Therapeutic fasting, a risky practice (and abuses) for health

Therapeutic fasting, a risky practice (and abuses) for health

On Saturday March 9, an international conference on therapeutic fasting was held in Aix-en-Provence. This very fashionable practice consists of depriving yourself of solid food for several days in a row. What are the risks ? TipsForWomens interviewed Laure Martinat, doctor expert in micronutrition, to see more clearly.

There are different types of fasting, but they all have the same objective: total or partial deprivation of solid food, liquid food or both, for a given time. Intermittent fasting, for example, involves skipping your dinner or breakfast in order to “cleanse your body” and feel better.

Therapeutic fasting generally consists of consuming only drinks (vegetable juices, herbal teas, etc.), or sometimes just water, for several days in a row. Some fans also practice a sporting activity such as walking or yoga.

An international congress to “take stock” of the issue

According to the organizers of the international fasting congress in Aix-en-Provence, which was held on Saturday March 9, “doctors and researchers” are there to “take stock of knowledge on the effects of fasting on human health. To ensure the safety of this practice, doctors and biologists will share information validated in the scientific literature.“. For the Order of Physicians, which warns of the risks of abuse of this type of practice, “therapeutic fasting is not a scientifically validated practice.”

A point of view shared by Laure Martinat, doctor expert in micronutrition, whom we contacted. “Overall, to date, there is no solid study that can prove any health benefits from this type of practice. she explains. On the contrary, even according to her. “It is often fragile people, very sick and who have chronic pathologies such as obesity or diabetes, who adhere to this type of practice. They can put them in danger and cause them serious problems later.”

An esoteric fast “which has nothing medical”

For the doctor, therapeutic fasting also has an “esoteric” aspect, which has nothing to do with the seriousness of the medical and scientific world. “If a healthy person, for reasons of belief, wishes to do so, I am not opposed to it, as a doctor.” she adds. “What bothers me, on the other hand, and which poses a problem, from an ethical point of view, is to attach a medical label to the practice, when it is absolutely not. On the contrary, the benefit-risk balance is negative and completely unfavorable for sick people, there is really a danger for them.” Dr Laure Martinat still insists.

A “sectarian” practice that has already caused deaths

The consequences of therapeutic fasting are sometimes even dramatic. In August 2021, a 44-year-old woman died near Tours, after participating in a therapeutic fasting course.

Miviludes, the interministerial mission for vigilance and the fight against sectarian aberrations, is concerned about the increase in this type of internship and calls for vigilance. “These practices, when they include unbalanced, deficient or even extreme dietary rules, associated with sectarian discourse, have revealed their formidable effectiveness in the processes of mental control leading, in certain cases, to suicide or premature death of followers suffering from life-threatening pathologies, through refusal of proven therapeutic protocols” can we read on their site.

The Ministry of Health website recalls the risks associated with therapeutic fasting. “Fasting, in addition to the feeling of hunger, can cause severe headaches, dizziness, or even discomfort. Beyond two weeks, it can cause anemia due to iron deficiency, inflammation and fibrosis in the liver and degradation of bone stock. The most serious risk associated with fasting is that of the occurrence of heart rhythm disturbances which may in some cases lead to death..

NO to diets, YES to WW!

Opt for scientifically proven alternatives

Instead of therapeutic fasting, what the doctor recommends is to train patients on nutritional and dietetic issues. “I rather recommend a therapeutic education patients, in order to explain to them the benefits of a balanced diet, to teach them the concept of glycemic index, for example and to carry out a real nutrition education course with them” advocates Laure Martinat.

For example, a person with pre-diabetes, if they correct their diet and do not remain sedentary, can quite easily return to normal blood sugar levels without treatment, but by following a certain number of scientifically proven rules. she adds.

Generally speaking, before starting a fast, it is recommended to speak to your doctor, in order to benefit from medical supervision.