For those who can tolerate it, fasting may be the best means of detoxification. Fasting is drinking only water for an extended period of time.
One of the oldest known medical treatments for cleansing the body, fasting is also used for healing a variety of ailments.
Naturopaths are some of the most vigorous supporters of fasting, believing that the primary cause of physiological and emotional disease is accumulation of collected wastes and blockages.
During a fast, clean water is essential to prevent dehydration and flush waste out of the body. Fasts can range in duration from a day to 30 days or more to treat serious illnesses. Beginners should always fast with medical supervision in order to carefully monitor electrolytes, blood pressure and other factors that could indicate that the fast be broken. An hour-and-a-half massage is very beneficial each afternoon of the fast. Meditation and short walks are also helpful for relaxation. Benefits of a typical 7-day fast can include:
- Elimination of excess weight
- Elimination of approximately 5 to 10 pounds of toxic chemicals trapped in the average adult’s cell, tissue and organ storage areas
- Regaining the energy and feeling of youth
- Heightened consciousness and increased mental clarity
- Enhanced and deepened spirituality and faith
Fasting and Illness
As fasting has become more and more popular, science has extensively researched the benefits. Studies have shown fasting to be beneficial for attenuating hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Other research has indicated that fasting improves the immune system and overall health.
A 2007 study by Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah looked at the fasting habits of Mormons who followed a strict practice of fasting for one day each month. Researchers x-rayed the blood vessels of the Mormon’s hearts and determined that fasting for just one day a month gave the Mormon’s healthier heart arteries. According to the authors, people who fast receive a heart-protective benefit that can help stave off a heart attack.
The researchers determined that fasting allows the arteries to become sensitized to insulin-producing cells, which are desensitized when a person develops pre-diabetes (or diabetes) and therefore can’t process food as efficiently. Refraining from eating for even 24 hours helps by removing the body’s exposure to glucose, giving the heart’s arteries a rest, and allowing them to re-set. Because diabetes is closely linked with psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance-related disorders, cognitive impairment, and dementia. this research has significant mental heath implications as well.
Fasting and Mental Health
Fasting has been shown to alleviate symptoms of mental illness where conventional treatments have had limited or no results. In a major clinical trial conducted in Japan, fasting therapy proved 87% effective in curing or ameliorating a wide variety of psychosomatic and mental diseases. The study, which involved 382 patients who underwent a complete fast for 10 days, determined that fasting improves the ability to adapt to external stress and frustration.
In some studies, fasting has been shown to alleviate a number of diagnosable mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression and neurosis. Fasting is contraindicated in some psychiatric conditions, such as anyone with a history of anorexia nervosa. It may be inappropriate for people with other eating disorders, although it can be a useful psychological intervention for bulimia nervosa and binge eating in some individuals.
Russian researchers have successfully used therapeutic fasting to treat schizophrenia. In 1972, Yuri Nikolayev, director of the fasting unit of the Moscow Psychiatric Institute, used fasting to successfully treat over 6,000 patients who suffered from various mental disorders including schizophrenia. About 70% of the schizophrenics Nikolayev treated with fasting improved so remarkably that they were able to resume an active life. Fasting as a treatment for schizophrenia is discussed further in the upcoming chapter on schizophrenia.