Fasting is a natural process that occurs when you do not consume any food for 3 to 5 hours and during sleep.

Over the past few weeks, I have come across lots and lots of folks who are doing a “fast” of one kind or another: Spring cleaning”; Lent Season;  The Master Cleanse; the Lemonade Diet; or the up and coming popular favorite, The Daniel Fast”.

There are a lot of reasons why people fast. Fasting historically had a religious meaning associated to it. Then it became associated with social protest by people like Ghandi; King; and my main man, Dick Gregory.

Most recently, lots was written about Beyoncé’s weight loss (losing 20 pounds in 10 days) on the Master Cleanse for her movie role in “Dreamgirls” where her character first appears on screen as 16 years old, then later as 36.

While it was true that Beyoncé was gorgeous in the movie, 14 pounds lighter and looking 10 years younger for shooting the younger part, there is a lot of information that most people who fast don’t have, so I’d like make an attempt to address the topic.

Starting with Beyoncé, the problem is not what was in the diet but what’s not. The diet consists of a mixture of purified water spiked with lemon juice, Grade B maple syrup and cayenne pepper. It was popularized in 1976, as a way to cleanse, detox and lose weight. There are no fats, proteins, vitamins or minerals and the only carbohydrate is in the form of sugar. Clinical scientists say that a person on this diet for an extended period of time, would start to feel very lethargic and would be unable to concentrate… They will probably end up in hospital, especially people who try it for more than 10 days.

Even though you may have decided to fast, you should be clear that fasting is not accepted by the vast majority of medical doctors and other healthcare providers, including nutritional and dietary experts. These medical doctors and other healthcare providers believe that extended fasting has too many risks, which outweigh any possible benefits. It is only a very tiny minority of healthcare providers who accept water fasting as a valid process.

If you are fasting to lose weight there are some points that you should keep in mind before you start a fast. There are many types of fasting and you will have to find one which suits your requirement. Discuss the benefits of the different types of fasts with your doctor before you decide.

Let’s start with water fasts. Now if you are suffering from conditions like hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, chronic heart problem or schizophrenia then this fast is not advised. When the body is going through water fasting, the heart rests so it is important that you take deep breaths when you stand up to get the heart pumping or you may feel dizzy or feel a black out coming on.

A lot of people can handle a juice fast for about 30 days and safely too. But again those who have problems like diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, etc., should not attempt this without first consulting their doctor. Along with the juice fast, people who have these conditions should supplement the fast with bananas and avocado slices every 2-3 hours. Adding some vegetables to the juices will give it high protein power and a source of fiber will give it the required bulk. This will ensure that your blood sugar is regulated. But if your kidneys are not functioning properly then a juice fast is not advised.

Many intestinal experts say we don’t need an extreme diet to cleanse our insides.

Your body does a perfectly good job of getting rid of toxins on its own, there’s no evidence that these types of diets are necessary or helpful.

While there are medical conditions that interfere with organ function and prevent the body from clearing toxins, healthy people already have a built-in detoxification system — the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin.

And by attempting to flush out the “bad stuff” from our intestines, you’re also “flushing out the good bacteria that keep the intestines healthy.”

Here’s a look at some of the dangers of fasting for weight loss:

1. Fasting for Weight Loss Increases Stress

When you are fasting, your body will go into a self-preservation mode to counter starvation. It will begin to slow down your metabolism and increase the production of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. When you are suffering from illness or stress, there will be a larger than usual amount of cortisol in your body. A high amount of cortisol can make you feel physically, mentally or emotionally stressed.

2. Fasting Damages Your Muscles

When you are not taking enough food, the cortisol in your body will try to release certain amino acids from your muscles and convert them to sugar. The sugar will then be fed to the brain, kidneys and red blood cells. The brain can use fats or sugar as fuel, but it usually prefers sugar, and red blood cells need sugar to survive. By releasing amino acids, cortisol is actually breaking down your muscle tissues. Losing muscles can slow down weight loss, because you need muscles to burn excess fat in your body.

3. Fasting Leads to Increased Hunger

If you do not consume food for a prolonged period of time, your body will produce fewer thyroid hormones. The loss of thyroid hormones and muscle tissue breakdown will slow down your body’s overall metabolism significantly. This consequence becomes evident when you stop fasting and resume normal eating habits. When you begin to fast, your appetite hormones will be suppressed, but they will go into full gear when normal eating resumes, resulting in increased hunger. With slower metabolism and increased appetite, you will begin to gain weight fast.

4. Fasting Causes Health Problems

Prolonged fasting can deplete the supply of essential nutrients in your body, such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, fatty acids, minerals and electrolytes. This can lead to the development of various health problems, including fatigue, headache, dehydration, dizziness, constipation, hypoglycemia, anemia, muscle weakness, gallstones and mental confusion. If you are suffering from some kind of health problem, it is advisable that you do not fast, because you will become more susceptible to the detrimental effects of fasting.

Most people can fast safely, but if you decide to try it it’s important to do so under your doctor’s supervision. However, there are some people who should not fast including:

•          Infants and young children

•          People with serious disease conditions

•          Pregnant women

•          People with Type I diabetics

•          People with insufficient kidney function

•          People who experience fear about fasting

People with a toxic levels of DDT contamination because fasting can release unsafe levels of DDT into the bloodstream during the fasting process and lead to other complications.

Although people can quickly drop pounds on these diets, the majority of people regain all the weight they lose on any diet, especially the highly restrictive varieties, according to recent research published in American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association. While people can lose 5 to 10 percent of their weight in the first few months of a diet, up to two-thirds of people regain even more weight than they lost within four or five years, the researchers found.

Cutting back on high-fat foods, eating in moderation and consuming more vegetables and fruits may not seem as glamorous as starving yourself like a celebrity for days, but it’s healthier for you in the long run and certainly sexier than rushing to the bathroom all day.

There are many risks to water-only fasting and we want you to be aware of them prior to your decision to undertake a water-only fast. Because you will not be eating any food, you will most certainly experience weakness throughout the water fast, and lose weight. It can take some time after fasting to regain strength. A very common occurrence is dizziness and fainting, especially on rising from a laying or seating position. Other common and unpleasant symptoms are heart arrhythmia, palpitations, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, sore throat, mucus discharge, low back pain, increased menstrual flow, irregular or menstrual cycles, hair loss, gastric irritation, passing of kidney or gall stones and emotional disturbances. There is also the possibility of alterations to your body’s basic mechanisms and electrolytes, which could cause heart problems such as a heart attack or vascular problems such as a stroke.

Let me say it again: If you decide you want to fast, it’s important to talk with your health care professional so they can monitor you heath before and during the fast.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself, and live the best life possible!

This column is meant for informational purposes only.

It is not intended to take the place of proper medical advice and treatment from a medical doctor or professional

Glenn Ellis,  is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is  a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics. Source

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, is due out in Fall, 2011.

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