Fasting is a tried and tested method for spiritual enlightenment. It is a practice that goes all the way back into ancient history and a revered part of most religious traditions. Fasting for health reasons is a new phenomenon that has had mixed research results. This paper seeks to analyze and evaluate scientific evidence for the merits of fasting for health reasons. Are there any benefits to the body when one fast for days or weeks? The paper proceeds with a systematic analysis of research on fasting and health. The paper argues that like most forms of body healing methods that have their roots in religious practice, fasting might aid in weight loss but it has no overall positive effect on the health of the body.
Traditionally human beings have used fasting as a way to reach certain levels of spiritual understanding. In the present day, fasting is now used for weight loss and detoxification of the body. It is also used to cure allergies and digestive problems. Researchers however agree that the health benefits are limited and research has been inconclusive (Varady & Hellerstein 2007, p. 11). Evidence show that fasting for a day poses no danger to the functionality of the body but a prolonged fasting for days might affect normal body functions (Environmental Nutrition 1997, n.p.). It is further argued that fasting should not be done beyond the day without effective medical supervision. It can lead to side-effects and other health complications. Thus some researchers have suggested that there are no health benefits to fasting beyond spiritual enlightenment (Environmental Nutrition, 1997, n.p.).
With the adoption of fasting as a weight loss regimen, variant forms of fasting have emerged. Among these methods one of the most popular methods is alternate day fasting. Research has been done on fasting forms like alternate day fasting (Patterson et al., 2015, p. 6). This process involves days of fasting that consist of no energy-containing foods or beverages are consumed alternating with days where food and beverages are consumed. On three intervention studies that have been made to explore the metabolism effect of alternate day fasting, there was evidence that weight loss was witnessed in normal-weight adults in two of the studies. A caveat to this result is the fact that the research was a one day study which makes the results questionable (Patterson et al., 2015, p.7).
Patterson and colleagues notes that data and results suggest that alternate-day fasting have a positive effect on modest weight loss. It shows positive effects on metabolic parameters. Other research on alternate-day fasting however suggest that alternate-day fasting can turn out not to be a feasible public health intervention since self-reported hunger in individuals in the process of alternate day fasting does not increase over time (Heilbronn et al., 2005).
Less extreme forms of fasting can actually aid in the body fat burning process. One of these methods is modified fasting. Modified fasting involves an intake of low levels of energy. Six out of eight recent studies on modified fasting revealed that there was significant weight loss in those involved in the trial. The problem is that the research revealed that fasting affected the mood of participants which included other side effects like feeling cold, irritable and hungry. Patterson et al notes that these effects are downplayed by the fact that more than 70% of the participants reported reduction in tension, anger and fatigue (2015, p. 7).
One of the most common ways of fasting is religious fasting. Researchers have extensively studies the effect of Muslim Ramadan fasting. A meta-analysis study found that there was drastic weight loss during the month of Ramadan which was followed by similar weight gains a month after the month of Ramadan (Patterson et al., 2015, p. 8). It how is seen as not a healthy weight loss mechanism for public suggestion since the weight loss is overshadowed by other effects to the body like mixed improvements in metabolism processes.
Studies in animals show that intermittent fasting improves metabolism and reduces the risk of obesity and diseases associated with obesity. Patterson and colleagues note that in “healthy, normal weight, overweight, or obese adults, there is little evidence that intermittent fasting is harmful to the physical and mental nature of the body” (2015, p. 9).
Even though evidence exists on the positive effect of fasting on weight loss, there is little and no evidence on the overall benefits of fasting regimens. No evidence exists on the links between fasting and diseases like diabetes, heart diseases, cancer and diseases like Alzheimer. There is also lacking evidence on the effects of fasting on diet, sleep and other necessary human physical activities. Evidence that prolonged periods of fasting can aid in improving human health is available on research in animals. There is little evidence of the same in human beings (Varady & Hellerstein 2007, p. 72).
In conclusion, even though research finds significant weight loss effects caused by fasting, it still is yet to be discovered whether it is overall an effective health intervention. Research on animals that has been replicated on humans show different effects between animals and humans. Individuals can consider less radical forms of fasting in their health loss efforts even though there is no evidence that these forms of weight loss might prevent diseases like diabetes. Modified fasting seems to show considerable positive results. There are too many negatives associated with fasting including rise in nitrogen levels, muscles are affected and weakened, one can experience weakness, depression and uric acid levels increase. Instead of diet, sticking to more healthy diets and exercise might be better health intervention. There is little evidence for the benefits of fasting for health.
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Patterson, R. E., Laughlin, G. A., Sears, D. D., LaCroix, A. Z., Marinac, C., Gallo, L.
C..Villasenor, A. (2015). Intermittent fasting and human metabolic health. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 1-10.
Varady, K. A. & Hellerstein, M.K. (2005). Alternate-day fasting and chronic disease prevention:
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