Jainism, Science and Intermittent Fasting

August, 2020 by Dr. Minal Mehta

I have recently incorporated an intermittent fasting protocol within my daily routine as I have come to appreciate the wonders this can do for your health, I would like to take this opportunity to share my perspectives on the scientific benefits of fasting, and specifically how fasting can serve as a healing process for our body, mind, and soul, which ultimately bring us closer and connects to our core Jain philosophical principles.

When we think about fasting as it relates to Jainism, the word Upavas often comes to mind. This refers to a complete, one-day-long fast for up to and including 24–36 hours, with or without water. There are other variations of fasting as well, such as Chauvihar, in which no food or water is consumed after sunset, and Unodar (partial fasting), where lesser food is consumed than desired. Vruti Sankshep is the limiting of the number of food items eaten, and Rasa Parityag is the practice of giving up favorite foods.

“Scientific research provides sample
evidence that fasting is actually
beneficial for the body’s
rejuvenation.”

What is the purpose of fasting according to Jain principles? There are several reasons for fasting in Jainism. It is a way of penance, reminding the practitioner of Lord Mahavira’s renunciation and asceticism, of being in a minimalistic state of living. Fasting is also practiced to maintain self-control through abstinence from the pleasures felt through the five senses, to gain deeper self-awareness of our being, and to help us gain mental clarity and inner calm. And lastly, it is also done to purify our body and mind, while allowing for the shedding of karma through sacrifice

Scientific research provides ample evidence that fasting is actually beneficial for the body’s rejuvenation.

When we fast, a series of metabolic pathways that promote excessive stored fat to be burned as fuel to provide energy for tissues and organs are activated. Long-term fasting ranging from 24–36 hours promotes the production of ketone bodies that further drive fat burning processing resulting in desired weight loss. Research also supports that these ketone products [i.e. beta-hydroxybutyrate] often protect against adverse cardiovascular events such as heart failure. Furthermore, fasting allows our tissues and organs to “cleanse” through a mechanism called autophagy which allows old cells, toxins, and even cells that may be prone to becoming cancerous or dysfunctional to be degraded and cleared out of our system, essentially detoxifying our bodies. In contrast, when we are constantly eating, certain important hormones such as insulin and glucagon remain elevated causing our body to become desensitized to them and stop recognizing them altogether. Fasting creates restoration of this hormonal imbalance and provides control over hunger. Our gut health is also significantly improved, where fasting allows resident gut bacteria to restore its metabolic functions including proper digestion and absorption of the food particles within the gut. Fasting has been shown to delay the onset of age-related diseases such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. It also enhances learning and memory as well as one’s overall life span.

About Author

Dr. Minal Mehta

Dr. Minal Mehta

The author Dr. Minal Mehta is a doctor who completed her doctorate in biomedical sciences from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 2017. Currently working with AstraZeneca as a research scientist in the cardiovascular and metabolic disease research group.
co-edited by : Rishwa Doshi

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Mahendra Mehta
Mahendra Mehta
3 years ago

Excellent summary. More details and various ways Intermittent Fasting can be practised would be interesting.