It has been 77 years since Stanley Burroughs first developed The Master Cleanse & it is still utilized with regularity today. If you are unaware of The Master Cleanse, you can find out more about it in our post What is the Master Cleanse? Many people swear by the benefits they experience by regularly partaking in this cleanse. Even celebrities, such as Beyonce Knowles, have used this lemonade based cleanse for various reasons. But, why does it work?
Humans have utilized fasting as a practice throughout history and it is an integral part of various cultures and religions worldwide. Why should you consider partaking in a liquid fast such as The Master Cleanse? What bodily changes might one expect from such a cleanse? We will explore these questions and more as we look at the benefits of fasting.
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An Ancient Tradition
The actual origin of fasting as a deliberate practice is unknown. It is believed to have had some part in human culture since our beginning. It is said that fasting was practiced by various tribal cultures before going to war or in coming-of-age rituals. In ancient Greece, philosophers such as Hippocrates & Plutarch wrote about fasting as a medical practice. A majority of the world’s major religions have utilized fasting in various forms for repentance and self control. Individuals, such as Mahatma Gandhi, have used fasting as a form of protest throughout history. In the modern era, fasting regimens have become popular for detox and weight loss.
Hormones & Cells
Many claims of the benefits of short-term fasting have been made over the millennia. In the modern age, we are able to utilize science in order to test these claims. And, that is just what many are doing. Many of these studies have shown that fasting can affect us down to a cellular level. Notable effects have been seen on growth hormone function, and even genetics!
In 1988, Virginia Medical School did a study  that looked at the release of human growth hormone [HGH] in males who had been fasting for five days. They found that HGH release in these men improved from levels measured before fasting. Another study, done in 1992, reinforced this.  HGH helps to regulate bodily fluids, muscle and bone growth, metabolism, and heart function.
Short-term fasting can also have an effect on the function of your cells. Autophagy is key cell process. Without it, tissue damage can occur. A study completed by The Scripps Research Institute of La Jolla, CA in 2010 found that autophagy function improved in mice that had been fasting over those that had not.  The study’s authors predicted that “sporadic fasting might offer a simple, safe, and inexpensive means to promote this potentially therapeutic neuronal response.” Similar findings occurred in another study completed in 2011 by the Medical University of South Carolina.  These findings could have significant connections with diseases such as Cancer & Alzheimer’s Disease, which we will explore further.
It is widely believed that intermittent fasting promotes weight loss. But, does it affect the metabolism? One 1990 study by the Queen’s Medical Centre of Nottingham, UK suggests so. It found that patients who had fasted had an increased metabolism after only 48 hours.  Another study completed in 2000 by the University of Vienna in Austria found similar results in patients who fasted for 4 days. 
Short-term fasting could also be beneficial for brain health. In 2000, scientists from National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, MD found that dietary restriction resulted in the loss of fewer brain cells in patients.  These cells are valuable and aid in learning, memory, and recovery from an injury.  There is also some evidence that short-term fasting can slow the development of disease and increase life span. This is due to an increase of resistance to dysfunction and degeneration of the brain.  Since there is some evidence that these changes can also affect stress and depression, there is some hope that fasting could also assist with these. 
In addition to aiding brain health and fighting depression, there are several indications that short-term fasting could affect the risk of disease. Most notable of these diseases are Cancer & Alzheimer’s. These diseases threaten lifespans worldwide.
Recent studies have shown that fasting may protect cells and slow tumor growth. Also, it could aid the effect of chemotherapy and other treatments.  This is because a family of proteins are activated by fasting. These proteins regulate metabolism, insulin response, & antioxidant defense, among other things. These proteins could also be helping to reduce cancer risk.  Tumor ridden mice in these studies were much more likely to survive cancer if they fasted. 
Anyone who has had to witness Alzheimer’s Disease knows what a painful disease it can be. There is some hope that short-term fasting might help to avoid it. Increased function of autophagy, as earlier discussed, could be the main reason for this.  One study, conducted by Intramural Research Program in Baltimore, MD, found that mice fed using intermittent fasting beginning at three months of age, had much healthier brain function at 17 months than the control group.  When a fasting regimen was tested on 10 adults who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, 9 of the 10 showed marked recovery with 6 returning to work and showing improved performance.  In addition to helping Alzheimer’s patients, there is some hope that it could also help those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. 
As we have seen, there are many reasons why short-term and intermittent fasting could affect life span. Increased disease resistance, weight control, brain and heart health, increased metabolism, & cellular function all contribute to length of life. One study even found that intermittent fasting was more effective than exercise at increasing the lifespan of rats!  Another study from Kyushu University in Japan also found that rats with restricted caloric intake lived longer. This included those that were prone to autoimmune diseases. 
With the evidence in favor of intermittent short-term fasting, one can see why it has gained such popularity in the modern age. Mankind has always utilized fasting for its benefits, and is very likely to continue to do so. With a growing understanding of our bodies through such studies as are cited above, the future is likely to bring even more clarity to the results already being seen.