The ever increasing toxicity of the modern world is playing a big part in the rapid rise of many diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. This has led to many different types of fasts becoming popularized. These fasts are seen as an effective way to detox from pollutants in our food and environment, giving the body an opportunity to heal.
After learning about the benefits of water fasting I became interested to know if there was any research on the medical benefits of ‘Dry Fasting.’ Dry Fasting is abstinence from both water and food for a certain period of time. There is intermittent Dry fasting (which is breaking the fast daily) and extended Dry Fasting (breaking the fast after a varying period of days).
Various religions routinely practice Dry fasting. This is true of Muslims, Mormons and Jews, just to name a few. Sadly, many who do not adhere to such a faith may perceive this as an extreme way of fasting, and hence be unable to see it as conducive to health. Going without food ….AND WATER? What?! And yet, when we are sick our appetite is naturally suppressed. Even animals, when sick or injured, instinctively abstain from both food and water. There is an innate wisdom, divinely put in everything!
Although there are a lot of studies done on water fasting, Western Research on Dry Fasting is scarce. As a result, much of the information shared here is extracted from the work of Dr. Filonov, a Russian expert in dry fasting. Dr. Filonov has pioneered a lot of the science behind dry fasting. He even wrote the book, “Dry Medical Fasting – Myths and Reality.“ And while this has been translated into English, it is an unfortunately difficult read. What is apparent, however, is that this type of fast is the most expedient way the body can repair and renew itself. Furthermore, the mechanisms by which it does so are just incredible!
Health Benefits of Dry Fasting
1) Enhanced Brain Function and Protection
One study showed that fasting in Ramadan stimulated an increase in the production of a protein in the brain called brain–derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The roles of BDNF are to protect and repair brain cells, stimulate the growth of stem cells to produce new healthy brain cells, as well as improve memory and learning capacity, and even enhance mood. These factors combine to help prevent mental disease. Exercise, green tea and turmeric are also known to increase BDNF.
2) Autophagy – (survival of the fittest)
Abstinence from food and water creates a stress on the body, that it then recognizes as signaling the urgency to switch to survival mode. Once in this crisis mode the body has no choice but to rely on its own cells to produce water. Innate intelligence seeks to breakdown and recycle everything non-essential, harmful or damaged. This would include such things as fat, tumors, and inflamed tissue. These would in turn be used to provide energy, nutrients and water to the system. In other words the sickest cells are sacrificed for the other cells survival, with only the healthiest and strongest cells being preserved. This is an intense deep clean of the whole system. The body can produce the most water from breaking down fat tissue into hydrogen and carbon molecules which can then combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water. This process produces water of superb quality that helps rejuvenate the whole system and to prevent severe dehydration on a short term dry fast (e.g., intermittent dry fasting). Research was done to measure the effects of dehydration on the metabolism of people who fasted during Ramadan. In light of the science, it is not surprising that dehydration was either mild or non-existent.
3) High Anti-inflammatory Activity
Today’s modern diet and toxic environment is overburdening our bodies and leading to inflammatory responses. Inflammation is the body’s acute response to injury. However, it also plays a role in many chronic diseases, becoming a symptom of an unaddressed underlying cause. It’s like having a fire that cannot be put out. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are examples of inflammatory bowel diseases. Studies show that dry fasts like that of Ramadan can significantly decrease inflammatory marker readings as the potentially aggravating foods/compounds are removed and there is a greater activity of anti-inflammatory cytokines and less activity of pro–inflammatory cytokines.
4) Improved Lipid Profile
Dry fasting can have a positive effect on triglyceride levels, HDL (good cholesterol), LDL, and total cholesterol, as well.
Several studies show that after dry fasting:
- HDL (good) cholesterol levels increased in women
- Total cholesterol and triglycerides decreased in men.
- LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased in both sexes.
It seems that the type of fats you eat before and after your fast may affect your lipid profile. In one study it was shown that people fasting Ramadan in Morocco had a significant reduction in total cholesterol and triglycerides even one month after the fast had ended. On the other hand, people in Kuwait doing the same fast showed no marked changes in cholesterol or triglycerides. These results may be attributed to the types of fats consumed in each country. Moroccans have a higher consumption of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, while Kuwaitis consume more saturated fat.
5) Diabetes prevention
A dry fast can also regulate blood sugar. Numerous studies have revealed people with decreased blood glucose levels and increased insulin sensitivity after such a dry fast. Another study found that type 2 diabetic patients were able to markedly reduce their hemoglobin A1c levels ( a more accurate marker of blood sugar levels) through intermittent dry fasting for 15–21 days.
6) Improved Gut Health – (purging microorganisms and parasites)
We actually have more bacteria in our gut than we do cells in our bodies! The gut microbiome is a community of trillions of microbes including bacteria, fungi and viruses, all living harmoniously in a healthy gut. Gut dysbiosis/imbalance occurs when there is a shift in the number and type of microbes. Gut dysbiosis has been linked to an array of conditions such as hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, neurological problems, and even weight loss resistance. These facts are not shocking when one considers that 70% of the immune system is in the gut; and 70 different neurotransmitters, including serotonin, are manufactured there. Dry fasting further helps to cleanse the entire gastrointestinal tract of microorganisms and parasites, as they need water to survive. Dr. Filonov states that a moist environment in the body is ideal for the proliferation of bacteria; while water restriction on the other hand, acts like a devastating fire for them. Prebiotics and probiotics are important to introduce in an effort to help reestablish a more balanced microbiome.
7) Elimination of Toxins
Unlike water fasting where toxins are flushed out easily from the body using various excretory pathways such as urine, bowels, and sweating, dry fasting conditions require the body to be smart and conserve water. So, the cells are directed to burn their internal stores of toxins instead, functioning much like a furnace. This alternative mechanism acts in such an amazing way while dry fasting takes place, but remains dormant in other types of fasts.
These are just a few of the amazing benefits reaped from dry fasting– Subhanallah! However, there are also a few cautions of which to be aware.
Cautions of Dry Fasting
When you water fast you allow your body to rest and repair. However, dry fasting intensifies this cleansing process and is much more powerful. One day of dry fasting is equivalent to 3 days water fasting. But it is important to remember that a prolonged dry fast can be harmful, as there is a greater risk of dehydration. Since water is critical for the function of every cell of the body, intermittent dry fasting makes more sense. This way you to reap the benefits of dry fasting, without putting your health at risk.
Interestingly, this intermittent dry fasting is the way of our religion.
Our traditions teach us that the prophet, (peace and blessings be upon him), actually cautioned Muslims against a continuous dry fast.
Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.629 Narrated by Abdullah bin Amr states:
Allah’s Messenger (saws) was informed that I said: “By Allah, I will fast all the days and pray all the nights as long as I live.” On that, Allah’s Messenger (saws) asked me. “Are you the one who says: ‘I will fast all the days and pray all the nights as long as I live?'” I said, “Yes, I have said it.” The Prophet (saws) said, “You cannot do that!” So fast (sometimes) and do not fast (sometimes). Pray and sleep. Fast for three days a month, for the reward of a good deed is multiplied by ten times, and so the fasting of three days a month equals the fasting of a year.” I asked, “O Allah’s Messenger (saws), I can do (fast) more than this.” The Prophet (saws) replied “Fast on every third day.” I said: “I can do (fast) more than that.” The Prophet (saws) said: “Fast on alternate days and this was the fasting of Prophet Dawood (a.s.) which is the best sort of fasting.” I said, “O Allah’s Messenger (saws), I can do (fast) more than that.” The Messenger of Allah (saws) said, “There is nothing better than that (i.e. fasting on alternate days)!”
By Sophia C.