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Holistic Health: Fasting As A Tool For Health

A Context For Fasting: A Few Things To Keep In Mind

You will be introduced to a more tools for your health in this class than anywhere else. The tool we will cover today, fasting, is best utilized with a couple perspective changes, or possibly no changes if you already endorse them.

First, we must practice a consistent healthy diet. The purpose of our fasting in the first place is to give organs a chance to rest. As you will figure out in a minute, there is no necessity to eat three meals a day EVERYDAY. To follow this system without a fault gives your stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and colon no chance to rest when in nature, all animals through period of intermittent fasting (IF). Bears do not eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Neither do any other mammals or animals that have a similar alimentary canal. They miss a few meals here and there, usually due to more pressing matters occurring in the moment. During this time, even the organs like the liver and the gallbladder are given time to recouperate. What is important to keep in mind is that you don't want to feed yourself junky, processed foods and occasionally take breaks from them with fasting. This is a contradiction in action, and it does need to be said that fasting is a higher level tool. If you are not being guided by a doctor or nutritionist with fasting for weight loss reasons, you should be already advanced in your practice of healthy living.

Second, because we are not eating any junk during our fasting program, you can feel less pressure on what you eat. If you have full fat yogurt, coconut millk (which has some fat), and some berries for a shake, there is nothing to fear. Fasting programs extend to the maximum, in my opinion, of once a week for 24 hours, or perhaps twice a week if you are doing intermittent fasting of only missing a meal. Beginners can start with once a month and work their way towards once a week. But once this process is already underway, there will be a day in your near future where you aren't consuming 2000 calories. So don't sweat it if you are putting healthy food into your body. If the food is whole and healthy, enjoy it.

Third, there is a difference between practicing fasting in a healthy manner and an unhealthy manner. If you practice fasting and find yourself able to go without food and then return to food without too much of a problem, this is a good sign. There is no doubt you will be hungry after you break-the-fast, but a solid second or third meal after the fast you should be completely back to normal in terms of how much food you eat. An unhealthy approach to fasting would be to take a bake from food and then binge eat between fasts. This is not only unhealthy for the body, it is likely a psychological problem related to food. Monitor yourself and monitor other people practicing fasting and look for this behavior. Support each other if you see signs of binge eating. Fasting it meant to be a healthy action. It defeats the purpose if our actions make it so their are more complications than benefits.

A Context For Fasting: Elemental Theory And You

We speak a bit about the western concept of the four elements in holistic health. This is partly so beause a portion of the class is on the health of the environment in which we live. We absolutely depend on each of the four elements as they symbolize aspects we cannot live without; the sun, oxygen, water, and food.

While all of these are necessities, they aren't necessities of the same magnitude. When we think of the element fire when it relates to humans, the first action is the endless spectrum of infrared, visible light, ultra violet light, and other forms of energy the sun is beaming onto us. We need the sun for most of our vitamin D because our skin contains a mechanism that is activated to produce the vitamin once exposed. We obviously need the sun's energy for the creation of food, both vegetable and the animals who eat the vegetables. But more than this, the element fire is represent by also lightning quick energy of electricity. Our bodies are bioelectric masses and the process of our brain and heart functioning all depend on electric signals functioning. Loss of electrical functioning, as can be seen with heart attack, is no laughing matter 1). No one suggests one should temporarily cut off this life line, as any temporary loss of electrical signal in the body could effect the heart or brain in a deadly manner.

The element air, represented with the oxygen we breathe, is also vital but on a less immediate scale. The average person can go a few minutes without air before passing out, and super humans like the the free divers and the David Blaine's of the world can go many minutes before absolutely needing air (Blaine went 17 minutes 2))). Very few people advocate any sort of withholding of oxygen for extended periods. Some do it to train their body for a lack of oxygen, if for example, they are going to be hiking a high summit peak and their body needs to get used to it. Otherwise, there is no reason to continually subjective yourself to a lack of oxygen.

The element water continues down the scale for humans, to the point where we could go for around three days without any hydration. Any more than that and you risk dying of dehydration. Only in a rare kidney situation do doctors ever suggest extended periods of not drinking water. No religions or spiritual practices push the boundary of water drinking.

The element earth is the end of the scale. A second of electrical failure could mean the end of your life. Ten minutes without oxygen would be deadly. Not drinking any liquids, particularly water, for three days might cost you your life. But what about eating food? A commond adage suggests if we lack oxygen for 3 minutes, water for 3 days, or food for 3 weeks, we will die 3). However, there is records of people participating in hunger strikes who adequately hydrated themselves and lived beyond a month 4). A number begin to die betwen the one month and month stage of no eating, so it probably depends on the person. Anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks would be an acceptable range, considering the low end of the spectrum and the high.

