Water Fasting and Juice Fasting
Water fasting and juice fasting, like detoxing–and heck, if done correctly, they are forms of detoxing–are the Rodney Dangerfield of alternative health: they “don’t get no respect.”1 According to WebMD, for example, there isn’t enough evidence to support health claims for either water fasting or juice fasting, and “that type of fasting can actually be dangerous, especially for people who have other medical problems.”2 And according to an NBC News article that cites a number of so-called experts, long-term fasts can lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients, in addition to depriving the body of the vitamins and minerals that you get from food, which can “actually weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammation.”3 The article goes on to state that because crash diets–their euphemism for either water fasting or juice fasting– can upset blood sugar, potassium and sodium levels in the body, people with diabetes, heart or kidney disease or women who are pregnant or nursing shouldn’t try them; and children, teens, older adults, or people with certain digestive conditions should also steer clear.
More recently, juice fasting in particular has taken beating. For example, an October article in The Washington Post cites Nazrat Mirza, pediatrician and co-director of the Obesity Institute at Children’s National Medical Center, who states, “Most parents give their kids fruit juice because of the perception that it’s healthy. I don’t know where that perception came from.”4 Mirza goes on to state that while it’s true that many juices — particularly orange juice — are fortified with calcium and have a healthful amount of Vitamin C, you are getting those vitamins at a high calorie cost.” (By the way, note that if she’s talking about “fortified” juices, she’s not talking fresh juices.)
And a website called “Hooked on Juice” (yes, it really is named that) takes on all forms of juice fasting with the statement, “Even with no sugar added, fruit juice has the same amount of sugar as soda. Why? Because fruit is full of sugar!”
Water Fasting VS Juice Fasting VS Juice Fasting Plus Single Cell Protein, Part 1
Water fasting, juice fasting, and juice fasting supplemented with single cell proteins are not the same thing. They are closely related, but they are different. Although they share “some” of the same benefits, you use them for different purposes and in different ways. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of these differences and use the different forms incorrectly, at the wrong times, and in the wrong way. This leads to problems–and allows the medical community to pounce on the problems this creates and thus brand all fasting as ineffective, unnecessary, and generally harmful. We will return to this topic a little later when we explore those differences…and benefits.
But for now, despite what you have been led to believe, there are still elements of fasting–notably water fasting–that have been studied by the scientific community with consistently positive results.
Benefits of Fasting as Demonstrated in Studies
Curiously, the medical community chooses to say that these studies are not conclusive, thereby rendering all benefits of fasting moot. It’s a marvelous inconsistency, of course, considering that the medical community has decided to forego similar rigor when it comes to the issue of off-label pharmaceutical prescriptions. Off-label drugs, freely prescribed by doctors, are often accompanied by a complete–zilch, nada, zero–lack of clinical evidence supporting the efficacy or safety of that off-label application. Perhaps the doctors are relying on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement from his essay on Self-Reliance, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” to justify what otherwise might be viewed as hypocrisy.
In any case, there is a great deal of scientific support for the virtues of fasting. Here are a handful of such studies.
Heart disease, Cholesterol, Diabetes, and HGH
In 2011, research cardiologists at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute reported that fasting not only lowers one’s risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, but also produces significant beneficial changes in a person’s blood cholesterol levels.5 According to the researchers, “Fasting causes hunger or stress. In response, the body releases more cholesterol, allowing it to utilize fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. This decreases the number of fat cells in the body. This is important because the fewer fat cells a body has, the less likely it will experience insulin resistance, or diabetes.” In addition, the study effectively confirmed earlier findings about the effects of fasting on human growth hormone (HGH). HGH works to protect lean muscle and metabolic balance, a response triggered and accelerated by fasting. During 24-hour fasting periods, HGH increased an average of 1,300 percent in women, and nearly 2,000 percent in men. And yet another study found that simply disrupting normal eating cycles through intermittent fasting improved the ability of the body to process, sense, and recognize the nutrients it was consuming, thereby helping to prevent obesity, diabetes, and liver diseases in mice on a high-fat diet.6 In addition, intermittent fasting raised bile acid production, which is essential for properly digesting fats, and energy expenditure and reduced inflammation.
