Fasting – A growing wellness trend pharmacists should understand

April 25, 2019By Focus on the Pharmacy Front End Blog, Resources focused on Independent Pharmacy, Step into Natural

By Jen Johnston, CHHC, senior marketing services account manager, for the Step into Natural blog series

Fasting, the act of restricting food for a set period of time, is rapidly on the rise. In fact, intermittent fasting was the top-cited eating pattern by the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 13th annual Food and Health Survey, even higher than Paleo, Keto, or The Whole30®.

There are multiple ways to fast. Here are some of the most popular, as reported by HealthLine.

  • 16/8 Method: A person fasts every day for 14-16 hours, and restricts their daily “eating window” to 8-10 hours.
  • 5:2 Diet: A person eats normally 5 days of the week, while restricting calories to 500-600 on two days of the week.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: A person does a 24-hour fast, either once or twice per week.
  • Alternate-Day Fasting: A person fasts every other day.
  • The Warrior Diet: A person eats only small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day, then eats one huge meal at night (during a 4 hour feeding window).

As you might imagine, searches for fasting are seasonal, dipping right before the winter holidays and going up around New Year’s Resolution time with a dip in the spring and a clear spike in summer, as swimsuit season reaches full bloom. Religious aspects of fasting also contribute to the seasonality.

You can see from the chart below, searches like this had been fairly steadily since at least 2004. However, beginning in January 2017, something happened. Searches for fasting kept increasing and increasing, and never dipped back to the December 2016 levels.

Perhaps the 2017 documentary, Fasting, played a role in the spike. I speculate it had something to do with food tribes such as paleo, keto, and vegan adopting intermittent fasting into their methodology. The year 2017 saw the rise of many books on the fasting topic, with quite a few connected to these lifestyle diets, including The Longevity Diet.

In any case, fasting is on a growth trajectory. It is purported to help people lose weight by lowering insulin levels, enhancing hormone function and increasing amounts of norepinephrine. It both reduces the food a person eats and increases metabolic rate. Fasting has been cited as reducing inflammation, being beneficial for heart health, inducing cellular repair, being good for the brain, preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s, and increasing lifespan.

In the coming year, you can expect brands to fill this growing need with food that doesn’t break or helps support the fast, supplements designed for intermittent fasting, and drinks that don’t break the fast when consumed. Purists may suggest that this is “dirty fasting” and breaks fasting rules. Still countless others will appreciate the emerging options.

Talk to your patients about fasting, particularly ones that hold a prescription that must be taken with food and patients with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends against prolonged fasting for those with multiple complications of diabetes.

As an added benefit to patients, you could bring in a dietitian or health coach to talk about safe fasting which includes adjusting medications and supplements as appropriate, drinking enough water during the fast, and halting the fast if feeling unwell. And remember, patients should be aware that long-term fasting (7-14 days) should only be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional.