Fasting and Juice Cleansing: Part I

Fasting and Juice Cleansing: Part I

I fully believe, because I have-seen it repeatedly consistently over my 25 years of medical practice, that the process of juice cleansing (and other avenues of detoxification) is my most valuable healing tool. Any time we can motivate people to make changes in their personal habits which frequently result in long-term changes of improved health, we are performing our greatest service as doctors (teachers). When our patients can experience first-hand what they feel like to clean out and lighten up, this is most rewarding for all involved, doctor and patient. To really understand the experience and be able to guide your patients with wisdom (and wisdom usually comes from experience), it may be most important for you to go though your own process of detoxification and juice cleansing. The following article, excerpted from my recent book, The Detox Diet: The How-To & When-To Guide For Cleansing the Body, will give you some of the basic information and motivation for utilizing fasting and detoxification in your practice. And when I am cleansing myself, I am even more motivated to get my patients into that process as well. In fact, for over 20 years, I have led groups of patients, often with their spouse or friends, in my yearly Spring Cleansing Group, and this has been a completely fulfilling experience, not with food, but with spirit and the knowledge that I am really helping people to heal. Good luck in your cleansing experiences.

Fasting is the single greatest natural healing therapy I know. It is nature's ancient, universal remedy for many problems, used instinctively by animals when ill and by earlier cultures for healing and spiritual purification. When I first discovered fasting over 20 years ago, I felt as if it had saved my life. My stagnant energies began flowing, my allergies, aches, and pains disappeared, and I became more creative and vitally alive. I still find fasting both a useful personal tool and an important therapy for many medical and life problems.

Most of the conditions for which I recommend fasting are those that result from excess nutrition rather than undernourishment. Dietary abuses generate many chronic degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, heart disease, allergies, diabetes, cancer, and substance abuse which undermine our health and precede the breakdown of the body. I believe that fasting is not only therapeutic but, more importantly, acts as a preventative for many conditions. It often becomes the catalyst for shifting from unhealthy or abusive habits to a more healthful lifestyle in general.

As I use the term here, fasting refers to the avoidance of solid food and the intake of liquids only. True fasting would be the total avoidance of anything by mouth. The most stringent form of fasting allows drinking water exclusively; more liberal fasting includes the juices of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as herbal teas. All of these methods generate a high degree of detoxification-eliminating toxins from the body. Individual experiences with fasting depend upon the overall condition of our body, mind, and attitude. Detoxification can be intense and may either temporarily increase sickness or be immediately helpful and uplifting.

Juice fasting is commonly used as an effective cleansing plan. Fresh juices are easily assimilated and require minimum digestion, while still supplying many nutrients and stimulating our body to clear wastes. It is also safer than water fasting as it supports the body nutritionally while cleansing and hence maintains bodily energy levels, producing better detoxification and a quicker recovery.

I believe that fasting is the "missing link" in the Western diet. Most people overeat, eat too often, and eat a high-protein, high-fat, acid-congesting diet more consistently than is necessary. If we regularly eat a balanced, well-combined, more "alkalinizing" diet we will have less need for fasting and toning plans (although both are still highly beneficial, performed at intervals throughout the year).

Detoxification is a time when we allow our cells and organs to breathe and restore themselves. However, we do not necessarily need to fast to experience some cleansing. Even minor dietary shifts will initiate and promote better detox function, including an increase in fluids, more raw foods, and fewer congesting foods. For example, a vegetarian or macrobiotic diet will be very cleansing and purifying. Here we focus on the history of fluid fasting, its benefits, and therapeutic use.

Fasting is a time-proven remedy, with human origins going back many thousands of years. Voluntary abstinence from food has been a tradition in most religions and is still used as a spiritual purification rite. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and many tribal, anamistic religions have encouraged fasting as penance, preparation for ceremony, purification, mourning, sacrifice, divine union, and to enhance mental and spiritual powers. The Bible is filled with stories of people fasting for purification and communion with God. The Essenes, authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, also advocated fasting as one of their primary methods of healing and spiritual revelation, as described in The Essene Gospel of Peace (translated by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely from the third-century Aramaic manuscript).