A 2006 study found that both caloric restriction (CR) and intermittent fasting (IF) can prolong the health-span of the nervous system by affecting fundamental metabolic and cellular signaling pathways that regulate life-span.7 CR and IF affect energy, free radical production, and cellular stress response systems in ways that protect neurons against genetic and environmental factors to which they would otherwise succumb during aging. Specifically, the researchers found that both IF and CR induce a mild stress response in brain cells, which results in the activation of compensating mechanisms. According to the researchers, IF regimens have previously been demonstrated to lessen and even stop damage to neurons and improve outcomes in animal models of both neurological trauma such as stroke8 and also age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease9 and Huntington’s disease.10
Building on previous work that had found that fasting for as little as two days protects healthy cells against chemotherapy,11 a new study published just this month found that fasting may actually retard tumors, while at the same time protecting against the harmful side effects of chemotherapy.12 As mentioned, the cell-protective effects of starvation had previously been demonstrated in a 2012 study. Researchers found that mice given a high dose of chemotherapy after fasting continued to thrive, while half of the normally fed mice died and half experienced lasting weight loss. Importantly, the chemotherapy extended the life span of mice injected with cells from an aggressive human tumor, and the animals later gained back the weight they had lost due to food deprivation. In addition, laboratory studies of normal human brain cells and cancerous brain cell lines that underwent a short period of starvation (low glucose) revealed that normal cells also became resistant to chemotherapy (a good thing), while cancerous brain cell lines remained susceptible. In fact, the 2012 study found that five out of eight cancer types in mice responded to fasting alone. Just as with chemotherapy, fasting slowed the growth and spread of tumors. And without exception, “the combination of fasting cycles plus chemotherapy was either more or “much more” effective than chemo alone.
The new study, published just a few days ago, on the other hand, actually found that cycles of starvation were as effective as chemotherapy drugs in delaying the progression of different tumors and increased the effectiveness of these drugs against melanoma, glioma, and breast cancer cells. In mouse models of neuroblastoma, fasting cycles plus chemotherapy drugs–but not either treatment alone–resulted in long-term cancer-free survival. According to the researchers, these studies suggest that multiple cycles of fasting promote differential stress sensitization in a wide range of tumors and could potentially replace or augment the efficacy of certain chemotherapy drugs in the treatment of various cancers.
That’s not insignificant.
Diabetes and Brain Damage
And finally, it has been known for many years that calorie restricted diets have been shown to have several health benefits including increased insulin sensitivity, stress resistance, reduced morbidity, and increased life span. The mechanism still remains unknown, but the need for a long-term reduction in caloric intake to achieve these benefits has always been assumed, at least until a 2002 study found that intermittent fasting by itself resulted in beneficial effects that met or exceeded those of caloric restriction. We’re talking about benefits including reduced serum glucose and insulin levels and increased resistance of neurons in the brain to excitotoxic stress.13 In other words, intermittent fasting produces the same kinds of beneficial effects on glucose regulation in diabetics and neuronal resistance to injury as caloric restriction…but most likely exceeds them.
Water Fasting VS Juice Fasting VS Juice Fasting Plus Single Cell Protein, Part 2
Water fasting is certainly more extreme than juice fasting or juice fasting plus spirulina or chlorella, but is the extremity worth it? That depends on what you’re after. Water fasting provides two benefits that juice fasting does not–but they come at a cost. Let’s take a look
Resting the organs of the digestive system
Loss of muscle mass
Normally your body burns carbohydrates for fuel. Ultimately, carbs are the main source of fuel for your brain, heart, and most other organs. During a water fast, after your body has used up all the available carbohydrate calories from your last meal, it then turns to the glycogen stored in your liver to meet its energy needs. Once your glycogen stores are used up, your body finally turns to its fat reserves. At this point, your body is in a state of ketosis. A person in ketosis is getting energy from ketones, little carbon fragments that are the fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores. Mild ketosis, at least short term, can be beneficial. The first benefit is that it accelerates the loss of fat in your body; the second is that it can actually help stabilize your body’s glycemic response over time.14 And thirdly, it can actually reduce hunger. When the body is in ketosis, you tend to feel less hungry.
