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NK N=1 Addendum: The Effects Of My (Almost One Week) 72-Hour Water Fast

I’m coming up on the end of my official one-year “nutritional ketosis” (NK) experiment in May 2013 which for all intents and purposes has been nothing short of a resounding success. While the weight loss to date (73 pounds in 10 months) has been a nice little side effect of this self-imposed scientific experiment, there are so many other intriguing and measurable health benefits that have come from doing this–namely hunger control, less obsession about food, heightened mental acuity, regular restorative sleep, blood sugar stability, energy out the wazoo…I could go on and on!

The reality is nutritional ketosis has given me back full control of my health and weight again in ways where even a typical low-carb diet had failed me in recent years. In a nutshell, NK has given me my life back again and I couldn’t be happier about that! I’m stoked about sharing more about my NK progress over the next few months speaking on a panel at PaleoFX in Austin, Texas next week, doing a one-year update lecture on The Low-Carb Cruise in May and presenting a poster at the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium (#AHS13) in Atlanta, Georgia in August. And after I’m finished up writing my current book Cholesterol Clarity, I’ll begin work writing a book about this whole nutritional ketosis experiment with all that I’ve learned doing this set to release in 2014. Just in case you haven’t been keeping up with my regular NK n=1 updates that began in May 2012, check out my regular 30-day updates: Day 1-30, Day 31-60, Day 61-90, Day 91-120, Day 121-150, Day 151-180, Day 181-210, Day 211-240, Day 241-270 and Day 271-300.

With my curiosity for doing tests on myself while in a fully keto-adapted state, I couldn’t help but see what would happen if I attempted to do a one-week total fast with water only. As regular readers already know, I engaged in a one-week fast with water, diet soda and chicken boullion cubes while keeping up my regular exercise routine in 2011 putting the words of cancer researcher Dr. Thomas Seyfried to the ultimate test. In this November 2009 podcast interview, Dr. Seyfried noted that a great cancer prevention measure that people can engage in is to do a one-week fast annually. It took me a while to work up the gumption to do it the first time in April 2011 and Dr. Seyfried honored my willingness to give it a go in his new 2012 textbook Cancer as a Metabolic Disease. With my body running quite efficiently on ketone bodies for more than 10 months, I wanted to see if I could replicate that same experiment with water only without the diet soda, bouillion cubes, exercise and supplementation that are a typical part of my normal lifestyle routine.

I’ve been measuring blood ketones, blood sugar and weight on a daily basis in both morning and night during my NK experiment. Could I possibly be successful surviving on water and ketosis for an entire week? And what impact would a total fast have on blood ketone production, blood sugar and weight (although I personally think the weight change is all but irrelevant within the realm of a test like this)? Would it be possible for me to make it for an entire week on water only? These are just a few of the questions I wanted to know and there’s no better way to find out than to give it the old college try. Since I had already done a fast once before in 2011, I already knew what I had in store for myself. And with nutritional ketosis, regular periods of 18-24+ hours of fasting are very natural and easy to see. What would happen once I go beyond this usual fasting time period? Let’s test it and find out.

Since I wanted to see what was changes were happening to me during this entire experience, I decided to test blood ketones, blood sugar and weight every hour on the waking hour beginning on Sunday, March 17, 2013 (my last meal was on Saturday night at 5:30PM) while observing anything happening to my normal routine. This would allow me to see precisely the impact on all my numbers and state of health in real time to assess the situation. I promised myself and my wife Christine that if at any point I started to feel bad beyond just simple hunger or if my blood sugar dips into the 50s for more than a couple of hours, then I would end the experiment immediately. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors went through regular long periods of deprivation where food would not be readily available. What would this feel like in a modern world? I wanted to find out and see what would happen.

I’m going to start with my blood sugar because this was part of the reason why my ambitious one-week goal for this fasting experiment came to an end at 72 hours. You’ll find out why when you see what happened to my blood sugar towards the end of the testing period:

HOURLY BLOOD SUGAR–3-17-13 to 3-19-13

You’ll notice my blood sugar was in the low-90′s and rose to 101 before falling in Day 1. Part of it may have had something to do with the fact that I stopped taking my Glycosolve as part of this total fast. Additionally, I had a larger-than-normal meal the night before knowing it was going to be my final bites of food for a while, so that might be part of why glucose was slightly elevated. But as you can see, blood sugar fell to the more typical level of upper 70s/low 80s by that night. When I woke up in Day 2 of the fast, my blood sugar was 70–not that unexpected considering it had been nearly 40 hours since my last meal. After rising to 84 by midday, there was a precipitous plummet down into the mid-60s by the evening. I wasn’t worried or surprised by this at all, but it did manifest itself in a bad night’s sleep waking up several times during the night (I have typically slept soundly during NK). Day 3 began at 65 and rose to 77 by midday. However, the bottom fell out in the early afternoon when my blood sugar hit 59 for over two hours–and it came with an accompanying headache. Other than that, I felt pretty good. But even when my blood sugar rose back into the upper 60s again my headache persisted. I decided to officially end the fast at 5:30PM. Within an hour after eating a pretty sizable meal, the headache completely disappeared. I’m thinking my electrolyte balance was off and it was a lesson learned for the next time I attempt to do a one-week fast in the future (the boullion cubes were a lot more effective at helping me sustain the fast in 2011 than I even realized). Incidentally, I had another difficult night of sleep waking up just a few hours after falling asleep. If blood sugar dropped that much, then what happened to blood ketones? Check it out for yourself:

