A doctor or knowledgeable practitioner should supervise anyone for whom fasting is questionable—that is, anyone in poor health or without fasting experience. If the fast is extended for more than three to five days, regular monitoring, including physical examination and blood work should be done, probably about weekly. Fasting may reduce blood protein levels and will definitely lower blood fats. Uric acid levels may rise secondary 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 count may also drop during this time.
Nutritionally, fasting helps us appreciate the more subtle aspects of diet, since less food and simple flavors become more satisfying. My early fasts definitely reawakened my taste buds and allowed me to appreciate and desire more natural foods. Mentally, fasting improves clarity and attentiveness; emotionally, it may make us more sensitive and aware of feelings. I have seen on several occasions individuals making decisions based on new clarities brought out during fasts. Fasting clearly supports the transformational evolutionary process. For example, when we really "get" that our spouse is not going to change his or her habits of eating, watching TV, or being too busy to really relate to us—that the priority of the relationship is very low and the love is clearly not there—it may be time to make a change. With fasting, we can feel empowered to do things we only thought about before. Fasting can precipitate emotional cleansing as well. Attitude and general motivation are usually uplifted with cleansing. Spiritually, juice fasting offers a lesson in self-restraint and control of passions, which help us in many avenues of life.
Fasting is a simple process of self-cleansing. We do not need any special medicines to do it; our body knows how. Provided that we are basically well-nourished, systematic undereating and fasting are likely the most important contributors to health and longevity. Fasting is even more important to balance the autointoxication that results from common dietary and drug indiscretions.
I look at fasting as "taking a week off work" to handle the other aspects of life for which there is often little time. With fasting we can take time to nurture ourselves and rest. Fasting is also like turning off and cleaning a complex and valuable machine so that it will function better and longer. Resting the gastrointestinal tract, letting the cells and tissues repair themselves, and allowing the lymph, blood, and organs to clear out old, defective, or diseased cells and unneeded chemicals all lead to less degeneration and sickness. As healthy cell growth is stimulated, so is our level of vitality, immune function and disease resistance, and our potential for greater longevity.
J.R. did a 67-day fast on juices at age 20 when he joined a fasting and health-food-oriented community in 1975. He describes feeling great and very light. In fact, he lost a lot of weight. His only problems were skin sores that would not heal. These were of course, seen as a detox process. Medically, they could be attributed to protein/nutrient deficiency as well. This long fast on juice nutrients was a major transitional period for J.R. to change his diet to raw foods and strict vegetarianism. It also helped change his beliefs and motivation for life.
S.R. was very overweight and in a family relationship that was not supporting her growth. She clearly grasped for spiritual unfoldment. She was very strong, had loads of energy and various congestive symptoms—a prime candidate for fasting. After she began her fast, she decided to go 30 days on Master Cleanser with my support. She did wonderfully, lost 24 pounds, and wasn’t through yet. For the next 30 days, she did my seven-food diet (apples, lemons, alfalfa sprouts, brown rice, carrots, almonds, and broccoli), picking seven primary foods to make up her diet, thus continuing her willpower and diet focus. After that, S.R. did another 30-day fast on Master Cleanser and other juices. She did well. During these months she moved from bookkeeping and typing into the healing arts. She left her husband and moved to the Midwest to take a job assisting a well-known physician in her healing research.
*There are many choices that will make up a relatively balanced diet.
B.D. and C.D.—This father (B.D., age 46) and son (C.D., age 15) attended a recent fasting group. B.D. was 50 pounds overweight (231, 5’9") and had high blood pressure. On exam B.D.’s cholesterol was 214. He had in the past followed a low-
fat, Pritikin-like diet and felt better. He was really ready for a change and wanted to
fast. He wanted me to see his son to evaluate whether he also could join the fasting group. C.D. was an overweight (181, 5’9") teenager on a typical teenage diet but inspired toward health.
B.D. did incredibly well on the Master Cleanser for 10 days, feeling fine and energetic and dropping his weight to 213. His new diet plan became more vegetarian, wholesome, and low fat, and included one- to two-day fasts weekly, plus a week-long fast every few months. A follow-up four months later found him well and busy in a new job. His weight had gotten to a low of 195 and he stabilized at about 202 with his diet. The positive value he received was that he realized that he could be in control of his diet. He was in much better shape and his self-esteem was much higher; of course he could see his feet and the earth again as his pant size dropped from 42" to 36".