Don't let someone try to sidetrack your discussion as some hippy, former Oriental philosophies turned New Ageisms. Because the Chinese philosophy is different than this system, which goes all the way back to Plato and even before him. The Chinese have a system of five elements known as wood, metal, fire, water, and earth. They lack the element air and they incorporate two different elements from this western system. In a more advanced lecture of holistic health, we actually will study the five element theory of the East and how it is its own holistic system. It is quite interesting to compare and contrast the two lenses from which you can perceive archetypal reality. But it is very different.

How Does It Work?

Your body contains the calories it needs within fat storage and glycogen storage found the body. Your body stores glycogen in the muscles and in the liver. When you restrict your diet so that calories are not coming in, the body will take the glycogen stored and begin to break it down into glucose. Your brain especially needs glucose so this process is considered the fundamental aspect of how fasting works for your body, albeit temporarily.

Is fasting normal? Considering animals do not live a breakfast, lunch, and dinner mentality, we realize that most animals take breaks from whatever their standard eating plan is due to something that is more important at the time. If you can go 3 weeks without eating, which comes out to almost 500 hours, you can go 10-20 hours without too much of a hassle. Even pushing the 100 hour mark will be by no means comfortable, but you are still 1/5 of the way from being in danger of dying. Fasting has been present in numerous religious and spiritual traditions 5) 6), including Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and more.

You can go without food for almost a month. Isn't that unbelieveable? Not only is the idea of fasting from a meal (or perhaps 3 for a whole day) not even close to dangerous, fasting is proving to be ONE OF THE BEST things you can do for your health. No I am not trying to exaggerate here. Let us look at the research.

Research That Supports Fasting

As we walk through this holistic health course, you should become acquainted with browsing scientific research articles. A lot of us never actually look at the research articles ourselves and we just accept what other people say about scientific research. You can start with PubMed, which is probably the most well recognized journal source for scientific work on medical issues. But there are tons of journals that conduct nutritional research. Google is your friend.

The scientific literature refers to fasting in a few ways, one of which is Caloric Restriction (CR). When calories are reduced in a number of animals, their likelihood for cancer decreases 7) 8) 9) 10). No matter if we study rats, mice, or humans, we see similar data. Cancer is one the leading causes of death in the United States, and you are telling me an effective way to mitigate your risk of cancer is to simply fast every so often!?! Talk about cheap medicine!

We have a plethora of evidence that fasting is beneficial to the heart. The data shows that fasting can reduce oxidative damage and increase the body's ability to handle stress at the cellular level 11). All animals studied, including humans, shows a decrease in blood pressure from carolic restriction and fasting 12) 13). Blood pressure is a commonly cited source (and rightly so) of heart disease and heart attacks. Fasting is a known tool that can help regulate your blood pressure.

There is process that is highly controversial in the scientific literature called hormesis 14). The controversy arises because there seems to be data that shows an almost homeopathic like response to toxins and other chemicals at low doses, and some of those chemicals are produced by the fossil fuel industry. In homeopathy, one takes a minute amount of a substance that is supposed to cause the symtom you have at a higher dose. Somehow (and this is not explained adequately in homeopathy) the much lower dose has a positive response in the patient instead of a negative response. It is quite possible hormesis is the answer to the question of homeopathy. Scientists are hesitant to sign off on a natural process where it can be “good” for us to be swimming in a sea of low dose toxins. One can readily see how Big Oil, Big Ag, and all the rest of the chemical polluting industries can't wait to tout their low dose chemicals “because hormesis shows it's good for you”. Regardless, the cat is out of the bag and we will use the concept of hormesis as it applies to calorie restriction.

When rats are on a calorie restricted diet, we see a process of hormesis taking place. Normally the body is under attack more or less continually from oxidative damage. Food is one way the body received oxidative damage. During the resting period of a fast, the low amount of oxidative stress experienced somehow allows the body to produce an increase of proteins that protect from damage 15). It's as if the mild experience of stress (that's the hormesis) somehow triggers more help then some higher levels of stress 16). Other rat studies showed that calorie restriction led to the increase in anti oxidants, such as vitamin E, coQ10, and other antioxidant enzymes being produced 17) 18). So now we see that the body is being signaled by the lack of food intake to begin production of these beneficial to the overall health of the organism. Fasting is a tool that turns on your healing mechanisms!

In the most obvious realms, fasting is proven to reduce diabetes. The process of calorie restriction allows the body for a better glucose and insulin response 19) 20). We are even seeing processed within the formation of diabetes in the liver improving, such as fat oxidation. It is believed that problems of fat oxidation in the liver can decrease insulin sensitivity. We see an increase in fat oxidation, so this is perceived to be a good thing for diabetics in an indirect way 21). Research has also shown intermittent fasting to be beneficial to type 2 diabetics and pre type 2 diabetes, improving their pancreas function 22).

I'm not sure there is much more to say about fasting that shouldn't already have your undivided attention. Various forms of fasting, called calorie restriction, dietary energy restriction, and intermittent fasting all have shown extremely positive benefits for our sleep cycles, our heart, our brain, our pancreas, our liver, our kidneys. They reduce the risk greatly of cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. These are the biggest health problems of this day!

