Health Benefits of Water Fasting
by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Water-fasting is an exceptionally ancient and powerful approach to healing many common disease conditions. It involves drinking purified water throughout the fast. This allows the body to rest, detoxify and to heal. During fasting, the body uses its energy, not for digesting food, but for cleansing the body of accumulated toxins and healing damaged cells and organs. As a fast progresses, the body consumes everything that it can that is not essential to bodily functioning. This includes bacteria, viruses, fibroid tumors, waste products in the blood any build up around the joints and stored fat.

Many of the most dramatic changes that occur in the body during fasting take place on the first three days of the fast. These occur as the body switches from one fuel source to another. Normally, the primary form of energy the body uses for energy is glucose, a type of sugar. Most of this is extracted or converted from the food we eat. Stopping the intake of food causes the body to shift from glucose to what are called ketones, converted from fat stores, for fuel.

This shift generally begins on the second day of fasting and completed by the third. Because the human body is evolutionarily designed for fasting, there are powerful mechanisms in place to conserve the body's protein. Between 60 and 84 grams of protein (2-3 ounces of muscle tissue) are used on the second day of fasting prior to the complete shift to fatty acids as fuel. By the third day, ketone production is sufficient to provide nearly all the energy the body needs and the body's protein begins to be strongly conserved.

From the third day onward, the rate of the breakdown of fatty acids from adipose or fat tissue continues to increase, hitting its peak on the tenth day. This seven-day period, after the body has shifted completely over to ketosis, is where the maximum breakdown of fat tissue occurs. It is also when the most significant healing begins to occur. Fasting has been found to help a number of disease conditions, often permanently. There have been a number of intriguing clinical trials and studies showing its effectiveness.

In one clinical trial of hypertension and fasting, 174 people with hypertension water-fasted for 11 days. Initial blood pressure in the participants was either in excess of 140 millimeters of mercury (mm HG) systolic or 90 diastolic or both. Ninety percent of the participants achieved blood pressure less than 140/90 by the end of the trial. The higher their initial blood pressure, the more their readings dropped.

Fasting has also been shown to be exceptionally beneficial in chronic cardiovascular disease and congestive heart failure. It reduces triglycerides, atheromas, total cholesterol and increases HDL levels. It has also been found effective in the treatment of type II diabetes, often reversing the condition permanently. Because of its long term effects on metabolism, fat stores in the body, leptin and disease conditions associated with obesity, fasting has been found to be one of the most effective treatments for obesity.

In one 1988 trial of 88 people with acute pancreatitis, fasting was found better than any other medical intervention. Neither nasogastric suction or cimetidine were found to produce as beneficial effects as those from fasting. Symptoms were relieved irrespective of the etiology of the disease. A number of studies have found that fasting is effective for treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Fasting induces significant anti-inflammatory actions in the body and researchers found decreased ESR, arthralgia, pain, stiffness and need for medication. Fasting also increases the deposit of new bone in areas affected by osteoporosis.

Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rosacea, chronic urticaria (itching) and acute glomerulonephritis have all responded well to fasting. Severe toxic contamination has been shown to be significantly helped with fasting. Clinical trials have found that people poisoned with PCB experienced "dramatic" relief after 7-10 day fasts. Poor immune function improves during fasting. Studies have found that there is increased macrophage activity, increased cell-mediated immunity, decreased complement factors, decreased antigen-antibody complexes, increased immunoglobulin levels, increased neutrophil bactericidal activity, depressed lymphocyte blastogenesis, heightened monocyte killing and bactericidal function and enhanced natural killer cell activity.

Other diseases that have responded to fasting are: psychosomatic disease, neurogenic bladder, psoriasis, eczema, thrombophlebitis, varicose ulcers, fibromyalgia, neurocirculatory disease, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, bronchial asthma, lumbago, depression, neurosis, schizophrenia, duodenal ulcers, uterine fibroids, intestinal parasites, gout, allergies, hay fever, hives, multiple sclerosis and insomnia.

Stephen Buhner is a master herbalist and psychotherapist. He is a founder of and senior researcher for the Foundation for Gaian Studies (www.gaianstudies.org) and is the author of ten books, including "The Fasting Path: The Way to Spiritual, Physical and Emotional Enlightenment" (Avery Hardcover; September 2003).