Philosophers, scientists, and physicians across time have fasted as a means to promote life and health after sickness. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Paracelsus, and Hippocrates all used tasting therapy. Many of today's spiritual teachers also recommend Philosophers, scientists, and physicians across time have fasted as a means to promote life and health after sickness. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Paracelsus, and Hippocrates all used fasting therapy. Many of today's spiritual teachers also recommend fasting as a useful tool. In a. lecture entitled "Healing by God's Unlimited Power" (1947), Paramahansa Yogananda suggested that fasting increased our natural resistance to disease, stating that "Fasting is a natural method of healing. When animals or savages are sick, they fast. Most diseases can be cured by judicious fasting. Unless one has a weak heart, regular short fasts have been recommended by the yogis as an excellent health measure."

Through the centuries, physicians and healers have treated a variety of maladies with fasting, acknowledging that ignorance of how to live in accordance with nature may be our greatest disease. Our inherent knowledge of how to live according to the natural laws and spiritual truths leads to the sacred wisdom of life and subsequent good health. Knowing when and how long to fast is part of this knowledge. Through fasting, we can turn our energies inward, where we can use them for healing, clarity, and change.

Physicians with a spiritual orientation tend to be more inclined than others to employ fasting, both personally and in their practices. Many of my own life transitions were stimulated and supported through fasting; when I have felt blocked or needed creative energy in my writing, fasting has been very useful. In Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet, physician and spiritual teacher Gabriel Cousens, M.D., includes an excellent chapter on fasting in which he describes his theories and his own 40-day regime. According to Dr. Cousens,

...fasting in a larger context, means to abstain from that which is toxic to mind, body, and soul. A way to understand this is that fasting is the elimination of physical, emotional, and mental toxins from our organism, rather than simply cutting down on or stopping food intake. Fasting for spiritual purposes usually involves some degree of removal of oneself from worldly responsibilities. It can mean complete silence and social isolation during the fast which can be a great revival to those of us who have been putting our energy outward.

From a medical point of view, I believe that fasting is not utilized often enough. We take vacations from work to relax, recharge, and gain new perspectives on our life-why not take occasional breaks from food? (Or, for that matter, from excessive activity or television?) To break the habit of eating three meals a day is a challenge for most of us. When we stop and let our stomach remain empty, our body goes into an elimination cycle, and most people will experience some withdrawal symptoms, especially when toxicity exists. Symptoms include headaches, irritability, or fatigue. As with all allergy-addictions, eating again assuages these symptoms.

Fasting is a useful therapy for many conditions and people. Those who tend to develop congestive symptoms do well with fasting; congestive acidic conditions include colds, flus, bronchitis, mucus congestion, and constipation. If not addressed, such conditions can lead to headaches, chronic intestinal problems, skin conditions, and more severe ailments. Most of us living in Western, industrialized nations suffer from both overnutrition and undernutrition. We take in excessive amounts of potentially toxic nutrients, such as fats and chemicals, and inadequate amounts of many essential vitamins and minerals. The resulting congestive diseases are characterized by excess mucus and sluggish elimination; deficiency problems result from either poor nourishment or ineffective digestion/assimilation. Juice fasting supplies nutrients while still allowing for the elimination of toxins.

Juice fasting can be used both to detoxify from drugs and when embarking on a new lifestyle transition provided there are no contraindications (discussed later in this chapter). Fasting is versatile and generally safe; however, when used to treat medical conditions, proper supervision should be employed.

- The use of fasting as a treatment for fevers is controversial. It shouldn't be. Consuming liquids generates less heat, and this helps cool the body. With fever, we need more liquids than usual.

- Some cases of fatigue respond well to fasting, particularly when the fatigue results from congested organs and stalled energy. With fatigue that results from chronic infection, nutritional deficiency, or serious disease, added nourishment is probably called for as opposed to fasting.

- Back pain caused by muscular tightness and stress (rather than from bone disease or osteoporosis) are usually alleviated with a lighter diet or juice fasting. Much tightness and soreness along the back result from colon or other organ congestion; in my experience, poor bowel function and constipation are commonly associated with back pain.

