Scientists also know that a low-calorie ( but nutrient-rich ) diet can prolong life. At least that has been proven repeatedly in studies done on animals. In the lowest animals (eg. Worms), it can double or triple lifespan whilst in higher animals (eg. Monkeys), lifespan is increased by 30% or more. This is mostly explained by the reduced metabolic activities and free-radical production, resulting in less free-radical damage which is known to be the underlying factor for all chronic diseases, and the ravages of aging. If similar studies are done on humans, we can certainly expect affirmative results.
Research on humans has shown that obesity is a risk factor for many health problems – cancer, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, gallstones, arthritis, and many more. It makes common sense that a nutrient-rich low-calorie diet, which will prevent obesity, will prevent all these diseases and prolong life as well.
Fasting is an excellent way to periodically put this health-enhancing finding into practice. Fortunately, through religious and spiritual beliefs, many of us have already been routinely fasting ( in various ways and for various durations ), even though not primarily for health reasons.
The health benefits of fasting have actually been known to traditional medicine for a long time and it has been a prescription for health and healing for aeons. Even the ritual fasts are done with health as part of the promised benefits.
FASTING INCREASES QI
Although the combined benefits of detoxification, rest, revitalization and low-calorie intake make fasting a formidable health-enhancing practice, many are not aware ( and possibly surprised ) to know that fasting actually increases the life energy, or qi. This is more so when we notice that those who are fasting are often tired ( they are actually not fasting correctly, see below ).
Increased qi means becoming more energetic, alert and healthy. And since qi is the life-prolonging energy, fasting should also prolong life.
For many people, much of the time, blood has to be diverted to the intestines again and again due to the frequent big meals they eat. This is at the expense of the other organs. This and the resulting “sugar highs” after the big calorie-rich meals make them sleepy and sluggish. This also increases the risk of becoming insulin-resistant and developing diabetes, hypertension and abnormal lipid (cholesterol and triglycerides) levels.
During fasting, the metabolic and heart rates slow down. But while the blood circulation slows down, the distribution becomes more efficient, as the diversion to the intestines is much reduced. Energy and qi used for propelling the food down the intestinal tract, and for digestion and absorption are spared. Qi flow is also enhanced with this more-efficient circulation.
Fasting is also good for mental relaxation, and of course, spiritual discipline.
Qigong is primarily a mental exercise ( and at the highest level, spiritual ), and the relaxed mental state in fasting further enhances qi production and flow.
However, for qi to be increased, the fasting must be properly done. In fact, for all the heath benefits of fasting to be achieved, the fasting must be practiced in a “healthy” way. Unfortunately, many Muslims break all these health rules when they perform their ritual Ramadhan fasts, and therefore do not get the full benefits. For some, the way they break their fasts is actually detrimental to their health.
With all these benefits combined, it is no wonder that the great physician Paracelsus said that ” Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within “.
The life-extension specialists, Dr Paul Bragg and his daughter Dr Patricia Bragg, are ardent promoters of the miracle of fasting, and believe that “the greatest discovery by modern man is the method to rejuvenate himself physically, mentally and spiritually by fasting”.
THE TYPES OF FASTING
There are three types of fasting – juice-fasting, water-fasting, and total-fasting.
Juice-fasting involves taking only fresh fruit and vegetables juices throughout the day. This will ensure that enough fluids, nutrients and fiber are consumed. I recommend whole-food juicing, that is, using the entire fruit or vegetable in a high-speed blender so that you do not throw away much of the vitamins, minerals and fiber as would happen in the conventional squeeze-juicing method. To preserve the enzymes, you must add ice or ice-cold water to absorb the heat produced. Six glasses of whole-food juice would provide enough daily fiber. However, if you drink less juice, you must also take a fiber-rich supplement ( eg. Psyllium husk powder in juice or plain water ). Make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of juice and water per day.
The Gerson Therapy does not recommend whole-food juicing because the therapy requires drinking 13 glasses of juice per day and too much fiber will be taken.
Juice-fasting is ideal for first-timers as the energy intake is enough to prevent tiredness.
Water-fasting involves drinking at least 8 glasses of water daily. Distilled water is recommended because it will help in removing the toxins, and is absolutely pure. A fiber-rich drink is also necessary. This is the method recommended by the Braggs, and thousands of their students ( including the ageless Jack LaLanne ) have confirmed the health benefits. Detoxification, weight loss, reduction in cholesterol and blood pressure, and healing from many diseases are faster. Those who are not used to fasting should try the juice-fasting first, gradually reducing the amount of juice in favour of plain water.
Total-fasting is complete fasting. Muslims fast this way from sunrise to sunset, but there are others who do so for shorter or longer durations, including 24-hour or even longer fasts.
The expected benefits are more intense, but the manner of entering and breaking the fast are very important. It is not good to load up the body with “empty” ( nutrient-deficient) high-calorie foods prior to fasting in the hope of avoiding the hunger pangs longer; and it is unhealthy to binge at the time of breaking fast, which shocks the body from its prolonged rest, and it suddenly has to do a lot of work – peristalsis, digesting and absorbing. Unfortunately, this has become the norm of how local Muslims fast, with Ramadhan becoming a festival of sumptuous iftar ( breaking-fast ) feasts. The spiritual aspects of fasting are also unlikely to be perfect in those cases!
The proper way to fast is to eat nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods for both the pre-fast and breaking-fast meals. These will ensure energy-release in the body is gradual and not cause “sugar highs” followed by “hypos”. Hunger is also delayed and much reduced in intensity since the blood sugar level does not become too low.
The best foods for this are dates and figs. Dates are very nutrient dense – rich in energy, vitamins, minerals, potassium, and fiber. The fruit-sugars are “locked” with the fiber and nutrients and released very slowly. Ever wonder why ants don’t swarm around dates ( even those that are so sweet )? Even the ants cannot extract the sugar!
Figs are the most fiber-rich food known. They are also rich in the other nutrients mentioned. While we reduce the food intake, we should not compromise on the nutrients and fiber. Raisins and nuts are the other nutrient-dense foods which Muslims eat a lot during Ramadhan. Fresh, raw vegetables dressed with olive, canola, flaxseed or red palm oil would help make a complete healthy diet for buka puasa and sahur. And drink plenty of water, but not together with the food.