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Benefits of fasting and side effects

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Discover the benefits of fasting and its side effects.

What is fasting?

Fasting is arguably one of the oldest approaches to self-healing. In this sheet, you will discover what fasting consists of, its principles, the different types of fasting, the history and benefits of fasting, and finally, how to practice it.

Even in the wild, animals instinctively stop eating when they are sick or injured. Complete fasting consists of abstaining from all food (solid and liquid), except for water, for a more or less long period to rest, detoxify and regenerate the body.

According to its advocates, fasting contributes to the maintenance of good health, in the same way as healthy eating, physical exercise, and emotional balance.

The main principles of fasting

Fasting is above all a means of detoxifying the body. It allows the digestive system to rest and other organs to purge through the elimination of toxins and bad fats.

Thus, people who undertake a fast usually do so to “clean up” or give the body optimal conditions for healing.


It has always been associated with spiritual or religious practices. It would also provide a feeling of clarity of mind and “mental decluttering”.Benefits of fasting and side effects


Full fast or partial fast

Although the term “fast” is loosely used to encompass several types of cures and fasts, it is important to make a distinction between complete fasting and cures.

During a truly fast, only water is permitted and complete rest is recommended. The cure (or partial fast) is instead based on various restricted diets including fruit, vegetable, or wheatgrass juices, and sometimes certain other nutrients (cereals, sprouts, infusions, broths, food supplements, etc.).

These cures, which are often intended to be therapeutic, can be adapted to the specific needs of fasters and vary according to the approach of those involved.

They are suitable for people who have special needs, who cannot, due to their health, live a complete fast, or who wish to learn about fasting with a gentler approach.

Benefits of fasting

Several types of research aimed at determining the efficacy and safety of complete fasting, alone or in combination with another treatment, have reported positive results in treating a variety of conditions.


However, even if the authors conclude that it could be an interesting complementary treatment, they generally specify that additional studies will be necessary to validate its effectiveness. Here are some benefits of fasting:

1. Benefits of fasting for chronic pain

An observational study published in 2005 assessed the feasibility and effectiveness of integrating fasting therapy in 2,121 patients with chronic pain syndrome (rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, musculoskeletal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, lung disease, migraine, headache, etc.).

All patients received acupuncture, hydrotherapy, practiced various mind-body approaches, and attended classes on nutrition and lifestyle. They were also offered to participate in a modified 7-day fast.

The exclusive consumption of 2 liters of liquid per day (mineral water, fruit juice, tea, vegetable broth) provided a total of 350 calories.

When they left the hospital, patients who fasted reported a significantly greater decrease in their primary symptoms than other patients. No serious side effects were reported.

2. Benefits of fasting for rheumatoid arthritis

Various studies have shown that changes in diet can have a positive effect on the symptoms of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.


About fasting, a systematic review published in 2001 identified 4 controlled studies, including a total of 143 subjects, which evaluated the effect of fasting for 7 to 23 days followed by a vegetarian diet.

Long-term improvements were observed in the subjects of the fasting groups (reduced pain, increased functional capacity) compared to the control groups.

3. Benefits of fasting for hypertension

Two trials aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of medically supervised fasting in the treatment of hypertension have been published.

In both cases, the patients consumed only fruits and vegetables for 2 to 3 days, then only water for the following 10 to 11 days. They supplemented the program with a 6-7 day vegetarian diet.

The 174 patients in the first trial had high blood pressure and were not taking medication. The 68 patients in the second trial had only borderline blood pressure.

The results of both studies indicate a statistically significant decrease in blood pressure. In addition, 89% of the subjects in the first study and 82% of those in the second had normal pressure values at the end of the intervention.


4. Benefits of fasting for weight loss

Of course, fasting helps you lose weight. In the long term, however, fasting does not seem to be an effective way to achieve this. Above all, you should change your lifestyle, adopt healthy eating habits and do physical exercise.


A study was carried out on 207 people suffering from morbid obesity and hospitalized during a fast of an expected duration of approximately 2 months, to lose weight.