Do you want to know the most shocking element to all of this? Nutritionists have been aware of some of the benefits to calorie restriction since at least 1943 23). So 70 years have gone by and we still have a population where nobody intentionally fasts as a part of a healthy program? If this isn't evidence enough that you cannot depend on official experts for your optimal health, I don't know what is.

Less Scientific Journal Proof, More Intuitional Proof

The fact is that fasting has been practiced by people of all walks of life, including non scientist nutritionists. What does that mean? It references a kind of people who don't need scientific studies to be the ultimate, be-all-end-all proof that fasting is good for you.

First there is Paul and Patricia Bragg, a father-daughter duo who have written about the benefits of fasting for decades 24). Many of their proofs of fasting come from what is felt during the fast. They were Christians and spiritually minded, so one aspect that they experienced was a kind of spiritual renewal during a fast. One has to come to terms with the fact that they want food at that moment and they shall not have it. Once this has been experienced in the right manner and setting, people feel a sense of power over their hunger. They are not controlled by their hunger and they can make conscious decisions about their health without hunger dictating what they should do.

This duo also wrote extensively about “toxins” coming out of the fat tissue as the body utilized fat for its calories. While is is not a well studied phenomenon, a skeptic would do well to speak to as many fasting people as he or she could. What this skeptic would find is that all of these people “get sick” at some point during a fast in their lives. Usually not all of the fasts, but a few lead to nausea, headaches, sweats, and general unpleasantness. Some fasts for days can lead to bowel movements not thought possible. Are these toxins coming out of the body? “Science” hasn't demonstratively shown this to be the case, but the experience does seem to show something unusual occurring with the body of a fasting person. As a personal account, this author once became nauseous on day 2 of a planned 3 day fast. The nausea lead to vomiting up something yellow and slightly green colored. Without knowing what it was, the feeling of illness dissapated rapidly after this moment and the fast continued on without problems into day 3. Stories like this abound and people rave about what they have cleared out of their bodies.

Regardless of your position on the necessity of scientific data to follow a health protocol, anyone can see that if your body is storing fecal matter, many times more than a couple pounds (as fasters are so fond of reminding us all), it would be a good idea to get that out of the body. The Braggs note the amount of free time given to the colon to “catch up” and remove excess fecal matter is crucial to a healthy interior. The large and small intestines can absorb materials into the body, and if old fecal matter is not leaving the body and staying attached to the intestinal wall, there is the potential for toxic waste to be recirculating through the body. This author can also attest to have bowel movements on day 3 and even day 4 of a water fast.

There a number of fasting advocates who push the envelope beyond one day fasts. The most popular out there is the Master Cleanse. This form of caloric restriction abstains from all solid foods and provides the faster with only one drinking option; lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne pepper. You can drink this throughout the day and the only limit is when you feel like you have enough. You are encouraged to sip it throughout the day.

The Master Cleanse has been around for decades and only when people do not follow the protocol do they experience moving backwards in health. Incredibly, the Master Cleanse is supposed to be done over a period of 10 days. This does not match current scientific evidence, but the people who follow the Master Cleanse and the people like Paul Bragg don't need scientific data exclusively to do something they find good for their health. The experience contained within fasting is proof enough for these people to be lifelong fasting advocates.

There are many other quasi fasts and caloric restriction techniques. Most aim for a general cleansing of the digestive system by giving it rest for a period of time. Others target organs within the body with specific liquids to take and “flush” these organs, setting the slate clean. Do these actually work? Where is the scientific evidence? As long as the people doing these fasts, cleanses, and detox routines are not injuring themselves, scientists should look on with curiousity and consider taking some data.

The Invisible Health Shield

Why aren't people talking about this? There are other techniques and food secrets that will extend our lives well into the 90s, so the fact this is not talked about should not surprise anyone. The crazy thing about this is that you can do it up to once a week! if you are 40 years old now, and you live to 80, there are 2000 7 day gaps within that time frame. If you take on intermittent fasting and don't even do it every week but every other week, that is still around 1000 days of rest and rejuvenation for your body and mind. 1000 days! That is almost 3 years of rest for your body. It's hard to say how much longevity this will add to a person's life span. But considering it helps with glucose problems, diabetes, blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and weight gain, there is no reason to get lost speculating how much life we save, because the fact is we are saving lives. We do that every week so that our ranges never stay elevated, we can reduce the stress our body expereinces through aging, which is one of the main ways we begin to die.

You don't have to wait for the official nutrition experts to say fasting should be a part of a healthy dietary routine. Explore what is out there and do your due diligence. Investigate what they are doing and if you are willing to do it. There are very few reports of serious injury from fasting, especially when it is maintained to 2 days or less. You can safely try intermittent fasting or caloric restriction with the guide of fasting advocates and their protocols. What are you waiting for?


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