- Patients with mental illness ranging from anxiety to schizophrenia may be helped by fasting. Although this may sound sensational, fasting's purpose here, however, is not to cure these problems, but rather to help understand the relationship of foods, chemicals, and drugs with mental functioning. Additional allergies and environmental reactions, are not at all uncommon in people with mental illness. True, the release of toxins or lack of nourishment during fasting may worsen psychiatric problems; if, however, the patient is strong and congested, fasting may be helpful. The supervision of a healthcare provider is important for patients with mental illness.

- People often attempt to remedy obesity by fasting, although it is not the best use of this healing technique. Fasting is actually too temporary an approach for overweight dieters and may even generate feasting reactions in people coming off the fast. A better solution would be a more gradual change of diet with a longer-term weight-reduction plan -- something that will replace old dietary habits and food choices with new ones. However, a short 5- to 10-day fast can motivate people to make the necessary dietary changes and renewed commitments to proper eating.

Some very obese patients who have needed to shed weight of a hundred pounds or more have been on month-long water fasts supervised in hospitals. Other patients have had their jaws wired shut allowing them to only ingest fluids through straws. Newer fasting programs substitute a variety of protein-rich powders for meals. These are also usually medically supervised, and are for people who are at least 30-50 pounds overweight. These high-protein, low-calorie diets (using prepackaged powders such as Optifast or Medifast) allow patients to burn more fat. Although these programs are not nearly as healthful as vital juice fasts, they are more nutritionally supportive over a longer period of time and can be used on a outpatient basis fairly safely if people are monitored regularly. They provide all the needed vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to sustain life while helping many people lower their weight, blood fats, blood pressure, and blood sugars. However, as with any weight-loss program, success depends upon participant motivation to change personal diets and habits permanently, as fluctuating weights may actually be more harmful than just remaining overweight. Many obese people are also deficient in nutrients because they eat a highly refined, fatty, sweet diet. They are often fatigued and need to be nourished first before they will do well on any fast. A well-balanced, low-calorie (yet high-nutrient) diet with lots of exercise is still the best way to reduce and maintain a good weight and figure.

- Fasting to treat cancer is a controversial topic but is used by many alternative clinics outside the United States. Because of the extremely debilitating effects of cancer, this may not be wise. Juice fasting may be helpful in early stages of cancer, and is definitely a preventative measure as it reduces toxicity. Anyone with cancer needs adequate nourishment; adding fresh juices to an already wholesome diet can promote mild detoxification and enhance overall vitality.

The Process and Benefits of Fasting

Although the results of fasting will vary depending upon the individual condition of the faster, there are a number of metabolic changes and experiences that are common to all. First, fasting is a catalyst for change and an essential part of transformational medicine. It promotes relaxation and energization of the body, mind, and emotions, and supports a greater spiritual awareness. Many fasters let go of past experiences and develop a positive attitude toward the present. Having plenty of energy to get things done and cleaning up our personal and community environment is also a common response to the cleansing process. Fasting definitely improves motivation and stimulates creative energy; it also enhances health, beauty, and vitality by letting many of the body systems rest.

Fasting is a multidimensional experience, affecting people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Breaking down stored or circulating chemicals is its basic process; the blood and lymph also have the opportunity to be cleaned of toxins as their eliminative functions are alleviated. Each cell has the opportunity to catch up on its work; with fewer new demands, cells can repair themselves and eliminate wastes. Most fasters experience a new vibrancy of their skin and clarity of mind and body. Most importantly, our liver can spend more time detoxifying our body and creating new essential substances. Two to three quarts of water and juices daily (or even more in some people) are optimal during fasting to cleanse and support our body.

Metabolically, fasting initially reduces caloric intake to the point where the liver converts stored glycogen to glucose and energy. Body fat and fatty acids can be used for energy (ATP); however, the brain and central nervous system need direct glucose. With fasting, some protein breakdown occurs (less if calories are provided by juices). When glycogen stores are low, our body can convert protein to amino acids and to energy -- specifically the amino acids alanine and serine can be used to produce glucose. Fatty acids can also be a source of energy during fasting, as they convert to ketones (acetone bodies) which can be used by the body to prevent protein loss. With juice fasting, there is less ketosis (disrupted carbohydrate metabolism) and the simple carbohydrates provided by the juices are easily used for energy and cellular function. High-protein (fasting) diets and other weight-loss programs may burn more fat and generate more ketosis, but they also add more toxins and may create other health concerns.