But longer term, or at more extreme levels, ketosis is definitely more bad than good. High levels of ketones can cause gout, kidney stones, and even lead to organ failure–particularly kidney failure. Note: as little as 100 grams of carbohydrates a day (not counting fiber) can prevent ketosis in your body.
The technical definition of autolysis is the destruction of the tissues or cells of an organism by substances that are produced within that organism. When it comes to fasting, we can think of this as the body digesting parts of itself to compensate for insufficient calories being consumed. The breaking down of fat cells through ketosis is one example. The breaking down of muscle and organ tissue to extract protein for more immediate needs is another. If we believe the process to be random and arbitrary, as the medical community supposes, then it should be avoided at all costs. But as any endurance athlete can tell you, your body does not break down arbitrarily under autolytic conditions. As it turns out, you body is fundamentally self-aware and intelligent; it “digests” diseased and weakened tissue before healthy tissue. For an endurance runner, that means her body will “use up” her upper body tissue before it even thinks of taking anything from her legs. Quite simply, your body has the ability to readily adjust to changing circumstances–breaking down tissue in one part of the body and reassembling it in another, again as circumstances require.
Years ago, I hiked the full 212 mile length of the John Muir Trail and lost 13 lbs during the trip. At altitude and carrying a 70 lb pack, I was burning better than 5,000 calories a day and couldn’t come close to eating that much. At the end of the hike, you could count my ribs, but I had legs like a Billy Goat. My body digested the tissue it didn’t need for the task at hand, but built it even stronger where necessary. Autolysis is not arbitrary. During fasting, autolysis is self-aware.
Since you are consuming fewer calories in a water fast, autolysis is more pronounced than with a juice fast. This means that your body will be breaking down unneeded, damaged, and toxic tissue faster than with other forms of fasting. However, as long as you are not overdoing the calories while juice fasting, autolysis will still take place while on a juice fast — just not as pronounced.
Cleansing Toxins and Cleansing Reaction
Different health experts will have different opinions on this, but I believe that the main purpose of fasting is to remove toxins from the body. And in that regard, juice fasting is just as effective as water fasting when it comes to the amount of toxins removed. But juice fasting goes one step further. The breakdown of tissue during fasting both creates and releases toxins into the bloodstream. The body’s response to these toxins is to first oxidize them, then reduce them, and finally conjugate them (i.e., combine them with something else) to create a less toxic or inactive compound and safely escort those compounds out of the body. Most of this is accomplished in the liver, but–and here’s the key point–the process requires nutritional cofactors to conjugate the toxins. When juice fasting, these cofactors are abundantly provided by the fresh juice. When water fasting, no such luck. Elimination of these toxins when water fasting is, therefore, much more uncomfortable.
And it is here that fasting with juices plus single cell proteins such as chlorella and/or spirulina stands out. Both chlorella and spirulina are chelating and purifying agents that bond with the toxins and usher them out of your body. It’s not a coincidence that algae such as chlorella are used in water treatment plants to remove toxins from drinking water.
Resting the Organs of the Digestive System
All three forms of fasting are useful when it comes to resting the digestive system since they require no, or very little, work from the digestive system in terms of processing. Note: this is why protein supplementation for the juice has to be of the single cell variety–to minimize any effort made by your digestive system. Spirulina is so easy to digest because it is surrounded by a thin membrane of complex sugars which dissolve easily in the stomach. Chlorella, on the other hand, is easy to digest since virtually all varieties sold as food are “broken-celled,” meaning that the cell wall has already been breached and requires no further digestion to access the nutrients inside.
Note: while fasting, you are not only resting the organs of digestion from their workload, you are also freeing up the energy in your body normally devoted to digestion. Most people think that food provides them with energy, and it does…long term. But short term, digestion is an energy intensive process. Just consider for a moment how exhausted you feel after eating a large meal. While fasting, you free up that energy that was previously employed in digestion for the purposes of rebuilding and repairing other tissues in the body. In his book, The Science and Fine Art of Fasting, Herbert Shelton calls this “physiological compensation.15” As he says, “Energy saved in one department may be expended in another.”
