Water Fasting: What are the pros and cons of this practice?


Last Updated December 24th, 2019

What is water fasting?

Fasting is defined as a procedure that involves the restriction of food intake. This practice has been widely practiced by many people for more than a thousand years. When related to water fasting, it is typical fasting which restricts the intake of food items and juices and allows only the intake of water. This fasting can be performed only for 24 to 72 hours. In recent times, water fasting has become a popular venture by people who are eager to lose weight quickly. Its positive impact in quick weight loss has been proved by studies.

Before you can leap into water fasting, it is advisable to consult your doctor or make sure to follow water fast under medical supervision. Some of the common reason that people opt to practice water fasting include spiritual or religious reasons, for detoxification, equip themselves for a medical procedure, for quick weight loss, and for the health benefits its nurtures.

What are the steps involved in water fasting?

There aren’t any rules or guidelines that need to be adhered to while performing a water fast. However, this type of fasting is restricted to several groups of people who require the governance of a medical supervisor.

The groups of people that fall under medical supervision include people with gout, chronic kidney disease, diabetes (both types 1 and 2), pregnant women and children, eating disorders, and older adults. If in case you haven’t had the opportunity to perform a water fast earlier then it is essential that you prepare yourself both mentally and physically a few days before you plan to fast. In order to prepare yourself for the fast, it is advisable to consume a small amount of food or try fasting during any part of the day.

During the fast

During a water fast you aren’t allowed to consume or drink anything except water. As a result, people end up drinking two to three liters of water on a daily basis during the fast. The fast is scheduled to last for 24 to 72 hours. People tend to develop dizziness during the fast, it is, therefore necessary that they avoid overworking, operating heavy machinery, and driving.

What happens during post-fast?

Once the fast is completed you should refrain from gobbling big meals. Eating large meals after fasting can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, stomach ache, etc. It is advisable to break your fast with a light smoothie or small meal. By doing so, you don’t cause disturbance to your hungry stomach and avoid developing any uncomfortable symptoms. The post-fast phase is deemed important as it may leave you open to the risk of refeeding syndrome. Refeeding syndrome is the condition that is associated with the reinstitution of nutrition to patients who are starved, malnourished, and metabolically stressed. It is potentially a fatal condition where the body experiences a rapid change in fluids and electrolytes.

What are the benefits of water fasting?

It may help in autophagy

Autophagy is a regeneration process involving old parts of your cell. During the process, the old parts are broken down and recycled to form new and healthier ones. Studies have proved that autophagy has been associated with preventing the body against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart, and cancer. In animal studies it has been proved that water fasting helps to extend life span however, it is yet to be researched on humans.

May promote blood sugar control

Fasting is a gateway to improve blood sugar levels especially for those who are on the verge of developing diabetes. Water fasting reduces the calorie intake which in turn helps reduce insulin resistance. By decreasing insulin resistance you tend to induce your body’s sensitivity to insulin. This sensitivity to insulin helps your body transport glucose between your bloodstreams and cells more efficiently.

May enhance better health

Chronic inflammation for a prolonged period of time can have serious consequences. Inflammations are associated with developing certain chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis (a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints), and diabetes. Water fasting helps prevent free radicals (unstable molecules that can cause damage to cell parts) from damaging heart health. In addition, studies have proved that water fasting may help suppress genes responsible for causing cancer and in the long run help improve the effects of chemotherapy (a type of cancer treatment that uses one or more anti-cancer drugs as part of a standardized chemotherapy regimen).

It may improve heart health

Research has proved that adding fasting to your routine may be beneficial when related to the heart. When water fasting is carried out in a proper manner it significantly reduced blood pressure, bad cholesterol or LDL cholesterol, and also help reduce triglycerides levels in the blood. In addition, water fasting is also associated with lowering the risk of coronary artery disease (a condition associated with reduced levels of blood flow to the heart muscles).

May prevent neurodegenerative disorders

Studies have proved that water fasting is linked to having a positive impact on brain health. As mentioned earlier water fasting may help reduce inflammation. The reduction of inflammation can aid in reducing neurodegenerative disorder. The neurodegenerative disorder is associated with the progressive loss of structure or function of neurons, including the death of neurons. It supports the increase of generation of cells and can help cognitive health overall.

