As each of us develops our unique personal fasting routine, some may consider incorporating dietary supplements and vitamins. Refining our individual process, means discovering our vulnerable areas, and identifying means for support. This includes finding the right dietary supplements to promote the intended outcome.
We know of fasting as a naturopathic healing tradition, used for millennia to help stimulate powers of self-healing, internal cleansing, spiritual discipline, and mental awareness.
Hildegard of Bingen’s fasting guidelines have taken various forms over the centuries. Most recently intermittent fasting, appears en vogue, but Hildegard endorsed that methodology centuries ago. Through millennia of extensive clinical trials (practical experience), fasting has emerged as a preventative means to combat the conditions that accompany aging, including diabetes, high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Several different modern fasting methodologies draw inspiration from Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard’s three healthy fasts offers a basic summary. Hildegard’s strictest fast limits diet to liquids, including juices and soups for a prescribed period. Less restrictive fasting methods include variations of spelt diet.
Fasting with Dietary Supplements and Vitamins
The process of fasting calls for calorie restriction. The fasting methodology we choose informs the degree of calorie restriction. Limiting calories often means sacrificing important nutrients. Hence dietary supplements may make sense, depending on the fasting methodology we choose, and based on our personal needs.
The following four questions commonly arise in combination with a fast, when considering dietary supplements.
1. Does one need to take dietary supplements during a fast to avoid suffering a nutrient deficiency? To what extent to supplement diet with vitamins, minerals, proteins, or amino acids during a fast?
2. Are there any recommended dietary supplements designed to improve the efficacy of a fasting process? Can supplements serve to advance the healing and cleansing effect of an ordinary fast? Alternatively, are some supplements counterproductive to an effective fast?
3. While fasting, can one continue taking daily vitamins and other dietary supplements used in the ordinary course of life? What are the dietary supplements needed for the basic supply of vital substances, e.g. vitamin B12, vitamin D or magnesium?
4. Is it possible to continue short-term use of certain supplements, taken immediately prior to the fast? For example, for those who may have started a pre-fast colon cleanse using psyllium husk powder along with a probiotic.
As is often the case with highly personalized circumstances, answers to these questions depend on unique factors, such as the fasting method and the types of supplements.
The basic question of whether one should take food supplements during fasting cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. It depends on factors such as the selected fasting method, the dietary supplements involved, and the individual need a person wants to address.
All forms of fasting rely on the premise of calorie restriction. Generally, we embark on a fast to eat as little as possible, and to create some distance with our daily habits. Particularly, to break from our most pervasive habits, like eating.
Vitamins and supplements often play a role in our daily lives to calm our conscience over suboptimal nutrition. Without even knowing, these supplements may add to our daily stress of wondering whether we meet unreasonable personal standards.
In short, normally, it is not necessary to take vitamins and supplements while fasting. In the absences of acute nutrient deficiencies, and barring illnesses that prohibit fasting, the human organism is equipped for managing a reduced food supply over one to two weeks. In fact, human history favors periods of feast and famine, consistent with the health benefits derived from intermittent fasting techniques.
Should I take protein powder or amino acids during fasting?
Concerns arise about compromising physical fitness levels while embarking on a fasting regimen. Some consider taking protein powders and/or amino acids as a preventative measure against muscle atrophy. These supplements typically contribute very little to a successful fast and may be counterproductive. From a naturopathic perspective, a certain degree of protein degradation through fasting serves to relieve inflammation, resulting from the over-abundance of protein in our diet.
Any muscle lost during a fasting regimen can be rebuilt after concluding a fast. In addition, Hildegard fasting guidelines supports consistent activity throughout the term of a fast.
In addition, ingesting amino acid supplements (especially, branched-chain amino acids “BCAA”) and/or protein powders stimulates insulin secretion, thereby changing the desired fasting metabolism, and resulting in diminished fasting results.
Are dietary supplements necessary during fasting?
During a Spelt Fast or the Spelt Reduction Diet, using spelt bread (see Hildegards Three Healthy Fasts), there is little need to worry about basic nutrient deficiencies (potassium, sodium, daily vitamins). The same applies to periodic fasting or intermittent fasting. These forms of gentle fasting promote regular food intake, and thus preserve a healthy baseline for nutrients and other vital substances.
The purpose of regular and consistent fasting is to help the body quickly enter its fasting state, where it devotes energy to detoxification and internal cleansing.
Reaching the fasting state
In an effective fasting state, our bodies break-down old, non-functional cells, thereby revealing energy, and a surplus of nutrients and vital substances. Fat gets mobilized from cells, and with it, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).
