Dangers of Water Fasting

Dr. Joseph Mercola is an osteopathic physician (DO) and natural health activist who has spent the last two decades challenging conventional medical wisdom and he’s actually been crusading for a more natural approach to human health. He is also the author of The New York Times bestseller “The No Grain Diet” and his brand new book called “KetoFast: Rejuvenate Your Health with a Step-by-Step Guide to Timing Your Ketogenic Meals” explores the profound health benefits that result when ketogenic living and well-planned fasting are combined.

Below is an excerpt from his interview with Dr Steven Gundry.

Dr. Gundry: What started you down this path towards the Keto diet and intermittent fasting, what piqued your interest?

Dr. Mercola: Well let me give you an example of how I changed my views when many years ago I thought it was foolish and that’s being kind for people who were fasting. I thought clearly the evidence is obvious that you need to eat all the time and in fact, 90% of the population according to Satchin Panda eats more than 12 hours a day – more than 12. So you know that most all of us are doing the same thing believing the same and I’ve changed that. I recognized that especially as Keto started coming on board and experimenting with it and Mark Sisson taught me about metabolic flexibility. I tried it for myself and was just amazed at what it did. Then I started to finally appreciate some of the subtle molecular biological components which we’ll talk about further today like autophagy and stem cell activation. so you’ve got to learn and adapt and really modify things as you acquire new information.

Dr. Gundry: What new approaches are you taking in your book “Keto Fast”?

Dr. Mercola: The basic strategy is to first become metabolically flexible which I discussed in my previous book, that is the primary issue where you do that with a simple step that doesn’t cost anything, saves you money, and radically improves your health. What is that? compress your eating window. When I give a lecture I feel I succeeded if I can get that one single message to the audience- compress your eating window. So what’s a compressed eating window? You know twelve hours of fasting every day which ninety percent of people are doing, is not enough. I think fourteen hours probably starts to get the benefit and I think a sweet spot is 16-18.

One of the basic tenets of the book is to go into these cycles of fasting and eating which you were designed to because the human species was never designed for access to food 24/7, that just wasn’t the case. So we have to replicate that pattern if we want to maximize our biological benefits and what our genetics are designed for.

Dr. Gundry: You’re absolutely right as you know my new book “The Longevity Paradox” also stresses exactly what you’re saying- we should be eating in circadian rhythms and there is just at most evidence even in looking at modern hunter-gatherers that there is cyclically feeding periods and there are extended periods of time where we do not eat or we very minimally and so this cycle that you so eloquently talked about in “Keto Fast” is really important. So give me an example, what does that mean for the average person? how do you in “Keto Fast” structure this?

Dr. Mercola: Well after I wrote “Fat for Fuel” I was very excited and was pretty firmly convinced and this is an example of me changing my views- that the strongest, the most powerful metabolic intervention I’ve ever seen in nearly four decades of clinical practice was multiple-day water fasting. I mean this has profound benefits so I decided to write a book which was “Keto Fast” and as I started to research for the book and discuss it and network with some of the experts in the field, I realized that that was an incorrect observation. It is a powerful intervention, there’s no question. It’s been done for thousands of years as an integral part of virtually every major religion on the planet and it wouldn’t persist for so long if there wasn’t some value to it. Clearly there’s value but what I learned is that it was useful historically but we’ve evolved into the twenty-first century and not as a species but more our technology and as a result of the technology we’ve accumulated not thousands but tens of thousands of these chemicals, industrial chemicals. Most of these chemicals are fat-soluble and they get stored. They typically aren’t immediately metabolized, they’re stored for safety in your fat cells, and when you do multi-day water fasting you’re using your fat for energy and then these fat-soluble toxins are released, going to your bloodstream and they cause side-effects for a number of reasons. One because they’re toxic but primarily because the people don’t have ramped up enough detoxification to address that. So I thought that was a massive flaw and I developed strategies to accommodate for this and essentially developed the 21st-century fasting which has multiple other benefits and side effects.

Dr. Gundry: Yeah I think that’s so important. Actually, when I wrote my first book years ago I was very impressed with Dr. Roy Wolford’s observations in Biosphere 2. He was a pathologist at UCLA as you know and he actually looked at the Biospherean’s heavy metals in their blood when they lost literally 35% of their body weight in the first six months because they were literally starving to death. He was really excited about it actually but when he looked at their heavy metals and their toxins, they went massively high and it actually took them a year to return down to normal and I write about that in the longevity paradox as well and I think your observation and Dr. Wolford’s and certainly mine, that we’ve got to be very careful with everybody going on these six seven day water fasts because we do not have a system to handle these heavy metals and again Dr. Wolford proved this you know 20 years ago and so I think if we take nothing away else from keto fast I think your observation that “Wow I was really into water fasting and now wait a minute let’s put the brakes on here because we now have some data that we ought to be cautious about this.”

