To most of us, fasting is a spiritual exercise; but it is more than that. The concept of therapeutic fasting is not new. The early great philosophers, thinkers, and healers used fasting for health.
Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Galen all praised the benefits of fasting. Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine, is quoted as saying, “Fasting is the greatest remedy – the physician within.”
Unfortunately, as time went on, fasting as a modality to heal became obsolete as pill popping became the modality of treatment.
However, a small number of medical professionals kept up with its use and today, we are learning of its vast benefits and, in particular, how it works on a cellular level.
Fasting works because the body has the capacity to heal itself and when the process of digestion stops; healing is accelerated.
Although fasting is a powerful healing modality that has been used for many years, only recent research studies are uncovering specifically how fasting works on a cellular level. These new studies are generating more interest in fasting.
To understand how fasting works, you first need to know that our bodies store sugar in the form of glycogen and when we stop eating, the stored glycogen is used by the body.
Fasting, after glycogen stores are depleted which occurs during the first 24-48 hours of a fast, sets off complex biochemical pathways in the body that aim to conserve energy while adequately fueling vital organs. These complex biochemical pathways have tremendous healing benefits.
Although you may not be aware of it, chances are you are familiar with medical fasting. Abstaining from food is frequently a requirement for contemporary medical procedures such as cholesterol screenings, blood sugar checks and major surgeries.
Fasting in medicine serves a very specific purpose. Eating before a blood test, for example, may interfere with the test results until your body can completely digest the food you consume. Because cholesterol and other blood tests check the level of fat in your blood, the food you eat and the resulting fat it adds to your blood stream can produce misleading test results.
Types of fasting
Water fasting involves drinking only water for a set amount of time.
Juice fasting entails drinking vegetable juice or fresh fruit juice for a certain period. Intermittent fasting is partial or complete restriction of food for a few hours up to a few days at a time and a normal diet is resumed on other days.
Partial fasting involves eliminating certain foods or drinks such as processed foods, animal products or caffeine from your diet for a set period. Fasting may yield psychological benefits as well. “I use very brief fasting with my patients to help them cope with stress and depression,” says Agnese Barolo, a life coach in contemplative practices in New Rochelle, New York.
“I start them with just a few hours a day, so they learn to say no to food. It is the first step in taking control of their lives.” Many are so encouraged that they try longer fasts, she says.