The term “fasting” is often synonymous with various dietary and weight loss regimens. However, “water fasting” is a relatively newer concept. Fasting may have been practiced for centuries to accommodate various health and/or religious reasons, yet the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of fasting are still in its infancy, especially that of water fasting. Numerous clinical studies have investigated the efficacy of fasting on health factors ranging from weight loss to building lean body mass and detoxification (1), however, the findings vary depending on several clinical factors including but not limited to population of the study, methodologies, duration, and purpose of fasting.
What is Water Fasting?
In general, the term fasting refers to restricted food intake for various lengths of time. However, the term “water fasting” refers to restricting all food intake except water for a set period of time. At first, water fasting became a popular concept to assist with rapid weight loss that occurred over a short period of time and while there are many studies investigating restricted food intake, water fasting has yet to prove itself within the medical world. In general, it has been documented that fasting may simulate autophagy, a process that causes recycling of older cells within the body by a process of rapid break-down (2). Water fasting can also be deemed as a cleansing or a detoxification process in which the person is following an extreme caloric restriction and adhering to a strictly water-based diet only (3).
Pros and Cons of Water Fasting
Clinically speaking, it is impossible to survive on water alone for long periods of time. The human body depends on calories as a source of energy and without both calories and nutrients, most of the functions of the body will be compromised, as they’re the batteries and building blocks of life. However, under the supervision of a health professional, a carefully planned, short-term water fast can help reset certain biological processes while inducing a natural state of detoxification.
Let’s dabble with some possible pros and cons of water fasting and gain an understanding of this process. A short-term water fast can assist with weight loss. While it may seem obvious that weight loss may have been induced due to restricted food intake, water fasting can help the body utilize stored fat via the process of ketosis, in which fat reserves are used to produce energy to support the various functions within the body. In some instances, water fasting may have a role to play in slowing the aging process and reducing inflammation (2,3).
While it appears that water fasting may have some benefits, the risks can sometimes outweigh the benefits. Water fasting can not only disrupt blood pressure, it can also result in nausea, dizziness, and fainting. In fact, those with preexisting conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disorders, and heart diseases are advised to keep away from fasting and/or water fasting unless advised and supervised by their heath provider (3).
As with any dietary regimen, moderation is key. Water fasting is a short-term remedy that has yet to be studied extensively within clinical settings. It may offer some short-term benefits but as with any rapid weight loss plan, the risks may be far worse. It is important to note that water fasting may induce weight loss at first, however it does not result in immediate fat burning, as losing fat is a metabolically and chemically tedious process that requires other factors such as supervised nutritional therapy in conjunction with physical activity.
If you are considering a water fast, you should consult your physician to discuss your goals, the potential side effects, and whether it is the best solution for your specific health needs.
- Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy, 6(6), 702–710.