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Fasting–Are There Health Benefits?

Clock on dinner plate.

“Fad fasts” require more research before you jump in–talk to a professional to make sure a fast is right for you and carried out correctly.

Many chiropractors and other integrative health practitioners suggest fasting from time to time as a means to cleanse the body and rid it of toxins so it functions better. Critics of fasting say that it imposes too much stress on the body, starving the body of nutrients and proper sleep is all we need for properly cleansing. So…whom do we believe?

A New Fad?

Fasting is not a new fad and has actually been practiced for centuries, for both religious and therapeutic reasons.

Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from all substances, except pure water, for a certain period of time.

Many associate fasting with extreme durations of time without food, but it can be implemented in a time period as little as 12 hours. There are many ways to perform a fast. Some fast daily with having an “eating window”, while some fasts are performed for longer periods of time, such as 1-3 water fasts (sometimes for religious reasons).

Intermittent fasting, or having a shortened “eating window” per day, has gained popularity recently, promoting health benefits but also as a weight loss technique.

Benefits associated with fasting include:

  • Provides the digestive system with a rest from its daily activities; digestion takes a lot of the body’s energy!
  • Cleanses the body by eliminating harmful toxins
  • Allows the body a period of rest for meditation and spiritual development
  • Reduces insulin and balances glucose levels
  • Improves Insulin Sensitivity and decreases risk for Diabetes
  • Decreases brain fog and improves mental clarity
  • Helps for weight loss, especially with belly fat
  • Reduces Inflammation and supports Detoxification

Where to Start

Mark Hyman, Chief M.D. at the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, shares his recommendations about fasting:

“There are actually many styles of fasting with different timing, which can make (fasting) a much more approachable practice than you might think. In fact, many of you are probably already fasting without even realizing it.

The most basic kind of fast is the break taken between dinner and breakfast. Fasting during this time, which usually falls between 12 and 14 hours, falls into line with our natural circadian rhythms of when the sun is up or down.

The term intermittent fasting can describe multiple timetables for eating.

A 5:2 approach means eating only about 25% of caloric needs during two separate days each week.

A 16:8 approach is technically known as time restricted eating, which is a form of intermittent fasting and means extending your nightly fast, taking 16 hours between dinner and breakfast, which many people feel good doing several days a week.

One important caveat of fasting is that when you do eat, you still need to eat well.

Fasting and then bingeing on ice cream and french fries is not going to get you anywhere. The same dietary guidelines I’m always sharing—eat real food, tons of non-starchy colorful veggies, healthy fats, high-quality protein, etc.—are an amazing complement to any fasting regime.”

Healthy for All?

It is important to mention that fasting is not for everyone. Fasting is not advised for pregnant or nursing women, those with a life-threatening illness (cancer, AIDS), and those with diabetes or liver disease. Furthermore, individuals on prescription medications need to check with their doctors prior to initiating a fast.

Studies conducted by Mark P. Mattson at the U.S. National Institute on Aging on mice concluded that fasting has beneficial effects on the aging process as well. Mattson said an earlier study found that mice that fasted every other day had extended life spans and a new experiment found the mice also did better in factors involved in diabetes and nerve damage in the brain similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Apparently, the cells of the body respond to fasting by increasing their ability to handle even more stress, responding with an attitude of “that which does not kill us makes us stronger!”

How We Can Help

Find out more and get your questions answered by scheduling an appointment with Dr. Senz to discuss your health goals and to see if fasting is a healthy option for you.

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