Is Dry Fasting Desirable or Deadly?

by Dr. Douglas Graham

Published: Tue, 22 Nov 2016


Last night, I sat listening to a woman telling me about her dry fast experience. Three days in to the fast, she had to be hospitalized by her friends. The doctors made it clear that they were not certain she would pull through, and that only time would tell, but fortunately she lived to tell the tale. Too many others have not been so lucky. Dry fasting is extremely dangerous, and sadly, many more deaths will occur as a result of this unscientific and illogical craze. A week without water is often enough to kill a person, and too many people have already died before reaching their goal of a full week of dry fasting. Medical experts and sports scientists agree that dehydration negatively affects all bodily functions. As little dehydration as one percent can result in measurable physical and mental performance decline, while dehydration levels in the upper single digit range are usually sufficient cause for hospitalization.

T. C. Fry taught me a lot about hygiene, but he taught me a lot more about how to think. One time, out of the blue, he looked up at me during the middle of a chess game he was playing with his friend Max Huberman and said to me, "If you want to know whether an idea makes sense, follow it through to its natural conclusion." For instance, some folks say that if you eat less, you'll live longer. "The less you eat, the longer you live," or that sort of thing. Follow that thinking through to its logical conclusion and you'll be faced with the thought that if you eat nothing at all, you'll live forever. Obviously, such a plan is not going to work, which tells us that something in the initial concept was flawed. Sure, if you overeat consistently, your life will likely be shortened, for in general, the fatter you are the shorter you live. But, unless you have some weight to lose, consistently eating less than you need is not a viable plan. All too often, people ask me, "What do you think about dry fasting?" They tell me they've heard that a week of dry fasting is better than a month of water fasting. Let's follow this concept through to its natural conclusion.

Fasting, as discussed in hygiene, is the ultimate resting state. Physical, emotional, sensory, and physiological rest merge into the deep state of rest known as the fast. While being asked to do less of its normal day to day maintenance work, the body can redirect its energies to other tasks, such as detoxification, repair, healing, and renewal. Dry fasting poses several threats to the body's ability to rest. First, the persistent thirst present during a dry fast compromises the state of sensory rest. Any time you are uncomfortable, your fast is compromised.The inevitable concerns, and yes, outright fear, that must accompany the dry fast make emotional rest difficult, if not impossible. Many people have water fasted for two months without issue, and thousands upon thousands have water fasted for a month or longer. Rarely has an adult ever lived for longer than 9 days without water, and many have died after just 5-7 days without water, so worry becomes a constant companion while dry fasting, and such worry is not conducive to the very healing we desire to bring about. Emotional rest is next to impossible during a dry fast that lasts much longer than 24-36 hours. When the cells, tissues, organs, and systems of the body are stressed due to dehydration, physiological rest is hindered. Overall, dry fasting is an oxymoron, as rest and dehydration simply are not compatible.

Many advertisements in the fitness industry promise that "10 minutes with this equipment is like an hour of running," or, "You can burn five times more calories on our apparatus in the same amount of time." Hopefully, we know this is hogwash, because if I have the cardio fitness to burn one thousand calories in an hour on a treadmill as my maximum output, I simply can't have the cardio fitness capacity to burn five thousand calories in the same hour, no matter what equipment I use. Even world-class athletes can rarely burn more than 1500 calories in an hour...

Let's follow the line of logic still further. The basic premise behind dry fasting is this: "A long water fast is good for health, but a short dry fast is even better, and will get you speedier results." The root concept is that it is the condition of being dehydrated that is getting you well, and not the basic liver, kidney, and other bodily functions that are generated over time. Nor is it the sheer quantity of time spent away from negative lifestyle influences. Proponents of dry fasting are essentially saying that the processes known collectively as "detoxification and healing" are sped up under conditions of dehydration. This concept flies in the face of all known physiology, but that fact alone does not make it untrue. If it is true, however, then increasing the rate of dehydration should serve to even further speed the detoxification and healing processes. We know that drinking seawater will kill a person after a few days, and that the person will die from the dehydration resulting from the salt consumption. Instead of dry fasting, why not speed up the dehydration process by fasting on sea water? For the reader's edification, this exact procedure, known as the "salt water fast," has been tried many times, all too often resulting in extreme illness and sometimes in death. But wait, we could speed the dehydration process even further, thus supposedly fostering even speedier detoxification and healing functions within the body. Why not remove the water from seawater, and just eat the remaining salt? (Of course, use only the "good salt.") One ounce of salt is enough to kill most grown men, and the process rarely takes an entire day. On a salt-only fast, the healing had better proceed very rapidly indeed, as life in the fast lane will be short and not at all sweet.

If you don't feel like yourself, and you want to undergo a short fast, by all means do so. Skip a meal, or skip eating for an entire day, and get some rest. Whether you drink water or choose not to drink during a short fast is inconsequential to the outcome of the fast. Millions of Jews fast for one day per year on Yom Kippur, and many other religions include fast days. Skipping food and water, even for a very short while, opens doors of perception. But if you are suffering from serious illness or have other reasons for undergoing a long fast, let it be a water fast, and get proper professional supervision. While most fasts are uneventful, things can go wrong during a fast, and when they do, you want to have an experienced supervisor's input to set you straight. Like playing Russian Roulette, dry fasting is simply not a safe practice. Dehydration puts your kidneys at tremendously increased risk of shutting down, and once they do that, only the luck of the draw will determine if the hospital crew can get your kidneys functioning again.

Some proponents of dry fasting say that water is not needed when fasting, as you access plenty of water from the body fat you lose. Fasters convert (lose) about two pounds of fat per week into fuel, and fat is about five percent water, by weight, meaning that losing two pounds of fat makes available less than two ounces of water during an entire week of dry fasting. Consider that medical science suggests that we require more than two hundred times that amount, and you can hopefully understand my concerns. Most fasters, when simply following their instincts to drink as much as they care for, consume between fifty to one hundred ounces of water per day. Apparently, people just like to believe in miracles. One supporter of dry fasting suggested that three days of dry fasting will undo years of negative lifestyle habits. Another said, "If five days of dry fasting are good, ten days are even better." Like eating salt or drinking urine, short periods of dry fasting is survivable, but not recommended as a health practice. I've been asked many times, "How long can a person go without drinking water?" I for one do not wish to find out, as the risk of permanent kidney damage and other bodily harm is simply not worth any potential information we might glean, and health can be regained in far more sane fashion through water fasting. For optimal results and to insure maximal safety, stay hydrated when choosing to fast.

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