Fasting increases the process of elimination and the release of toxins from the colon, kidneys, bladder, lungs, sinuses, and skin. This process can generate discharges such as mucus which are helpful in clearing biochemical suffocation. Fasting helps us decrease this suffocation by allowing the cells to eliminate waste products, increase oxygenation, and improved cellular nutrition.

As for fasting symptoms, headache is not at all uncommon during the first day or two. Hunger is usually present for two or three days and then departs, leaving many people with a surprising feeling of deep "abdominal peace". When hungry, it is good to ask ourselves, "What are we hungry for?" Fasting is an excellent time work on the psychological aspects of consumption. Fatigue or irritability may arise at times, as may dizziness or lightheadedness. Sensitivity is usually increased and common sounds like the telephone, television, music, or the hum of a refrigerator or air-conditioner may be more irritating. Our sense of smell is also exaggerated. Most people's tongues will develop a thick white or yellow fur coating, which can be scraped or brushed off. Bad breath and displeasing tastes in the mouth, or foul-smelling urine or stools, may occur. Skin odor or skin eruptions such as small sports or painful boils may also appear, depending on the level of toxicity. Digestive upset mucus-containing stools, flatulence, or even nausea and vomiting may also occur. Some people experience insomnia or bad dreams as their body releases poisons during the night. Believe me, the ultimate benefits are well worth the transient discomforts.

The mind may put up resistance, sending messages of doubt or fear that fasting is not right. This can be exaggerated by listening to other people's fears about your fasting. (If you are looking for excuses not to fast, they are everywhere.) Most symptoms will occur early on (if at all) and will pass. Generally, energy levels are good, although energy may go down every two or three days as the body excretes more wastes. It is at these times that resistance and fears (as well as new symptoms) may arise; if symptoms occur, it is wise to drink more fluids. However, most people will feel cleaner, better, and more alive most of the time.

Old symptoms or patterns from the past may arise during fasts -- again usually transiently -- or new symptoms of detoxification may appear. This "crisis" or periodic cleansing is not predictable and often raises doubts and questions -- is this a new problem or part of the healing process? Generally, time and the healing process will sort things out. We should use Hering's Law of Cure to guide us in making these judgment calls. It states that healing happens from the inside out, the top down, from more important organs to less important ones, and from the most recent to the oldest symptoms.

Most healing crises pass within a day or two, although some cleansers experience several days of "cold" symptoms or sinus congestion. If any symptom lasts longer than two or three days, it should be considered a side effect or new problem and should be addressed accordingly. If a problem worsens or causes concern (fainting, heart arrythmias, or bleeding) the fast should be stopped and a doctor consulted.

Medical supervision is important for anyone in poor health or without fasting experience. If the fast is extended for more than three or four days, regular monitoring, including physical examinations and blood work, should be done weekly (particularly if there is any cause for concern). Fasting may reduce blood protein levels and will definitely lower blood fats. Uric acid levels may rise due to protein breakdown, while levels of some minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium, or magnesium may drop. Iron levels are usually lower, and the red blood cell count may also drop slightly during this time. Lowered mineral levels can result in fatigue or muscle cramps; if these should occur, additional minerals, (particularly calcium, magnesium, and potassium) should be taken, ideally in a powdered form for easy assimilation.

Nutritionally, fasting helps us appreciate the more subtle aspects of our diet, as less food and simple flavors will become more satisfying (even food aromas can be fulfilling). Mentally, fasting improves clarity and attentiveness; emotionally, it may make us more sensitive and aware of our feelings. I have seen individuals gain the clarity to make important decisions during this therapy. Fasting definitely supports the transformational, evolutionary process. Juice fasting offers a lesson in self-restraint and control of passions. This new and empowering sense of self-discipline can be highly motivating. Fasters who were once spectators suddenly become doers.