Dr. Mercola: Yeah we also see this in the animal world. There are sea otters or some types of sea life that regularly fast just as a part of their natural ecology and they’ve done observational studies and they do assays of the fat-soluble toxins in their system and heavy metals and they go through the roof when they’re not eating. It’s the same process you know, its intrinsic to all animal life I believe.

Dr. Gundry: So knowing that now, how in “The Keto Fast” do you want people to kind of construct this, give and take this circadian rhythm?

Dr. Mercola: Well yeah I can go into the details of that in a moment but before we get there I think it’s important to recognize why we would even want to do that. You’re not gonna be motivated to follow some wacky plan that I happen to come up with unless you have a really darn good reason to consider doing it and let me provide you with some of those. One of the reasons I’m so excited about water fasting was because it activates this metabolic process called autophagy which comes from the Greek words “Auto” and “Phagin”. It essentially means self-eating and it’s to me, one of the most valuable benefits of fasting. What that process does – there are several types- microautophagy, macroautophagy, and chaperone-mediated¬†autophagy¬†(CMA).¬† Macroautophagy is mostly what we’re concerned about as it essentially targets these subcellular structures like damaged proteins or mitochondria and it targets lysosomes attached to them and it really self destructs. It breaks it down to its constituent parts so we can recycle them and reuse them rather than hanging around, wrecking up your system and actually creating inflammatory cytokines and causing increased silent inflammation throughout your body which is a massive prescription for metabolic disaster. So activating autophagy is really important and you certainly are familiar with NAD+ as you know is one of the most important coenzymes in your body and then its cousin in NADH which is so important for recharging your intracellular antioxidants like glutathione and all the rest of them – vitamin C, vitamin E, but those actually increase by 30% when you fast, 30%- it’s crazy. There’s nothing you have to do. You just increase it when you fast. How good is this! And some of these interventions are really expensive, so that’s a huge benefit and then the other side is what is equally as important as autophagy is the magic that occurs from fasting, not so much when you’re not eating, it’s just like exercise, the magic from exercise doesn’t occur when you’re working out, that’s when you caused the damage. Something so somewhat similar to causing damage when you’re fasting, the magic occurs when you refeed. When you refeed you give your body all this nutrition so you can rebuild yourselves. You know you building your cells over again the way they were designed to be from the original template. So it’s that combination of those and cycling them in the right fashion that’s so profoundly powerful to improve your health.

Dr. Gundry: So for those of us who you know don’t quite get “Autophagy” I think it’s kind of like taking out the trash, now we’re beginning to realize that trash builds up in our cells and we’ve got a lot of cells that aren’t pulling in their own weight and there’s even a new term like zombie cells, senescent cells

Dr. Mercola: Senescent cells, that’s a whole different story which actually fasting doesn’t really address, right but I’m writing about it in my future book.

Dr. Gundry: So fasting actually literally as I describe it in “The Longevity Paradox”, it basically tells certain cells you guys aren’t pulling your own weight and you need to basically, you know, die but recycle those parts rather than blowing up like apoptosis, autophagy is recycling or taking out the trash. Is that a good way to describe it?

Dr. Mercola: From my understanding, “autophagy” refers to the subcellular organelles, not the whole cell, the whole cell would be apoptosis. Yeah so it’s a different mechanism very similar, same process but it’s a different pathways.

Dr. Gundry: So one of the things that’s interesting about communities- super long live people -is they they have actually these fasting mechanisms almost built into their lifestyle. I’ve actually watched podcasts where people argue that intermittent fasting is totally different from time-restricted fasting. Help us out, you’re one of the world’s experts on this.

Dr. Mercola: There’s no difference it’s just semantics or the same darn thing. Time-restricted eating would be the way the researchers described for humans, time-restricted feeding is more for animals. So time-restricted eating is just the window, it’s another term is intermittent fasting. They’re essentially the same term but intermittent fasting technically could be considered a broad range- it could be alternate day fasting like Krista Varady, who I interviewed personally in my office about four or five years ago. I didn’t realize how powerful intervention was and it was partly through her work, alternate-day fasting which is essentially 500 calories one day and then your normal food the next. She was totally oblivious absolutely clueless as to the quality of the food but her strategy was exemplary and she’s a really good researcher too and then there is a fasting-mimicking diet by Valter Longo probably the most prolific researcher in this area. So the reason he did not recommend water fasting was because of compliance. You probably get less than 1% of the people to do that, they’re just not going to do it even if their life depended on it. So compliance is a big issue but here’s the other benefit of doing this keto fasting which is a partial fast and whose benefits I’ll explain in great detail…….. [To Be Continued]

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