Fasting - the many benefits
The month of August brings with it the season of festivals. From celebrating the month of Lord Shiva to Ganesh Chaturthi, Paryushan,Navaratri and so forth, each of these festivals, for many, bring the time of fasting of various durations. According to the dictionary, the meaning of the word fasting is to “Abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance or technically for medical or experimental reasons”.
In Sanskrit the word “vrat” loosely means determination whereas the word “upavaas” means being closer to god. Traditionally several festivals entail a fast of different durations. Humans have taken it to mean everything, from it being cleansing to the body to it being a form of penance. In modern science there was a period a while ago which considered fasting as not so good for the body. While Ayurveda on the other hand has always given importance to fasting – of various kinds and duration, as an effective method of healing not only the body but the mind and spirit too. Modern science has caught up, and now there are various big and small researches proving the immense health benefits of supervised, guided fasting on several health issues.
So, what are the benefits of fasting?
I will not go into the spiritual benefits of fasting and how it helps the mind and heart in bringing focus and clarity, as that’s a huge topic of discussion altogether.
Scientifically, one of the most important research has been in the field of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It has been found that fasting helps keep these diseases away and has even helped improve mood and memory. Reducing the intake of calories – under supervision, has shown to be helpful in bringing down the chronic inflammation levels of the body. Lower chronic inflammation is related to increased longevity and delayed ageing of the body. Another benefit of limiting the calories is a possible reduction in blood sugar levels. Various kinds of fasting have shown a possible increase in the sensitivity of insulin and therefore better absorption of glucose or energy from the blood. This could help in better blood sugar control.
Research shows that restricting the intake of food for as little as one day has huge benefits on the heart health of an individual. This could potentially be not only the benefit of fasting but also due to behavioral change during the fast. It is seen that individuals who fast show better restraint in terms of choosing healthier food options as well as that they become more conscious of the amount of calories they are taking. Regular periods of fasting have shown to not only lower the levels of bad cholesterol in the body but also help to lower the blood pressure. A few studies have found fasting to increase the levels of a hormone called as the Human Growth Hormone naturally in the body. Adequate production of this hormone is linked to better weight management, muscle strength and regulation of the body’s metabolism. Also given the fact that fasting itself limits the amount of food an individual takes, it allows the body to complete the work of each organ in the body and also rest and repair itself. This in turn helps in the process of weight loss.
Going on and off a fast is a process. There are different durations and kinds of fast and to pick the right kind without harming your body is of great importance. While there are many benefits of fasting, there can be side effects too. Now a days, many people read about different types of fast on various platforms and go on self-prescribed, random fasts. Please be aware that this can be severely harmful to your body. Be kind to yourself and do not go on a fast thinking it’s been done since time immemorial and what can be the harm? After all, fasting the correct way is also a science in reality which was quite well understood by our ancestors.
Side effects of un-supervised fasting can be many from headache, fatigue, tiredness, and dizziness to anemia, weakened immunity, and compromised kidneys and more. Fasting is not for everyone!
To reap the above mentioned and many other benefits of various kinds of fasting, it’s important that fasting be done under the guidance of a qualified dietitian/nutritionist.
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(The writer is a gold medalist in Food & Nutrition with more than 12 years experience. She manages various ailments through lifestyle and dietary modifications and specializes in weight loss & management. She practices at 102, Crystal Center, Raheja Vihar, Powai or Smile Craft, 23, Annapurna Industrial estate, Opp. CCD, Ghatkopar East. For appointments: 022 2857 6537 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)