The Science Behind Fasting: Uncovering Indian Traditions
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Fasting, known as "Vrat" or "Upavasa" in Sanskrit in India, has been a tradition since ancient times. You can pick up any mythology and find a story about how fasting helped the kings, queens, and villagers achieve their goals. While historians and writers have linked fasting and praying to a deity as a means of getting an answer to a common man’s prayers, is there any science that backs up the benefits of fasting?

Even though the spiritual significance of a fast varies across different regions and communities, the underlying principles remain consistent – self-discipline, introspection, and several health benefits. Backed by modern scientific research, get on a journey to explore the fascinating science behind fasting in Indian culture.

Ayurveda Explains Centuries-Old Fasting

According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicine system, fasting gives your body and mind a chance to rest and rejuvenate. As per Ayurvedic healers, if you fast, you give your body a powerful tool for detoxification.

A collaborative study published in the journal Principles of Fasting in Ayurveda in 2017 dives deep into the metabolic benefits of fasting. When the digestive system accumulates toxins (ama), it causes many serious ailments. By giving the digestive system a much-needed break, fasting cleanses the body. The Ayurvedic study also resonated with modern science, which talks about the body's recycling after a cellular breakdown, promoting cellular health and thus reducing the potential risk of a chronic illness.

Health Benefits

Metabolic Switch to Ketosis: Fasting can induce a metabolic shift from glucose to fats, which takes the body to a ketosis state. As per a study published in the journal Aging Albany (NY) in 2020, ketosis helps to burn fat faster, promotes weight loss, and improves metabolism.

Regulation of Insulin and Blood Sugar Levels: If you fast for some time, the body gets time to regulate the insulin levels. This is particularly beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.

Cellular Repair: A study published in the Autophagy journal in 2010 proves that fasting can induce profound neuronal autophagy,  where cells remove damaged components and recycle them for energy.

Reduced Inflammation: Chronic inflammation has the potential risks of heart disease and several other serious conditions. Fasting helps to reduce inflammation, so you can give a try to short-term fasting.

Beyond Physical Health: The Mind-Body Connection

If you think fasting just has positive advantages to physical health, you’re forgetting about its link to mental health. Indian culture has always paid importance to the mind with practices like meditation, praying, and fasting that help to clear the mind and attain inner peace. The ulterior motive behind encouraging the youth to fast aligns with today’s scientific approach called the gut-mind connection, which states that the gut microbes affect the mind, and vice versa. So while practising fasting, Indians pray to their Gods and often meditate which calms their mind and helps build a healthier gut.

Exploring Different Fasting Traditions

Since India has a diverse spectrum of cultures, it is only logical to have multiple fasting practices offering unique benefits to the mind and body. To name a few, Ekadashi, which is observed twice a month, restricts an individual from eating certain types of food like rice from their diet. Navratri, which is a nine-day-long festival in Hinduism, encourages a vegetarian diet along with specific restrictions like cutting down on onions, flour, packed food, etc. Another famous one is Karva Chauth, where a person observes complete absenteeism of food and water till the night. 

Now, these aren’t some hard and fast rules, and they can vary from person to person and your own preferences. All that remains is the ulterior motive behind fasting – a healthy mind and a healthier body!