It may help boost metabolism

Water fasting is linked to consuming lesser carbs or calories. The lower levels of calorie intake lead to quicker weight loss. Water fasting may help increase metabolism. The increased levels of norepinephrine (is an organic chemical in the catecholamine family that functions in the brain and body as a hormone and neurotransmitter) may boost metabolism and help in rapid weight loss.

May increase levels of growth hormone secretion

Growth hormone is the core for protein hormone that plays a vital role in many aspects related to health. This hormone is involved in weight loss, muscle strength, growth, and metabolism. Several studies brought to light that water fasting could naturally increase human growth hormone (HSH).

People who fall under the strictly “no” category

Water fasting isn’t safe for everyone. People who are barred from practicing water fasting include children under 18years, older adults, and those who:

  • Suffer from an eating disorder or anorexia
  • Underweight problems
  • Pregnant or lactating women
  • Suffer from heart problems
  • Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes
  • Suffer from an uncontrollable migraine
  • Are scheduled for a blood transfusion
  • Are under specific medical treatment (in this case consult your doctor before practicing water fasting)

What all can go wrong in water fasting?

Though it nurtures varied health benefits it does have a skeleton in its cupboard. Here are a few risks associated with water fasting they include:

You can lose the wrong weight: Since there is a restriction on the intake of calories you tend to lose weight rapidly. It is however unfortunate that you may lose weight that comes from carbs, water, and at times even muscle mass.

You can develop dehydration: It may sound weird that you can come in for dehydration. But truth being said, water fasting can make you dehydrated. Though you consume the same amount of water as a substitute for foods, it is still proved that you may not get enough water. Water fasting can cause dehydration as it doesn’t acquire the necessary water content from foods. Dehydration is associated with symptoms such as headaches, low blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, constipation, and low productivity. In order to balance your water level during a water fast, it is mandatory that you drink more than usual water.

You can come in for orthostatic hypotension: Orthostatic hypotension is a condition that is related to a sudden drop in blood pressure levels when you perform any sudden action. For instance, there is a sudden drop in blood pressure when you stand up and you remain dizzy and are prone to faint. This condition is common among people who fast. It is therefore advised that during water fasting make sure not to operate heavy machinery or drive.

It may worsen certain medical conditions: Though water fasting is performed for only a short period of time, it can aggravate certain medical conditions. It is therefore advisable to avoid water fasting for the below mentioned medical conditions that include:

  • Since water fasting is associated with increased uric acid production it should be avoided by people suffering from gout. Gout is defined as a disease in which defective metabolism of uric acid causes arthritis, especially in the smaller bones of the feet, deposition of chalk-stones, and episodes of acute pain.
  • Water fasting may develop the risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes; it is a big no for people with diabetes.
  • People diagnosed with chronic kidney diseases should avoid water fasting as it can cause damage to the kidneys.
  • Should be avoided by teenagers as it can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia. Bulimia is defined as an emotional disorder characterized by a distorted body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by fasting or self-induced vomiting or purging.
  • During water fasting the body tends to develop an increased amount of stomach acid without any food to digest. As a result, it can lead to heartburn.

Important points to remember

  • Always keep in mind to start a one day fast if you are new to water fasting. This rules out any adverse effects that you may develop during fasting.
  • Fasting is a two-way stream which involves both physical and mental well-being.
  • Consider having a well-balanced meal before you begin your fast. By doing so, it gives you the essential energy needed to sustain your water fasting.
  • Choose a time that is of complete rest, possibly a day when not at work. It is better to do so, as you make feel giddy or weak when fasting.
  • It is advisable to avoid fasting when unwell or tired.
  • Never try doing demanding exercises as you can lose energy quicker.
  • Remember to drink sufficient water during the fast and try to maintain the same throughout the day.
  • Don’t consume large meals when ending the fast as it can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

Is it for you?

Water fasting is one of the popular methods of fasting that has found its prevalence for many years. Water fasting contains many health benefits and also comes with several risks associated with it. Therefore, care should be taken before you venture into it and always make sure to consult your doctor before you do so.


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