C.D. dropped his weight from 182 to 171 with the fast and was an inspiration to the fasting group. His body and face changed dramatically. New activities and exercise were added to his regimen, and he now is a more serious bicyclist. C.D.’s diet also changed dramatically to enjoying salads and fruits, some grains, and fish and poultry. He got away from the sweets, sodas, salt snacks, and fried foods he was eating before. Now at 165, he feels great!
Hazards of Fasting
If fasting is overused, it may create depletion and weakness, lower resistance, and allow diseases to begin. Certain people are not good candidates for fasting or cleansing. Others may enjoy fasting so much that they overindulge in it and take it beyond the limits of normal elimination, resulting in protein and other nutritional deficits, reduced immunity, and loss of energy. While fasting allows the organs, tissues, and cells to rest, clean house, and handle excesses, the body needs the nourishment provided by food to function after it has used its stores.
Many people of the world are involuntary fasters, while those of the Western nations are more likely to be feasters. In Third World countries, many starvation deaths result from the disease of protein deficiency, termed kwashiorkor, and protein-calorie malnutrition, known as marasmus. What happens to these people is what happens with chronic fasting—loss of muscle mass, weight, and energy, and finally swelling and death.
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 men or women who retain water or whose weight is concentrated in their hips and legs often do poorly with fasting. Those with low daytime energy and more vitality at night (more yin or alkaline types) may not enjoy fasting, either.
I do not suggest fasting for pregnant or lactating women. People who have weak hearts, such as those with congestive heart failure, or who have weakened immunity usually are not good candidates for fasting. Before or after surgery is not a good time to fast, as the body then needs its nourishment to handle the stress and healing demands of surgery. Although some of the nutritional therapies for cancer include fasting, I do not recommend fasting for cancer patients, especially 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. Many clinics and fasting practitioners do believe in fasting for ulcers, however. In the first test case of the Master Cleanser (lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water), Stanley Burroughs claims to have cured a patient with an intractable ulcer. Mr. Burroughs used the two main ingredients that all doctors suggested that this patient avoid, citrus and spice, which he figured were the only things left that might heal the ulcer. The fasting process itself probably is helpful for ulcers, since it reduces stomach acid and aids in tissue healing. And cayenne pepper, even though it is hot, has a healing effect on mucous membranes, and in herbal medicine, it is commonly recommended for ulcers. So, even though peptic ulcers are on the contraindication list, some ulcer people may do very well with fasting, especially with cabbage/vegetable juices.
Contraindications for Fasting
|Alkaline type ||Pre- and postsurgery |
|Low immunity||Mental illness|
|Low blood pressure||Peptic ulcers |
|Cardiac arrhythmias ||Nutritional deficiencies|
As with any therapy that has some physiological effect and benefit, fasting also may have some hazards. The potential for the development of these problems is maximized with lengthy, noncaloric or water fasts and minimized with juice fasting of reasonable length, such as one to two weeks. Clearly, excessive weight loss and nutritional deficiencies may occur, again more marked with water fasts (juices provide calories and nutrients, although they do not provide complete nutrition). 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 episodes of dizziness, especially when changing position from lying to sitting or sitting to standing. Uric acid levels may rise, which may result in acute gout attacks or a uric acid kidney stone, although this is rare. This problem is minimized with adequate fluid intake.
Some research reports have described hormone level changes with 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 loss of menstrual flow; that is, secondary amenorrhea. This cessation of the periods in women is also seen in longtime vegetarians, especially those who engage in extensive exercise programs.
Cardiac problems, such as abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias), can occur more easily with prolonged fasting and/or with subclinical preexisting problems. Extra beats, both ventricular and atrial, have been seen, and there have been deaths from serious ventricular arrhythmias, such as ventricular tachycardia, most often occurring during long water fasts. Similar problems have occurred recently in people using the nutrient-deficient protein powders that have been freely sold; many unhealthy weight reducers have been put at risk by using these powders over extended periods on unmonitored fasts. This risk is minimized with juice fasting (up to two weeks) or when basic minerals, mainly potassium, calcium, and magnesium, are supplemented during water fasts. Having our progress followed medically through physical exams, blood tests, and even electrocardiograms is a way to protect ourselves from the potential hazards of fasting.