When we get sick, we trust the guy in the white lab coat behind the counter. Yet as we take over-the-counter prescriptions and other drugs to alleviate our symptoms, we are doing our bodies more harm than good. The chemicals that make these quick fix drugs possible are hard on organs throughout the body, leading to more serious problems in the future. Before pharmaceutical drug companies ruled the world and teamed up with doctors to push their prescriptions on us, we used nature's resources along with our body's natural responses to fight off disease.
Among the many resources lies fasting, which has been used for centuries in various religions, healing practices, and an overall longer lifespan. Fasting benefits the body in its entirety, detoxing all systems, allowing new connections in the brain to take place, and bringing with it a wide range of healing properties. By practicing fasting, you are allowing your body the time to digest to completion, enabling your metabolism to rest and your immune system a boost to fight disease at full force.
When pursuing a holistic approach to healing disease and illness, fasting is the simplest to perform and yet one of the most complex to understand. Science is still catching up to make sense of why exactly it is so beneficial to fast, and why it ties in so fluidly to a holistic approach.
The psychological effects of fasting are substantial, though science is still pursuing a complete understanding as to why. As most health enthusiasts these days understand, what happens in the gut affects the mind and vice versa. If you were to look at the mind while the body was fasting you would see an increase in BDNF, a protein in the brain essential for memory development. This protein affects one's ability to focus, retain information, and make more connections involved with problem solving. Due to the vast improvement of a brain with increased BDNF, the practice of fasting has been one to show increased brain function in those with autism and learning disabilities. Fasting has also proved itself a promising preventative measure in those with higher risks of developing Alzheimer's and dementia. Those that suffer from anxiety disorders may also reap the benefits of a moderate fasting plan due to the lower blood pressure that is associated with fasting. Another theory as to why fasting improves cognitive function is that brain waves are slowed during a fast, allowing overall brain function the proper foundation to normalize.
Regardless of a person's mental or spiritual state, weight loss seems to be the most commonly known benefit of the practice. While weight loss is a great perk all on its own, by no means is it the only positive impact that fasting has on the physical body. When your body is not in the process of digesting, it is able to use more focused energy for restoration purposes. By allowing the body a long enough window of fasting and rest, it is able to amplify the body's natural healing process. So, in theory, the length of a fasting period would be dependent on the severity of the illness a person is trying to heal from.
A person's health status and goals can help determine the right amount of time a fast should be performed. When seeking to heal from a chronic illness, a once monthly fast of 48-72 hours is the most commonly practiced. However, many prefer to perform a fast of 24 hours per week or a daily fast of 16 hours. Some may even find they are capable of a 7 day fast. As long as the fast is practiced along with following a healthy diet on days that food is consumed, positive changes to one's health will take place. In any case, it's highly important to listen to your body's signals during a fast. If you begin to feel light headed, dizzy, and feel faint, it may be your body telling you it needs some nutrients and hinting you should break your fast.
The way you break a fast determines the extent of the benefits you will see, so don’t end a fast with a trip to McDonalds for fries and a shake. Stay away from processed foods at this time to maintain optimum results from the fast. After all, you've just reset your body chemistry and built a new foundation for your nutritional state. This can be challenging, since cravings for anything and everything will cloud your mind. A good way to slowly break your fast would be to consume fruit and veggie smoothies and gradually introduce solid foods back into your diet. Stick to raw fruits, veggies, fermented foods, and very little carbs. It's important to slowly reintroduce meat as it is more difficult for your body to digest and could result in some discomfort.
The healing properties of fasting affect every system throughout the body. As bad cholesterol is lowered and the body's abilities to metabolize sugar is increased, heart health is improved and future heart complications are prevented, which improves the cardiovascular system.
The digestive system reaps the most benefits from fasting. Old matter lining the walls of the intestine are loosened and cleared as the rest of the digestive tract is given the opportunity to self-detox. The process of digestion is improved after a fast since the body has been given the chance to balance insulin levels, allowing carbs and sugars to be more easily broken down. This improved digestion benefits those with digestive tract issues – whether it be food sensitivity, infection, or even irritable bowel diseases like spastic colon.
It's clear that fasting is influential on every cell when looking at the nervous system. Unbalanced psycho-physiological systems are stabilized during a fast and reverted back to a relaxed baseline level, assisting those with mental barriers like ADHD, anxiety, autism and more.
Other afflictions that may be improved via fasting:
- Respiratory diseases (such as asthma)
- Gastrointestinal (GI) secretions
- Adrenal gland imbalances
- Hormonal imbalances
- Fast pulse and high blood pressure
Fasting has held significance for many different religions throughout history. Many have referred to it as "cleansing your soul," seeing it as a tool for spiritual growth. When embarking on an uplifting experience, many that practice spiritual expression take part in fasting. Fasting has shown to play an important role in long meditations, allowing more mental clarity and focus. In fasts that last several days, there have been reports of feeling more self-enlightened, as one would feel during an in-depth meditation practice. With such a heightened sense of awareness, fasting can accentuate the feeling of spiritual wholeness and connectivity.
While the wide array of health properties holds true, fasting in itself seems to act as a reset button, allowing every function throughout the human body an ability to detox, refresh, and stabilize at a more normal rate. To introduce fasting as a holistic health practice would be the calming of the storm in many lives.