As intermittent fasting gains popularity, certain influencers on social media are adopting more extreme forms of fasting, one of which is dry fasting. Dry fasting involves restricting not only food but also water intake. They claim that it will help lose weight, build immunity and improve spiritual well-being.
Fasting is when you voluntarily avoid eating food. It has been practiced by religious groups around the world for thousands of years. These days, however, fasting has become a popular way to lose weight. Bodybuilders and actors have been known to avoid water for a day before their photo shoot, to give their muscles more definition. Dry fasting is also something that certain religions have advocated. However, these have been culturally performed by healthy people, not more than a few times a year. They are linked not to health benefits, but to “penance”.
Dry fasting, or absolute fasting, restricts both food and liquids. It does not allow liquids, such as water, broth and tea. This is different from most fasts, which encourages water intake. There are many ways to fast. Dry fasting can be done with any method, including:
- Intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting cycles between fasting and feeding. Many people use the 16/8 method, which restricts food intake for 16 hours and allows eating for an 8-hour period.
- Alternate day of fasting. Fasting on alternate days is done every other day. It is a form of fasting for 1 day.
- Eat-stop-eat. In this method, you fast for 24 hours once or twice a week.
- Periodic fasting. Food intake is restricted for a set number of days, such as a 3-day fast once a month.
In general, there is evidence that fasting has benefits such as weight loss and slower aging.
But dry fasting can be dangerous. Since you are not allowed to drink water, you are at risk of dehydration and other complications.
There is also not enough research on the benefits of dry fasting. In this article, we’ll explore the purported benefits, along with the possible side effects and dangers of the practice.
Fans of dry fasting say they have experienced the following benefits. Let’s explore the science behind each claim.
According to supporters, dry fasting is effective in losing weight. This is probably related to extreme calorie restriction. There is some research on dry fasting and weight loss. In a 2013 study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, scientists looked at the effects of fasting during Ramadan, a month-long Muslim holiday. People who fast during Ramadan do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for a month.
The study included 240 healthy adults who fasted for at least 20 days. One week before Ramadan, the researchers measured the participants’ body weight and calculated their body mass index (BMI). A week after Ramadan ended, the researchers took the same steps. They found that body weight and BMI decreased in almost all participants.
Although the participants are fasting, it is important to note that it was done intermittently. Also, the Ramadan fast is only limited to one month, so it is not continuous. So do healthy adults. These findings suggest that intermittent dry fasting leads to short-term weight loss. Otherwise, there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm that repeated and safe dry fasting is safe or effective.
Enhanced immune function
People say that dry fasting strengthens the body’s immune system. The idea is that fasting “restores” the immune system by removing damaged cells, allowing the body to regenerate new ones. Additionally, there is evidence that limiting calories (but not water) improves inflammation, protecting the immune system. Complete calorie restriction is believed to have similar results.
In terms of cell regeneration, a 2014 animal study in Cell Stem Cell found that prolonged fasting triggers cell regeneration in mice. In a phase I human trial, the same researchers observed similar effects in people with cancer receiving chemotherapy. However, the human study is in its early stages, and the article did not indicate whether water was allowed. Studies are needed to determine if the same effects occur in healthy humans during dry fasting.
The link between dry fasting and reduced inflammation has also been examined. In a 2012 study in Nutrition Research scientists measured proinflammatory cytokines from 50 healthy adults a week before Ramadan. This was repeated during the third week and one month after the dry fast for Ramadan.
Participants’ proinflammatory cytokines were lower during the third week of dry fasting. This suggests reduced inflammation during fasting, which can improve the immune system. But again, the Ramadan fast is not continuous, and water is allowed at certain times. The link between dry fasting and improved immune function needs more research.
Although water intake promotes healthy skin, dry fasting is believed to help. This could have to do with the supposed effects of fasting on the immune system. Some claim that fasting supports wound healing. According to a 2019 review on Nutrients, increased immune activity due to fasting aids in wound healing. A 2011 animal study on Wounds also found that temporary and repeated fasting accelerated wound healing in mice.
Contradictory results are also present. In a 2012 animal study on Age, researchers found that calorie restriction slowed wound healing in rats. Others think that fasting slows down age-related changes, including skin aging. This is likely because calorie restriction is associated with slower aging. According to a small 2018 study in Cell Metabolism, calorie restriction reduced biomarkers of aging in 53 young, healthy adults.
Despite these findings, research has found no specific benefits to skin from dry fasting. Most of the investigations also involved mice. More studies are needed to confirm that fasting without water can help human skin.
Dry fasting is also said to enhance spirituality, which may be related to the practice of religious fasting. Supporters have reported several spiritual benefits, including:
- Greater gratitude
- Deepest faith
- Enhanced awareness
- Opportunity to pray
Both religious and non-religious people have reportedly reported experiencing spiritual benefits after dry fasting.
Faster overall results
People claim that the benefits of fasting are developed with regular and repeated sessions. But dry fasting is believed to offer the fastest results because it is the most extreme. This is theoretical. To date, studies have only compared the effects of intermittent dry fasting during Ramadan with other types of fasting. An example is a 2019 review in the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, where scientists found that these fasts produce similar results.
But researchers have not compared the rate of these results in the same experiment. Further studies are needed to determine what type of rapid performance produces the fastest and safest results.
Side effects of dry fasting
Like all types of fasting, dry fasting has possible side effects. You may experience:
Persistent hunger: Hunger is a common side effect of any fast. Avoiding water can make you feel even hungrier, as water helps increase satiety.
Fatigue: If you don’t eat food or drink water, your body won’t have enough fuel. You are likely to feel fatigued, dizzy and weak.
Irritability: As hunger increases, you will surely feel crabby.
Headaches: Restricting caffeine and nutrients, especially carbohydrates, can lead to headaches.
Poor focus: When you are tired and hungry, it can be difficult to focus on school or work.
Decreased urine: Skipping fluids will make you urinate less. If you become dehydrated, your urine may be dark and smelly.
Complications in dry Fasting
If the dry fast is continued or repeated, serious complications can occur. These include:
Dehydration: Prolonged dry fasting can cause dehydration. This can lead to electrolyte imbalances and low blood pressure, which can be life threatening.
Urinary and kidney problems: Dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections and kidney stones.
Nutrient deficiencies: Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are associated with continued fasting.
Fainting: Dehydration and hypoglycemia increase the risk of fainting.
Eating disorders: Some people may be more likely to overeat after fasting, increasing the risk of eating disorders.
The bottom line
Dry fasting is when you avoid food and liquids. Supporters say it aids weight loss and immunity, but there is no solid evidence to back up these claims. Most importantly, dry fasting can be very dangerous. It can cause dehydration and other complications, especially if it recurs.