inflammation markers, and fecal microbiota in obese women. Sci Rep 2017; 7: 11955. 2. Md. Abdul Hannan et al. Intermittent fasting, a possible priming tool for host defense against SARS-CoV-2 infection: Crosstalk among calorie restriction, autophagy and immune response. Immunol letters. 2020 Oct; 226: 38–45