In the study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the research group assessed the adverse events that happened during medically-supervised, water-only fasting. They looked at electronic charts from 768 visits of patients who performed water-only fast for a minimum of two consecutive days followed by a refeeding period equal to half of the fast length. They categorized the recorded adverse events according to their severity. There were five categories in total: mild, moderate, severe, life-threatening or disabling, and death.
The researchers discovered that 65.8 percent or most of the patient visits recorded mild to moderate adverse events, while there were no recorded adverse events in 6.5 percent of the visits. In 27.6 percent of the patient visits, a severe but not life-threatening adverse event was recorded, and a life-threatening adverse event was recorded in one visit or 0.1 percent of the visits.
The most common adverse effects recorded were nausea, headache, insomnia, back pain, dyspepsia, and fatigue in the mild category; presyncope in the moderate category; and hypertension in the severe category. The aforementioned mild and moderate side effects were already known to occur in response to fasting; while hypertension was not due to fasting. On the contrary, water-only fasting reportedly lowered blood pressure in hypertensive patients.
The findings of the study indicated that most of the adverse effects experienced during water-only fasting are mild to moderate in nature and are known reactions to fasting. Therefore, the researchers concluded that medically-supervised, water-only fasting is generally safe with minimal adverse event risk.
Water fasting is a period when a person only drinks water and does not eat food. There is no particular timeframe for how long one should water fast. However, in general, it is suggested to do the fast for one to three days. There are various reasons why people undergo water-only fasting. Some do it for its health benefits, such as weight loss and fighting health problems, while others do it for spiritual or religious reasons. Individuals with risk factors for certain health problems could benefit from short-term fast. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight. (Related: The surprising science of water fasting (no food, no hunger).)
If you are new to fasting, you should start by doing a one-day fast to try it out and to ensure that there are no severe side effects. Undergoing fasting for more than three days or 72 hours should only be done after seeking the advice of a medical professional. Because fasting can be mentally and physically exhausting, those who want to try it must carefully prepare themselves. Here are some tips:
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