How You Can Reap The Benefits Of Water Fasting
Fasting is a powerful, time-tested healing modality that has been regaining popularity in recent years as a way to lose weight, improve overall health, and even prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The benefits of water fasting have been met with some skepticism, but research from the medical and scientific community continues to provide a growing body of evidence that supports it.
While there are many types of fasting techniques, we’ll specifically consider water fasting, also known as a water diet, water cleanse, or water detox. During this type of fast, an individual consumes only water for a specific period of time. This period can range from a few days to several weeks, depending on the individual’s health goals and experience with fasting.
Several studies show that the benefits of water fasting are wide-ranging, including weight loss, improved metabolic health, anti-inflammatory effects, slowed tumor growth, and far more. Let’s dive in and explore the benefits you can expect to gain by adding water fasting to your lifestyle.
The Benefits of Water Fasting Includes Weight Loss And Improved Metabolic Health
People who consume a typical Western diet of fried, salty, and/or sweet foods unintentionally gain weight, which puts them into an unhealthy state from a BMI standpoint, as well as from a metabolic standpoint. Oftentimes, they feel that simply changing their diet temporarily is sufficient to get them into a better state of health. From the research presented below, you’ll find that water fasting as a lifestyle can provide lasting benefits when it comes to weight management and metabolic health.
One of the most lauded and publicized benefits of water fasting is its potential for weight loss. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found that calorie restriction through water fasting can lead to significant weight loss in overweight individuals. In the study, participants followed a calorie-restricted diet for six months, which included several five-day water fasts, and lost an average of 8% of their body weight.1
How does water fasting specifically lead to weight loss? This weight loss was attributed to the body’s metabolic adaptation to the reduced calorie intake, as well as to the increased breakdown of fat stores for energy. When the body is in a fasting state, it is forced to break down stored fat for energy, instead of relying on the glucose from carbohydrates in the diet. This process, known as lipolysis, can lead to the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream, which can then be used for energy by the body’s cells. In addition, water fasting can reduce the amount of fat stored in the liver, improving liver function and helping to prevent conditions such as fatty liver disease.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that a five-day water fast can increase the production of brown adipose fat, a type of fat that burns calories to generate heat. The researchers found that, by lowering the body’s energy levels, fasting activates the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) pathway, which regulates the development of brown fat cells. When AMPK is activated, it promotes the breakdown of fat and the production of glucose, leading to weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity. This improvement in insulin sensitivity, in turn, helps to manage or even prevent conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.2
Benefits Of Water Fasting: Cognitive Function and Brain Health
None of us are immune to the effects of aging. Memory problems which we typically associate with old age can start creeping into our lives while we’re still relatively young. Can water fasting as a lifestyle habit have an impact on neurological health?
A 2017 study published in Ageing Research Reviews found that intermittent fasting, including water fasting, can both improve cognitive function and protect against age-related decline in cognitive function.3 This suggests that regular water fasting could be beneficial for brain health.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to have neuroprotective effects, including increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes the growth, maintenance, and survival of neurons, the cells that make up the brain and nervous system.
This increase in BDNF may help protect against cognitive decline and improve memory and learning. In addition to increasing BDNF levels, water fasting has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation in the brain, which can protect against a number of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.4
Water Fasting: Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Inflammation is the root cause of countless health conditions affecting the digestive, circulatory, and endocrine systems. Water fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation.
A 2012 study published in the journal Aging found that water fasting reduced inflammation in mice. The study found that fasting reduced levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that contribute to inflammation. It also increased levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines, which help to reduce inflammation.5
Another study, published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism, found that water fasting reduced inflammation in obese individuals. The study found that fasting reduced levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, by 38% after just three days of fasting. It also reduced levels of other markers of inflammation, including interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.6
Water fasting has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in other studies, as well. A 2014 study published in the journal Autophagy found that fasting reduced inflammation in mice with colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.7
Incorporating periodic water fasting into one’s lifestyle has been shown to have other potential benefits for overall health and wellness. It has been linked, not only to reduced inflammation but also to improved cardiovascular health, as well as enhanced immune function. Regular water fasting could therefore improve overall health and prevent chronic diseases.
Water Fasting: Reduced Risk Of Chronic Diseases
Would you believe the fountain of youth was simply water? There are also benefits of water fasting as it relates to life extension and disease prevention.
