Fasting involves a period of time during which a person lives on an extremely limited diet, sometimes consisting of nothing but fluids. Done for a variety of reasons, including as a political message, for weight loss, and for religious observation, fasting can be a dangerous practice that many heath professionals warn against. It is important to get a clear picture of fasting dangers before deciding to embark on a period without food.
While some people are able to survive a fast and feel healthy and revived, others suffer a variety of short-term effects. Nausea, dizziness, painful headaches, and fatigue are all common fasting dangers experienced within the first few days of a fast. Fasting dangers in this early stage can include lethargy and a drop in productivity or job performance. Some fasting regimes are not calorie-free, thanks to the use of juices or special teas, but the lack of solid food on the body may translate to a fast onset of symptoms nonetheless.
Increased potential for illness is another of the more serious fasting dangerous. A lack of vitamins and minerals opens the body up for inflammation or illness, and some people develop a cold or flu within days of beginning a fast. Blood pressure typically plummets without food, leading to chills, weakness, exhaustion, and sometimes severe mood swings.
After a few days on a fasting program, fasting dangers dramatically increase. The body, which needs sugars to continue normal fasting, begins to feast on bodily tissues to maintain a survivable metabolism. While dieters may hope that the body will devour excess fat, it can also destroy muscle and organ tissue from the kidneys and liver. Prolonged fasting can lead to severe tissue damage, including to the delicate heart muscle system.
It is important to note that prolonged fasting can cause permanent damage to bodily systems and even be fatal. There have been instances of death by starvation during fasting, often caused by severe malnutrition. If the body reaches a point where it can no longer maintain itself, recovery may be impossible and death can occur in some cases.
Many health experts strongly recommend avoiding a food-free diet for anyone with diabetes, heart or kidney problems. Pregnant and nursing mothers are also advised to avoid fasting as it will starve a growing fetus or nursing infant of nutrition vital to healthy growth. Similarly, children and teens are often strongly discouraged from fasting as it can disrupt growth and have lifelong effects.
Some fasting dangers can be guarded against by taking proper precautions prior to and during a fast. Experts often warn that a fast should only be conducted under careful medical supervision. Spending a week or two slowly changing a diet to be ready for a fast can help reduce early side effects like headache and nausea. Additionally, taking vitamin supplements and ensuring proper hydration can also help the body maintain normal function during a fast.