Top 5 Benefits of Fasting
by Dr. Surya Bhagwati on Jun 07, 2019
As a holistic health system that focuses on completely natural treatments, it comes as no surprise that Ayurved embraces the concept of fasting. Ayurved regards fasting as an essential practice for the maintenance of health, rather than as form of self-punishment or deprivation. Described as pratyahara, the term first appears in the classical text, ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. It encourages sensory deprivation or avoidance of all external stimuli, while internalizing instead. In the context of fasting, it refers to the avoidance of food for specific periods of time, although the restrictions and duration of fasting should vary based on the individual’s health status and personal requirements. Broadly speaking however, the practice is believed to strengthen agni and reduce the buildup of ama. You can think of it as a health reset. Let’s take a closer look at some of the main health benefits of fasting.
Top 5 Health Benefits of Fasting
- Supports Weight Loss & Metabolic Function
Starvation and restrictive dieting is not the best way to lose weight although it may seem like a quick fix. Such extreme approaches are strongly advised against in Ayurved. However, carefully planned and periodic fasting can help improve metabolic function to drive weight loss and stimulate muscle growth. This type of fasting is also described as intermittent fasting. Research now shows that this type of dieting can actually be more effective at promoting weight loss, without muscle loss, when compared to calorie restriction. The positive influence on weight loss and muscle growth may be connected to an increase in human growth hormone levels, triggered by fasting.
Improves Blood Sugar Levels
With prevalence rates as high as 8-18%, India’s diabetes threat continues to grow. While Ayurvedic treatments for diabetes can help significantly, Ayurved also emphasizes prevention above treatment. Aside from dietary interventions and herbal supplements, fasting is believed to help improve blood sugar control, lowering the risk of diabetes. This has been confirmed by several studies that show how intermittent and alternate day fasting reduce insulin resistance. With improved insulin sensitivity, glucose is metabolized with greater efficiency. These effects can vary depending on the type of fast, your age, gender, and health status, making it best to consult an expert before starting your fast.
- Controls Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural response of the body, used by the immune system to fight infections. Because of our modern lifestyle and diets however, most of us suffer from chronic inflammation. This is concerning, as chronic inflammation is linked with most of our modern lifestyle diseases from inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis to heart disease and cancer. Fasting can help lower ama levels and improve the flow of prana in the body. As demonstrated by studies, this can reduce inflammation, especially if done in accordance with dinacharya. This means that you do a 12 hour fast, consuming dinner by 7 or 8pm and abstaining from all food until the same hour the following morning.
Promotes Brain & Heart Health
Although treatment for heart and brain disorders has improved significantly, there’s still a lot that we don’t understand, making preventive care more important than ever. This is especially true in the context of brain health. Both heart disease and brain conditions have a huge impact on quality of life, with high medical costs, debilitating effects, and the need for lifelong care. In addition to dietary and lifestyle changes, fasting may be an effective way to lower the risk. Studies suggest that periodic fasting, on alternate days, can lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels by as much as 25% and improve blood pressure. Similarly, fasting has also been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s.
There’s no way to avoid or reverse the effects of aging, but these effects can be delayed or slowed down with fasting. Our understanding of this health benefit of fasting is still poor, but studies on animals do confirm the potential for fasting to extend lifespans. In fact, one study on rats showed that alternate day fasting increased lifespan by 83%. Aside from a direct impact on cellular mitochondrial networks, periodic intermittent fasting may also improve lifespans because of other benefits that lower the risk of chronic disease.
To get the most out of fasting, keep in mind that you should follow a healthy diet and lifestyle on a regular basis, using fasting for additional benefits. Fasting is not meant to be used as a quick fix, but it can be used to support a healthy lifestyle and to counter the risk of various health conditions. If you suffer from any pre-existing condition, make sure to consult and Ayurvedic physician or dietitian before you try any type of fasting.
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