If you suffer from a weak immune system, water fasting is one of the best things you can do to strengthen it.
Similarly, water fasting is one of the oldest and most effective methods to regain health if your immune system is facing an infection such the flu. Personally, it’s what I do the moment I feel a virus beginning to stir inside me. And nine times out of ten the fast does its magic – and, miraculously, I stay healthy.
In fact, in the days before vaccines, fasting was even successfully applied in treating life-threatening diseases such as smallpox and typhoid. And during the era of the bubonic plague, doctors acquainted with fasting did just that in order to raise the chances of not becoming infected by their patients.
So how does water fasting strengthen your immune system, and how can you apply it to illness?
When your digestive system shuts down through fasting, much of the energy normally devoted to digestion is redirected to the immune system. This is because your immune system is responsible for autolysis: the process of ‘house-cleaning’ which takes place during a fast, in which unhealthy, damaged and old cells are broken down into their constituent biochemical elements and either recycled or burned up for energy. For during a fast, your body depends on more than just the energy derived through the fat-burning of ketosis. It searches out all possible sources of energy. This includes bacteria and viruses, as well as certain types of tumors and cysts. It’s also the reason that old physical injuries can clear up during a fast, as your body consumes scar tissue as well. Similarly, newer injuries tend to heal more quickly. In his book on fasting, Dr. Joel Fuhrman poignantly describes how he successfully undertook a 46-day water fast in order to heal a serious leg injury.
Numerous studies on both mice and men have shown a higher resistance to pathogens both during and after water fasting. In other words, the changes taking place extend well beyond the length of the fast itself. Eventually this builds up into a permanent strengthening of the immune system. I’ve noticed such a shift gradually take place within my own body. When I first began water fasting, I was always the first in my family to come down with niggling colds and coughs, but over the years it’s reached the point where I simply never get ill. (Okay, I lie. This is an overstatement. I usually get a minor cold about once every three years or so.)
In addition to this long-term boosting of the immune system, fasting also brings the immune system into balance. This is the reason that fasting can prove so effective in cases of auto-immune disease, in which the immune system turns against your own body. I’ve had clients who have suffered from auto-immune issues as wide-ranging as ulcerative colitis, Hashimotos, multiple sclerosis (MS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME), and there isn’t a single case which hasn’t at least improved through water fasting. Sometimes you have to be patient, perhaps undertaking a series of fasts over many months – and especially so when a lot of healing must take place – but good things come to those who wait.
Despite all this good news, if you’re interested in trying out a water fast to cure a cold or the flu, beware!
Although certain aficionados of water fasting might have you believe that every fast can provide a magical cure, this simply isn’t always true. There are a few things you need to know before you dive in the deep end!
First, I would advise anyone new to fasting not to tackle a common cold or flu this way, because over the first few water fasts a lot of your energy is devoted to clearing out a lifetime’s worth of accumulated toxins. Your kidneys are working overtime. Your liver is working overtime. Fasting with a virus or bacteria in your system only drains your energy further. You’ll feel truly lousy! Instead, begin by building up a little water fasting experience while you’re healthy. As I found out myself, fasting out a minor illness does eventually become easier, both physically and emotionally – although you’ll never feel as good compared to fasting while healthy.
Second, it’s important to begin such a fast as soon as you feel the pathogen in your body. As with so many other things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and starting your fast early on in the illness will accelerate the healing process, reducing the necessary length of the fast.
Third, it’s important to continue the fast at least until all symptoms have stopped. If, for whatever reason, you discontinue the fast beforehand, the pathogen may well regain momentum against you. To be on the safe side, it’s worth continuing the fast for at least an additional 24 hours after symptoms have disappeared.
Anyone considering applying a water fast to a cold or the flu is bound to ask: ‘how long is such a fast likely to last?’ There’s no fixed answer here. The more experienced in fasting you are, the quicker your body will shut down the digestive system and begin to fight the illness. Also, the more virulent the pathogen, the longer you’ll need to fast. If you begin the fast early enough, one or two days may suffice for minor colds. I find that around three days is more likely for the flu. For something as serious as typhoid, the famous Dr. Herbert Shelton says that a fast of 7-10 days is enough, with patients stabilizing around the third or fourth day (The Science and Fine Arts of Fasting, p. 429). In any case, it will take experience in applying water fasting to minor illnesses before you’re able to get a better feel for how you react and how long you’ll need. Every illness is different. Every fast is different. Practice makes perfect!