The results indicate that fasting (average duration of 47 days) was effective in losing weight (28.2 kg on average).

However, of the 121 subjects who participated in the follow-up visits, 50% had regained their initial weight after 2 to 3 years, and more than 90% after 7 years.

5. Benefits of fasting for sleep

A pilot study involving 15 non-obese subjects between the ages of 19 and 59 who observed a complete fast for 7 days gave promising results.

This study showed that fasting did not affect total sleep time, but it did decrease the number of awakenings during the night.


Additionally, improvements in subjective sleep quality, daily energy, perceived emotional balance, and concentration were also observed.

6. Contribute to the treatment of acute pancreatitis

In cases of acute pancreatitis, fasting is often required because of the patient’s pain and digestive intolerance.

A clinical trial compared the effects of 3 treatments: complete fasting alone, a combination of complete fasting and cimetidine (a medicine to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach), and nasogastric suction (drawing liquids from the stomach). stomach using a tube inserted through the nose).

Fasting alone and fasting with cimetidine both gave better results than nasogastric suction. Recovery of normal bowel activity was faster and painkiller intake was reduced. Finally, only fasting alone significantly reduced the duration of abdominal pain.

How to fast?

1. Expert advice

Some practitioners, by many traditions, recommend the spring and fall transition periods, but this is not an absolute rule.

We advise you to respect the step which consists in reducing food during the preparatory phase to avoid secondary symptoms (headache, insomnia, nausea, dizziness, skin irritation, body odor, muscle pain).


2. Fasting step by step

We do not decide to fast overnight without preparing the body to experience this change. Here are the steps to follow:

The diagnostic phase: before undertaking a complete or partial fast, it is recommended to check your state of health with a doctor, particularly for people on medication.

The person who supervises the fast performs a health check before the fast begins, then a daily check-up (pulse, blood pressure, weight, and temperature).

The preparatory phase: this step consists of gradually reducing your food intake and, ideally, opting for a vegetarian diet avoiding refined products.

3. Fasting: complete or partial.

Food reintegration: this phase consists of gradually returning to a normal diet: some specialists recommend stopping fasting when the body is completely free of its toxins, that is to say when the tongue is clean, clear urine, and hunger returns. This usually involves fasting for quite a long time, not recommended for inexperienced fasters.

Who to turn to for information on fasting?

To determine the duration and type of fast, you can go to specialized establishments or specialists trained in fasting (such as certain doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, or naturopaths).


Health professionals will inquire about your mental state and certain biological factors: age, sex, weight, vital force, degree of intoxication, and seriousness of ailments.

Contraindications and side effects of fasting

Fasting is contraindicated in case of fatigue, eating disorders, weak immune system, heart disorders, nutritional deficiencies, kidney disease, cancer, pregnancy. It is also not recommended to fast in case of psychosis, diabetes, addictions.

If you are taking medication, please ask your doctor for advice before starting a fast.

History of fasting

Although tradition recognizes the virtues of fasting, the first scientific foundations only date back to the end of the 19th century. Dr. Isaac Jennings (1788-1874) was one of the first American physicians to advocate it.

It was in 1822 that he renounced the use of medication and opted for a new science of health based on natural principles, including fasting, which was later called natural hygiene or a hygienic system.

Other practitioners have imitated him, but we mainly owe Herbert M. Shelton3 (1895-1985), chiropractor and naturopath, recognized as the father of the hygienist school, to have developed a protocol based on strict fasting at the water, without physical exercise.


It was complete physiological rest – recommended by Socrates 2,500 years ago! – which would sharpen the mind. Various associations bring together promoters of fasting.

Let us mention the International Association of Hygienic Physicians (IAHP)2, an international group of doctors and health professionals specializing in the supervision of therapeutic fasting; the International Natural Hygiene Society10; and the National Health Association11 which, as the American Natural Hygiene Society, was formerly headed by Herbert M. Shelton.


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