The World’s Largest Fasting Study

“The World’s Largest Fasting Study” A century ago, fasting—starvation
as a therapeutic measure— was described as the ideal
measure for obesity. As you can see, fat shaming is not a
new invention in the medical literature. I’ve extensively covered fasting for
weight loss in a nine-video series starting with this one, but what about
all the other purported benefits? I do have a video series on fasting for
hypertension, but what about psoriasis, eczema, type 2 diabetes, lupus,
metabolic disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders,
depression, anxiety? Why hasn’t it been tested more? One difficulty with fasting research
is what do you mean by fasting? When I think fasting, I think of
water-only fasting, but in Europe they tend to practice so-called
modified fasting, or Buchinger fasting, which is more like very low-calorie
juice fasting with some vegetable broth. Some forms of fasting may
not even cut calories at all. Ramadan fasting is when devout
Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset,
yet interestingly, they end up eating the same amount,
or even more food, overall. The largest study on fasting
to date was published in 2019. More than a thousand individuals
were put through a modified fast, cutting intake down to about 10
cups of water, a cup of fruit juice, and a cup of vegetable soup a day. They reported very few side effects,
which is in contrast to the latest water-only fasting data, which only
involved half as many people but reported nearly
6,000 adverse effects. Now the modified fasting study did seem
to try to undercount adverse effects, only counting reported symptoms
if they were repeated three times, but still only reporting single cases
of things like nausea, feeling faint, upset stomach, vomiting, or palpitations,
whereas the water-only fasting study reported about one to two hundred of
each. What about the benefits though? In the modified fasting study,
participants self-reported improvements in physical and emotional well-being,
along with a surprising lack of hunger. And the vast majority of those who came
in with a pre-existing health complaint reported feeling better,
with less than 10% reporting their condition worsening
or remaining unchanged. They weren’t just fasted though,
but engaged in a lifestyle program, which included being placed before
and after on a plant-based diet. Too bad they didn’t have some
people just do the healthier diet without the fast to tease out the
fasting effects. Oh, but they did! About a thousand folks fasted
for a week on the same juice and vegetable soup regimen
versus those put on normocaloric, meaning normal calorie,
vegetarian diet the whole time. Both experienced significant
increases in both physical and mental quality of life,
and interestingly there was no significant difference
between the groups. In terms of their major health
complaints—rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain syndromes like
osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pain, inflammatory and
irritable bowel disease, chronic pulmonary diseases,
and migraine and chronic tension headaches—the fasting group
appeared to have an edge, but both groups did good,
with about 80% reporting improvements in their condition,
with only about 4% feeling worse. Now, this was not
a randomized study; people chose which
treatment they wanted. So maybe, for example, those choosing
fasting were sicker or something. The improvements in quality of
life and disease status were also all subjective self-report, which
is ripe for placebo effects, no do-nothing control group, and
the response rates to the follow-up quality of life surveys
were only about 60 or 70%, which also could have biased the
results. But extended benefits are certainly possible, given they
all tended to improve their diets. More fruits and vegetables,
less meats and sweets, and therein may lie the secret.
Principally, the experience of fasting may support motivation for
lifestyle change. Most fasters experience clarity of mind and a feeling
of letting go of past actions and experiences, and thus may develop a
more positive attitude towards the future. As a consensus panel of
fasting experts concluded: nutritional therapy is a vital and
integral component of any fasting. After the fasting therapy and
refeeding period, nutrition should follow the recommendations of
a plant-based whole-food diet.
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