Hazards of Fasting

If fasting is overused, it may create depletion and weakness in the body, lowering resistance and increasing susceptibility to disease. While fasting does allow the organs, tissues, and cells to rest and handle excesses, the body needs the nourishment provided by food to function after it has used up its stores.

Malnourished people should definitely not fast, nor should some overweight people who are undernourished. Others who should not fast include people with fatigue resulting from nutrient deficiency, those with chronic degenerative disease of the muscles or bones, or those who are underweight. Diseases associated with clogged or toxic organs respond better to fasting. Sluggish individuals who retain water or whose weight is concentrated in their hips and legs often do worse. Those with low daytime energy and more vitality at night (more yin or alkaline types) may not enjoy fasting either.

I do not recommend fasting for pregnant or lactating women, or for people who have weak hearts, or weakened immunity. (I have, however, seen women use short juice cleanses during their menstrual cycle to help ease pain and other symptoms.) Before or after surgery is not a good time to fast, as the body needs its nourishment to handle the stress and healing demands of the operation. Although some nutritional therapies for cancer include medically-supervised fasting, I do not recommend it for cancer patients, particularly those with advanced problems. Ulcer disease is not something for which I usually suggest fasting, either, although fasting may be beneficial for other conditions present in a patient whose ulcer is under control.

Some clinics and fasting practitioners do believe in fasting for ulcers. In a test case of the Master Cleanser, Stanley Burroughs claims to have cured a patient with an intractable ulcer. The two main ingredients of the Master Cleanser, citrus and cayenne pepper, are substances which all the physicians had suggested this patient avoid; Dr. Burroughs deduced they might be the only things left to heal the ulcer, and perhaps he is right. The fasting process itself is helpful for ulcers as it reduces stomach acid and aids in tissue healing. Cayenne pepper, although hot, heals mucous membranes and is commonly recommended for ulcers in herbal medicines. So, even though peptic ulcers are on the contraindication list, some people may be helped by fasting, especially with cabbage/vegetable juices.

As with any therapy, fasting has some potential hazards. Clearly, excessive weight loss and nutritional deficiencies may occur -- a response more marked with longer water fasts and less likely with juices as they provide some calories and nutrients. Weakness may occur, or muscle cramps may result from mineral deficits. Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus losses occur initially but diminish after a week. Blood pressure drops, and this can lead to dizziness (especially when changing position from lying to sitting or from sitting to standing). Uric acid levels may rise without adequate fluid intake, although this is rare.

Some research reports hormone level changes while fasting. Initially, the level of thyroid hormone falls, but it rises again in association with protein-sparing ketosis. Female hormone levels fall, possibly as a result of protein malnutrition, and this can lead to a lessening or loss of menstrual flow. Cessation of periods in women is also seen in longtime vegetarians, particularly those who exercise extensively, arising I believe, from nutrient depletion. This will usually rebalance with proper diet and nourishment.

Cardiac problems such as arrhythmias can occur with prolonged fasting, especially when there are preexisting problems. Extra beats, both ventricular and atrial, have been seen, and there have even been deaths from serious ventricular arrhythmias (the latter of which occur most often during long water fasts). Similar problems have turned up in people using any nutrient-deficient protein powders, without supervision, as a weight loss tool. All of these risks are minimized with juice fasts of no more than two weeks duration, or when basic minerals (potassium, calcium, and magnesium) are supplemented during water fasts.

Having our progress monitored through physical exams, blood tests, and even electrocardiograms is another way to protect ourselves from fasting's potential hazards.

Another "side effect" of fasting is the way it affects and changes our personal lives. Often we resist inner guidance, feelings, and desires to do something new or get out of a bad situation, but fasting brings them to the fore. Divorce, job changes, and residential moves are all more likely after fasts, as they stimulate self-realization, enhance our potential, and help us focus on the future. During fasting, many people have new sensitivity and renewed awareness of their job, mate, and home. I usually warn fasters before they begin of the great potential for change, especially when I sense that they lack commitment or belief in what they are doing. Even though these insights and changes may be traumatic initially, I believe they are ultimately positive and help us follow our true nature.

Article copyright The American Chiropractor Magazine, Inc.


By Elson Haas

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