Fasting is in vogue these days. Hindus and Jains do fast in the month of Shravana (10th month of the Hindu calendar) and Paryushana respectively.
However, the purpose and styles are different. While Jain fasts are with or without water and Hindu fasts are with a restricted and specific diet.
Jain religion strongly emphasizes fasting to purify our souls, improve morality, spiritual power, and increase knowledge. According to Jainism Fasting is one of the 12 types of penance. For Jains, real fasting is more about relinquishing the desire for taste and attachment to the choice of food.
Be that as it may, as per the Ayurveda, Fasting offers some health benefits. Mahatma Gandhi had fasted on 17 different occasions for a few days. He used to fast basically for two reasons: to protect against injustice/violence and for better health as a practitioner of Naturopathy.
Dr. Otto Buchinger, an internationally renowned authority on Fasting cured himself of severe rheumatic fever by fasting for 19 days, and liver disorder for fasting for 29 days. He was chronically and severely sick but was cured for good.
Naturopathy and Ayurveda since ages recommend fasting for good health. Fasting is a purifying and cleansing process of the body organs. Periodic fasting is recommended by these schools of thought for better health. Fasting for a longer period, however, should be undertaken under expert guidance.
Physiology of Fasting:
Jeanette Winterson, one of the fasting practitioners writes,” So what happens when we stop eating? The body first uses up the glycogen stores in the liver. That might take 12 hours or 24 hours. Afterward, the body will have to use proteins (muscles) or lipids (fats) to produce the energy (glucose) it needs. The body is programmed to avoid breaking down muscle, and so the liver turns into a factory to manufacture ketones for fuel.
This is where the process gets exciting. Imagine your house is freezing and you have to burn the furniture to keep warm.
First, you burn the rubbish, stuff you have been hoarding for years and don’t really need. The body does the same. Sick cells, old cells, decomposed tissues, are burned away. This is the ultimate spring clean. It allows the body to eliminate toxins and metabolic waste at the same time as turning them into heat and energy. And you can live off this rubbish for days.
Next, the body will go to its fat reserves. Most of us have plenty of fat for the body to get busy on – and belly fat is an easy target. As one doctor at the clinic told me: “You haven’t stopped eating – only you are eating from the inside for now.”
There is an impressive documentary available on YouTube called The Science of Fasting.
Ayurveda recommends regular, short-term fasting. Infrequent long term fasting vitiates doshas and may lead to imbalanced body functions.
The fasting method must be decided according to the body constitution. The duration of fasting and type of fasting is determined after analyzing the level of toxin (ama) accumulation, digestive strength, vitiation of doshas, and body constitution.
Researchers suggest the following benefits of Fasting:
- Fasting helps the vital energy to remove the toxic matter from the blood and purify the system.
- Helps in complete rest to the physical, physiological, mental, and sensory system.
- Improves and strengthens the immune system.
- Repairs and rejuvenates the whole system.
- Prevents damaging changes in vital organs and improves their functional efficiency.
- Fasting awakens the mind, develops inner tranquillity.
- Acne, pimples, and other skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis clears up faster when a person fasts. Brings a glow to the skin and makes skin radiant.
- Fasting reduces joint pains in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
- Studies demonstrate that, while short-term fasting can protect normal cells in mice and humans, cancer cells are unable to cope with the loss of the glucose fuel source. (Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy.” )
- Studies on the effects of fasting on cancer found that intermittent fasting protects human cells against toxins and slows down tumor growth.“(Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients.”) Thus, normal cells are more protected from the damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation with the practice of fasting. On the other hand, tumor cells lack the same protective mechanisms; so, those cells die in greater numbers in response to chemo and radiation.
- Researchers demonstrated how the integration of fasting with chemotherapy slowed down tumor growth significantly and improved survival time among the animals with glioma. (Fasting Enhances the Response of Glioma to Chemo- and Radiotherapy.)
Precaution Post fasting:
The day after fasting is more watchful than the day of fasting. Our food should be soothing to the digestive tract and easy to digest. We must not eat more at a time.
Some prescribed food on the day after fasting (with or without water)
- Jaggery water with lemon
- Hot water with cinnamon, clove, and raw sugar
- Green gram (Mung bean) water
- Fruit juice, preferably sugar cane juice
People suffering from Kidney diseases, diabetes mellitus, weak patients with low blood pressure, Epilepsy, schizophrenia, pregnancy, lactation, protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) during the antibiotic course should undertake to fast under the guidance of their doctor /guide.
The following Ted Talk on fasting is worth listening:
Fasting is to be practiced according to its own capacity. Excessive fasting could be fatal. So be careful and consult experts.
“If physical fasting is not accompanied by mental fasting it is bound to end in hypocrisy and disaster.” Mahatma Gandhi,
Here is a link to my new book Balancing is the Work published on 31st Oct 2020.