One of the most exciting benefits of water fasting is its potential to increase longevity. This is supported by the findings of the aforementioned 2006 study published in JAMA. In this study, researchers recruited overweight individuals and randomly assigned them to one of two groups: a calorie-restricted group and a control group. The calorie-restricted group followed a 25% calorie-restriction diet for six months, while the control group continued with their normal eating habits.
The calorie-restricted group had significantly lower levels of biomarkers associated with aging and chronic diseases, such as insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1, a hormone that has been linked to the development of chronic diseases) and C-reactive protein (CRP), compared to the control group. They also had increased biomarkers of longevity, such as higher levels of antioxidant enzymes, which protect against cellular damage from oxidative stress.1 These findings suggest that calorie restriction, such as that achieved through water fasting, can improve longevity and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Remarkably, in 2012, a study published in Science Translational Medicine found that fasting cycles may slow the growth of tumors and make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. The researchers found that fasting for 48 hours before chemotherapy treatment significantly reduced the growth of various types of tumors in mice.8 These findings suggest that fasting may be a useful adjuvant therapy for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
A 2021 study conducted by researchers based in China found that water-only fasts extending into 5 days reduced metabolic syndrome and aging biomarkers. In this study, they found evidence that water fasting upregulates Tregs (regulatory T cells) to prevent or treat inflammation‐related diseases, as well as potentially promote anti‐aging by decreasing T3, insulin, IGF‐1, and significantly increasing β‐hydroxybutyrate.9
The Benefits Of Water Fasting – You Have Everything To Gain
These studies merely scratch the surface, and yet we’ve seen that the simple act of water fasting can have profoundly positive effects on one’s health and well-being.
Better yet, there is nothing complicated about it. Water fasting is free, readily accessible to all, and doesn’t have toxic effects on the body. This is highly motivational for anyone who is looking to steer their health in a more positive direction, especially as they age. Many even find that the physical and mental challenge of water fasting provides a sense of accomplishment and thereby boosts their self-esteem.
If you want to read even more about fasting, check out my book, Beyond Fasting.
1 Heilbronn LK, de Jonge L, Frisard MI, et al. Effect of 6-month calorie restriction on biomarkers of longevity, metabolic adaptation, and oxidative stress in overweight individuals: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2006;295(13):1539-1548.
2 Kajimura S, Zingaretti MC, McLaughlin T, et al. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) governs the developmental switch of brown adipocytes by regulating the PRDM16-peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1alpha) pathway. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2011;286(17):15484-15491.
3 Mattson MP, Longo VD, Harvie M. Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Research Reviews. 2017;39:46-58.
4 Elesawy, B. H., Raafat, B. M., Muqbali, A. A., Abbas, A. M., & Sakr, H. F. (2021). The Impact of Intermittent Fasting on Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Neurotrophin 3, and Rat Behavior in a Rat Model of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Brain sciences, 11(2), 242. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11020242
5 Lavin, D. N., Joesting, J. J., Chiu, G. S., Moon, M. L., Meng, J., Dilger, R. N., & Freund, G. G. (2011). Fasting induces an anti-inflammatory effect on the neuroimmune system which a high-fat diet prevents. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 19(8), 1586–1594. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2011.73
6 Camhi, S. M., Stefanick, M. L., Ridker, P. M., & Young, D. R. (2010). Changes in C-reactive protein from low-fat diet and/or physical activity in men and women with and without metabolic syndrome. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 59(1), 54–61.
7 Effects of alternate-day fasting, time-restricted fasting and intermittent energy restriction DSS-induced on colitis and behavioral disorders Xin Zhang, Qianhui Zou, Beita Zhaoa, Jingwen Zhang, Weiyang Zhao, Yitong Li, Ruihai Liu, Xuebo Liu, Zhigang Liu https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213231720303840?via%3Dihub
8 Lee C, Raffaghello L, Brandhorst S, et al. Fasting cycles retard growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy. Science Translational Medicine. 2012;4(124):124ra27.
9 Jiang, Y., Yang, X., Dong, C., Lu, Y., Yin, H., Xiao, B., Yang, X., Chen, W., Cheng, W., Tian, H., Guo, L., Hu, X., Fang, H., Chen, W., Li, Z., Zhou, W., Sun, W., Guo, X., Li, S., Lin, Y., … Jia, L. (2021). Five-day water-only fasting decreased metabolic-syndrome risk factors and increased anti-aging biomarkers without toxicity in a clinical trial of normal-weight individuals. Clinical and translational medicine, 11(8), e502. https://doi.org/10.1002/ctm2.502