As we relieve our bodies of the digestive process, the demand for nutrients and vital substances decreases during the fasting process. Entering a healthy fasting state means our bodies economize existing resources in the absence of food.
In planning a therapeutic fasting regimen, devote time before beginning a fast (and, again afterwards) to identify the most valuable vitamins and minerals for a successful fast. At the top of the list, consider magnesium, iron, zinc and selenium, as these minerals support an efficient detoxification process.
While fasting, can I maintain use of the supplements I take in the ordinary course of life?
As a rule, when fasting according to Hildegard only maintain those supplements uniquely required by the individual. For example, those that a person cannot do without, based on their health circumstances. These include supplements, such as Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Zinc.
As a rule, and consistent with the spirit of fasting according to a Medieval nun, vitamins and supplements are not necessary.
But, of course, there are exceptions to the general rule.
Those who depend on daily supplements should typically continue with a normal routine during a fast. For example, a chronic vitamin B12 deficiency ought to be addressed during the course of a fast; possibly, together with a B-complex vitamin.
In the spirit of replicating centuries-old fasting techniques, attempt to avoid supplements that can be safely omitted for a two-week period. People suffering chronic and/or severe illnesses should consider expert oversight to monitor individual needs. Ideally, consult with a fasting physician or professional.
What supplements promote the fasting healing process?
Fasting inspired by Hildegard includes natural herbs known for their purifying and detoxifying effect. Specifically, herbs like Tumeric, Moringa, Barley Grass powder, Bertram, Galangal, and above all, bitter herbs, such as nettle powder or dandelion powder.
These bitter herbs have been used in fasting since antiquity, and can be found in powder or tablet form to add to soups and juices. Their inclusion works best in gentle fasting methods. To learn more about the contribution of bitter herbs in this context, see our post Why a Detox with Bitters is Faster And More Effective.
Mineral such as zeolite and bentonite fit into every fasting cure.
Typically, mineral soils such as zeolite and bentonite integrate into any fasting cure. These minerals serve the very purpose of a fast, to advance the detoxifying process. Simply put, they attach to toxins found in the intestines and gently carry them away, preventing admission into the blood stream. In addition, they promote intestinal activity.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and psyllium husk powder activate the intestines and bowels during a fast.
Particularly if intestinal activity slows during a fast, these remedies help stimulate intestinal activity. Ideally, digestion and bowel movements should remain regular while fasting.
When taken with lots of water, digestive substances including soluble fibers like linseed (flaxseed) or psyllium husk powder, swell in the intestines and thus stimulate peristalsis. Flax seeds should not be ground or mortared, as one benefits from the digestive effect, and not necessarily their high energy content.
Chlorophyll drops reduce body odors typical of fasting
Chlorophyll drops represent a great form of support during detoxification. The green plant substance helps to remove harmful toxins and also prevents the body odors that often arise during fasting.
At the same time, chlorophyll drops do not affect blood sugar or insulin levels, so do not disrupt a successful fasting state.
Each fasting regimen can be coordinated on an individual basis. In the spirit of promoting gentle fasting, consistent with Hildegard of Bingen, those who wish to include herbs such as Turmeric or Acerola (or, others) should follow personal preferences.
We do not have studies comparing fasting results with and without supplements. Evidence of the success of fasting has to do with the millennia this practice has been applied. Given the longevity of this centuries-old healing technique, it seems perverting the tradition with modern supplements serves as a distraction. Practitioners of Hildegard of Bingen medicine keep an open mind to simple and gentle fasting.
What should one pay attention to if one takes supplements while fasting?
If you have chosen one or more food supplements to include in a fasting cure, pay attention to the following things:
- The extent to which you tolerate specific food supplements on an empty stomach. Many food supplements can lead to nausea, stomach aches and diarrhea, if taken on an empty stomach. Pay attention to how these supplements affect you, experimenting in advance of a formal fast.
- Whether the respective dietary supplements are fat-soluble. The body would not benefit particularly well from such a dietary supplement during a fasting cure including little or no fat, at all. Fat-soluble food additions include, for example, curcumin and galactolipids found in rose hip. Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K), on the other hand, often come in capsules or drops including adequate fat for digestion.
- The extent and amount of medication one takes. Discuss with your doctor how your medications interact with the desired dietary supplements, whether intervals must be observed or whether the dietary supplement should be omitted, altogether.
Overall, the matter of whether to take dietary supplements during fasting is personal. Consider your personal health situation and lean on the support of experts, including your doctor, alternative medical practitioner, fasting physician, or fasting companion.
Information on fasting according to Hildegard von Bingen can be found in our comprehensive guide to Fasting according of Hildegard of Bingen.