Electrolyte and Glucose Imbalance and Fatigue
Water fasting is the most likely form of fasting to cause problems in terms of electrolyte and glucose imbalances, as well as fatigue. Since you’re not taking in any electrolytes or glucose, you are going to run short. If you’re healthy and the fast is short term, that’s not a problem. But if you’re not healthy, or the fast goes on longer than three days, the problems and risks increase. Water fasts longer than three days can cause irregular heartbeats (especially if your potassium levels have dropped) and extreme swings of fatigue from the drop in glucose levels. And in some cases, where the faster doesn’t know what they’re doing, water fasting even presents a risk of death from the lack of electrolytes. It’s the reason, if you’re new to fasting, I never recommend a pure water fast longer than three days unless someone knowledgeable is personally guiding you through the process. Experienced fasters who are in tune with their bodies, on the other hand, can navigate longer periods of water fasting safely. Juice fasting is much less problematic for newbies in this regard.
Interestingly, juice fasting can present an opposite problem. If you rely too much on sweet fruit juices for your fast, you can push glucose levels up much too high, which can lead to severe glycemic swings. It’s the reason that I recommend juicing primarily with vegetable juices while fasting and diluting any fruit juices you drink with pure water. The sweeter the juice, the more you’ll want to dilute it–two or three parts water to one part juice is not unwarranted for such juices.
By the way, this is why the Master Cleanse adds both lemon juice and maple syrup to its version of the water fast — lemon for the electrolytes and maple syrup to prevent glucose dips.
Loss of Muscle Mass
This is pretty automatic: unless you are consuming protein, you will lose overall muscle mass. Yes, you can build muscle in particular areas even while fasting, but you accomplish that by cannibalizing protein from other muscle tissue that is not being stressed. As I mentioned earlier, when I hiked the John Muir Trail, I built muscle in my legs, but only by cannibalizing muscle from my upper body. And this is where consuming single-cell proteins while fasting truly shines. Because they are such highly concentrated proteins, and so easily digested, supplementing with them while fasting minimizes the muscle loss and ensures that the majority of weight lost is water and fat…while at the same time giving you the benefits of fasting.
Ketones are both acidic and acid forming in the body; thus, pushing your body into ketosis while water fasting can be acidifying to the body. However, drinking enough water will flush the ketones quickly from the body, thereby minimizing that effect. Nevertheless, there is nothing in a pure water fast to help promote alkalinity. Incidentally, that’s one of the reasons the Master Cleanse fast includes lemon juice with the water. As I’ve explained in other newsletters, although citrus fruits are acidic, they actually promote alkalinity in the body. Another possibility is to water fast using a water ionizer, which will help promote alkalinity in the body. Be careful, though, not to set the alkalinity too high; otherwise, since you’ll be drinking so much water during the fast, you can promote a state of too much alkalinity.
In any case, juice fasting–especially with vegetable juices–is helpful in promoting a proper alkaline state. And the single-celled algae are also alkalinizing.
Water fasting is the least effective form of fasting for weight loss since with no calories your body quickly goes into shut down mode to prevent starvation. In other words, water fasting slows your metabolism so that you “survive” on fewer calories. This means that you progressively lose less weight as the fast goes on, but even more important, you have a high rebound effect once you start eating again…since your metabolism is now slower and it takes even fewer calories to put weight back on.
For that reason, juice fasting is better for losing weight and juice fasting with one-celled protein even better. They both offer less slowing of your metabolism–and, therefore, less rebound. That said, if you decide to use either water fasting or juice fasting for weight-loss, I recommend alternate day fasting. Eating every other day prevents the body from shutting down. Note: just make sure you don’t overeat on your alternate eating days in an unconscious attempt to “compensate” for what you didn’t eat the day before. Overindulging in calories on eating days pretty much nullifies the gains you make on fasting days.
Fasting is an essential component of the Baseline of Health Program for preventing and even reversing catastrophic illness. I personally have done all different kinds of fasting over the years–including longer water fasts, Master Cleanses, and juice fasts. In the end, after years of trial error, I’ve settled on the vegetable juice fast (with a small amount of fruit juice), supplemented with chlorella or spirulina, as the best form of fasting for the vast majority of people. And it’s the form of fasting I personally use most often. It’s effective; reasonably pleasant, as fasts go; has the smallest chance of a detox reaction; is the easiest for most people to do, and is far and away the safest form of fasting. That said, I recommend the following guidelines.
Type of Juice
In general, you want to use low sugar vegetable juices over high sugar fruit juices. Be sure and dilute any fruit juices that you do use. As I mentioned earlier, diluting two or three parts water for each part juice is advisable when drinking fruit juices.
No bottled juices! They are essentially sugar water, or just plain dead. Get a juicer. My favorite juicers now are the Breville 800JEXL – Juice Fountain Elite Extractor for when I want something quick and easy to clean up after and the Tribest Green Star Green Power Gold when I am juicing throughout the day for more than a couple of days. The Green Power does a superior job but is more of a pain to use and clean. However, if you are juicing throughout the day, you only need to clean it at the end of the day. And for those who want only the very best, the Norwalk Model 280 is the crème de la crème of the juicing world. But at $2,500, it’s outrageously expensive and a real pain in the butt to use and clean. Most people will not have the patience to stick with it; but for those who do, it produces superior juice. Note: I love my VitaMix blender. I wouldn’t own anything else, but it’s a blender and not a juicer. It liquefies fruits and vegetables; it doesn’t juice them. It’s great for pure fruit and vegetable smoothies, but not for juice fasting.
Chlorella, Spirulina, or Blue Green Algae
It’s six of one, half dozen of the other. My personal preference is for chlorella because I believe it does a better job as a detoxing agent. It’s certainly superior in its ability to chelate heavy metals. But spirulina and blue green algae offer a better protein source. Also, look out for allergies. People who are allergic to seafood may have a problem with one or the other of these foods. Note: blue green algae is likely to be the least problematic in this regard.
In any case, buy organic from a trusted manufacturer that grows their algae in a very clean environment. Don’t buy bargain brands that don’t state how they are grown.
As a basic schedule, I like the following:
One day of juice fasting with chlorella a week. (I like Mondays because it cleans things up after the weekend and breaks the flow after any indulgences I may have allowed myself. And if I’m trying to lose any weight, I’ll do both Mondays and Fridays for a couple of weeks.)
Once a month, I like to extend that one day juice fast three days. There’s an old saying in the world of fasting. One day gives your body a rest; three days is good for minor repair; and five to seven days works as a complete overhaul for your body.
With that in mind, twice a year, I now do a five-day juice and chlorella fast in combination with my bi-annual kidney/liver/gallbladder/blood detox. I do one of those the first week in January to cleanse my body of all the bad stuff I ate over the holidays–and to break any bad eating habits I acquired during that period. I do the other one mid-summer, but am more flexible as to the exact dates.
Diabetics need to exercise special care when fasting–even short-term. Diabetics should not start with water fasting as this can play havoc with your blood sugar levels. And absolutely, do not base your fast on undiluted fruit juices as this can send your blood sugar levels through the roof. Vegetable juices are preferable, and the use of supplemental single-celled proteins can smooth the edges out even further. In any case, work with your physician and monitor your blood sugar regularly. Also fasting is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as it can stir up toxins that can impact the child. And anyone who has a chronic illness, is using prescription medications, or is under a doctor’s care should check with their doctor or naturopathic physician before embarking on a fasting program.
Despite what the medical community may feel about the practice, fasting is one of the cornerstones of many alternative health programs. As I have repeatedly stated over the years, a good juicer is one of the single best investments you can make in your health. And let me be absolutely clear, I do not sell juicers, and I do not make any money if you buy one. I just recommend their use.
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- 15. Herbert M. Shelton. “The Science and Fine Art of Fasting.” Natural Hygiene Press; 5th edition (August 1978)
Written by Jon Barron or staff member at The Baseline of Health Foundation
Material originally published at www.jonbarron.org.
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Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation.
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