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Can You Take Vitamins While Fasting? What You Need to Know

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“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency”- Plato

Fasting is not new to human society. Civilizations across the world have practiced it for thousands of years on the pretext of religion or spirituality. Hindus fast once or twice a week during Pradosha Vrata, Christians fast during lent, Muslims during Ramadan, and for Jains it is a commonplace.

It is a common myth that fasting makes you weaker. Of late, fasting has gained popularity as a health and wellness practice. It is touted for its potential benefits such as weight loss, improved metabolic health, and increased longevity.

But despite its benefits, fasting raises common questions mostly regarding nutrition and supplement intake. This article aims to explore whether it’s compatible to use vitamin supplements while fasting, drawing on scientific evidence and expert recommendations to provide a thorough analysis.

Understanding Fasting and Its Types

Throughout evolution, the human race has suffered from famine and food scarcity from time to time. Due to this, our hunter-gatherer genes evolved to store energy for survival in times of scarcity. This excess energy was stored in the human body as fat.

However, in the last 50-60 years, although there has been a surplus of food and there are remote chances of scarcity, our body has not yet given up its biological instinct of storage. This has caused widespread overweight and obesity across the globe. To make matters worse, we are now consuming more ultra-processed food which dictates our hormones to give a continuous signal to the body to stay in storage mode. In such a scenario, fasting periodically becomes all the more necessary.

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Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. There are several methods of fasting, each with unique rules and intended benefits:

  • Intermittent Fasting: Involves alternating cycles of fasting and eating. Common patterns include 16/8 (fasting for 16 hours, eating during an 8-hour window) and 5:2 (eating normally five days a week, reducing calorie intake on two non-consecutive days).
  • The 24-hour fast (or eat-stop-eat method): This method involves fasting completely for a full 24 hours. This is often done once or twice a week. Most people fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch. However, this form of fasting can have extreme side-effects such as fatigue, headaches, irritability, hunger and low energy.
  • Prolonged Fasting: Prolonged or extended fasts are those that last longer than 2-3 days or more. It should be done only under medical supervision. One example of this is the lemonade fast that lasts for 3 days. During this 3-day period, you only consume a liquid mixture of lemon juice, water and fruit/ vegetable juices. It detoxifies the body – particularly the liver – and stabilizes blood sugar levels.

During fasting, physiological changes occur. This includes alterations in hormone levels to facilitate energy usage from stored fats and sugars and significant shifts in metabolism.  Insulin level decreases and glucagon level increases. This allows the body to shift from using sugars (from your meal) to burning fat as the main source of energy. After about 12 hours, your body enters a state of ketosis; that is, it starts producing ketones that break down fats in the liver. The cells also clean out the damaged parts and generate newer, healthier ones in a process called autophagy. Initially, your metabolic rate may increase as your body uses more energy to switch to fat burning. But as the fast extends, the body tries to conserve energy and metabolic rate drops.

Given the changes that the body faces during fasting, it is essential for you to consult your doctor before trying any fasting program, especially if you have health issues. People with serious health challenges should avoid fasting.

Benefits of Fasting

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Fasting (especially intermittent) has several health benefits.

Firstly, it reduces oxidative stress or the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are unstable atoms that damage cells and cause inflammation. They are created by aging and toxin exposure. On the other hand, antioxidants are molecules that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Intermittent fasting triggers a positive stress response in cells that makes them more resilient to these free radicals.

Intermittent fasting also boosts neural cell regeneration and increases levels of hormones vital for mental health and wellbeing. It also allows cells focus on repair and maintenance, which is essential for their proper functioning and effectiveness.

Fasting also helps in optimizing energy metabolism and is especially beneficial for people who suffer from metabolic disorders or insulin resistance.

The Nutritional Dynamics of Fasting

Fasting impacts nutrient absorption and metabolism, which in turn affects the body’s requirement for vitamins and minerals. The body enters a state of ketosis during prolonged fasting periods, changing how it uses and stores nutrients. It’s crucial to maintain a nutrient balance to support bodily functions, despite reduced food intake.

Taking Vitamins While Fasting: Pros and Cons

When considering vitamin supplementation during fasting, the bioavailability of vitamins—how well they are absorbed and utilized in the body—is a key factor. Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins may be taken on an empty stomach, but their rapid excretion means their impact might be less sustained without regular meals. Conversely, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) typically require dietary fats for optimal absorption and might not be as effective if taken during a fast.

Potential risks of taking vitamins while fasting include gastrointestinal distress or reduced absorption, whereas benefits might include better maintenance of nutrient levels during extended periods without food.

Best Practices for Supplementing Vitamins during Fasting

It is best to make-up for vitamin and mineral losses by consuming a nutrient-rich diet. But sometimes we might need supplementation to replete the diminished stores.

For vitamin supplementation during fasting, the key factor to consider is – how well are they absorbed and utilized in the body, without breaking your fast. Water-soluble supplements like vitamin B and C, can be taken on an empty stomach. Since they do not carry any additional sugar or calories, your fast will not be broken as in the case of supplements that have additives, sugar and carbs; for e.g. gummy vitamins.

Minerals are all water-soluble and do not require enzymatic digestion; that is, they do not need to be broken down by digestive enzymes such as Amylase, Protease, and Lipase. They are absorbed directly into the blood stream, and can therefore be taken during fasting.

Conversely, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) typically require dietary fats for optimal absorption. Hence, they might not be as effective if taken during a fast.

Potential risks of taking vitamins while fasting include gastrointestinal distress or reduced absorption. Whereas benefits might include better maintenance of nutrient levels during extended periods without food.

Expert Insights and Evidence

Research in fasting supplements is evolving, but there are certain basics that experts recommend. For starters, you should review the ‘supplement facts’ on the product label for calorie content and opt for supplements that are unsweetened or calorie-free; like monk fruit extract or stevia. You should also be mindful of ingredients that could lower your blood glucose level. For example; Chromium Picolinate, Berberine, and Psyllium husk.

You should also try to take your supplements during the eating window. However, some supplements may be recommended to be taken on an empty stomach or at specific times. For best results, consult an integrative functional medicine healthcare provider about fasting and its impact.

FAQs on Fasting and Vitamin Supplementation

  • Can I take a multivitamin while fasting?

Multivitamins can be taken during fasting, but it’s best to align their intake with meals (eating window) to optimize absorption. In general, vitamins other that gummy vitamins (that contain calories) don’t break your fast.

  • Are there any vitamins I should avoid while fasting?

It’s generally safe to take most vitamins, but fat-soluble vitamins should ideally be taken with food.

  • Will supplements break my fast?

Supplements will not break a fast if they are calorie-free, but the timing and type should be considered to maintain the efficacy of the fast. Some supplements that will break your fast due to their calorie content are; protein powders and bars, meal replacement supplements, amino acids and acid combinations.

  • Can I drink tea/ coffee without sugar during a fast?

If you are fasting for the first time, you can have tea/coffee without sugar or bone broth, for a few weeks if it helps in better compliance.

  • What foods/ supplements should I have after a fast?

It is best to choose high-quality foods and supplements after a fast because your body is in a primed state to absorb nutrients more efficiently.

While fasting, vitamin supplementation can be compatible and beneficial, provided it’s approached with understanding and care. By aligning vitamin intake with fasting protocols and dietary needs, individuals can support their nutritional health and overall wellness, promoting a balanced approach to both fasting and supplementation.

For more info on effective and safe fasting, contact our team of integrative functional experts at Wellfinity.

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