HOURLY KETONES–3-17-13 to 3-19-13

Day 1 began with my morning ketone levels at 2.3 millimolar which is a bit higher than they typically are. You’ll see they dipped down to .6 for a few hours reflecting the high level of water consumption early in the day. They rose back up to 1.2 before I hit the sack early just after 9:15PM. When I got up at 8:45AM on Day 2, my blood ketones were already at 1.5. After slightly dropping down to 1.1 due to drinking a lot of water up until around midday, you’ll notice blood ketones began to quickly skyrocket as I approached 48 hours of straight fasting. The meteoric production of ketone bodies hit a climax of 4.6 after 49 hours of fasting before falling back down to 3.5 towards the end of Day 2. When I woke up at 8:30AM on Day 3, my blood ketones were abnormally higher than they usually are at 3.2. After ticking up to 4.5 at 10:30AM there was a quick drop and very fast rise of blood ketones up to a high of 5.8 millimolar by 4:30PM–71 hours into my total fast. This coincided with my blood sugar dipping down to 59 for a couple of hours. My NK observation has been when blood sugar is lower, blood ketones tend to be higher. In case you’re wondering, I wasn’t at all worried about my blood ketones going that high. They’ve been even higher before, but I can’t help but wonder how much higher they might have gone had I continued this fasting experience. We’ll have to save that for another day. Now let’s see what happened to my weight during this 72-hour fast:

HOURLY WEIGHT–3-17-13 to 3-19-13

Weight is probably the least interesting part of this fasting experiment because if you don’t eat any food then you expect to see weight loss. DUH! I will note that my weight was up to start Day 1 because I had a sizable meal late in the afternoon on March 16, 2013 preparing for what I thought was going to be seven days of no food. Although there wasn’t much weight loss in Day 1, it certainly reflected itself when I woke up in Day 2. You’ll see my weight goes up early in both Day 2 and 3 when I drank copious amounts of water to ward off hunger from not eating. When I stopped drinking so much water, the weight came down. Yes, I lost a few pounds during this 72-hour fast, but the most interesting thing about this experiment is what happened in the three days that followed. Let me share a few observations about what happened next:

  • My first meal after fasting for 72 hours was substantial
  • Despite eating a large amount of food, hunger persisted
  • I resisted the urge to keep eating and eating
  • I’ve felt hunger more often than I did before the fast
  • Fasting blood sugar levels have been elevated in the 90s
  • Blood ketones dropped down to normal again within 3 days
  • When I went back to the gym, I still had full strength
  • My weight has gone up several pounds since the fast ended
  • Sleep took a couple of days to become uninterrupted again
  • Mental clarity has remained unchanged throughout all of this

    I definitely want to give another go to a full one-week fast again sometime in the future, but it will undoubtedly be with the inclusion of salt supplementation to keep my electrolytes exactly where they need to be. Had that happened this time, I think I would have made it all seven days. Nevertheless, I consider this experiment a success because it showed me what I wanted to see–how quickly blood sugar drops, blood ketones rise and weight fluctuations during a water-only fast. It’s yet another point of data in my n=1 experiment testing nutritional ketosis.

    What did you think about my fasting results? I’d love to see your feedback about what happened, so feel free to share those in the comments section below. My next update for Day 301-330 is coming up in mid-April and then I’ll write a wrap-up post about one year of doing nutritional ketosis when I return from The Low-Carb Cruise in mid-May. I’ve got a few very interesting tests coming up soon that I hope to include showing the state of my health being in a constant state of ketosis in that final analysis. By the way, I got the results of my cardiac calcium score last week–ZERO! Not too shabby for a diet that is 80-85% dietary fat, eh? More coming soon!

    • Kevin Furr

      I’d definitely take the bullion supplements seriously if I tried a fast. Not sure how much it takes, but people have died from acute hyponatremia — diluting down of electrolytes with too much clear water but no salt intake. Tends to happen with marathoners belting down water while sweating away salt; also the occasional foolish radio water-drinking contest (why is that always for radio shows?). You were doing the same thing in slow motion over a few days.

      • LLVLCBlog

        Lesson learned for next time. I’m pleased with three days.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kris.lauer.9 Kris Lauer

      Thanks for sharing your experiment with all of us Jimmy. I am currently having some issues with fasting glucose numbers. Not that they are off the chart but they are elevated. I have been working to get them lower but they still tend to be in the low 100′s. Funny thing is that they drop during the day and then go back up at night. So it is interesting to see yours go up during the day and fall at night.

      • LLVLCBlog

        That Glycosolve works so well. Hoping mine get back to where they were pre-fast.

      • cnico

        Kris, get your gortisol and DHEA checked… they are produced by the adrenal glands and the adrenal glands actually regulate blood sugar. It sounds like they are out of whack…

    • Stuart Hechinger

      “electrolyte balance was off” I would say it is mostly magnesium deficiency as that is often associated with headache and if you would have had muscle cramps at that time it would confirm it. I suggest that you make a chicken or bone broth in a slow cooker overnight and use that broth. I have not read much on fasting but when blood sugar gets to 60s it might also be a signal that something abnormal is happening. Since you tend to have higher BG then your set point is likely higher. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypoglycemia This is just a guess of someone who has read a fair bit but likely has more to learn. I have been reading Dr Dayspring and wonder if he asked if you were tested for sterol adsorption? I have speculated about this at http://www.heartlifetalk.com

      • LLVLCBlog

        No muscle cramps. My fasting blood sugar tends to be 80s. Never tested for sterol absorption.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mtdoggie4 Karen Sesso

      That should read laxative effect not diuretic effect. AS as an additional note, when give a high therapeutic dose of magnesium I also give either organic bound multi minerals or trace mineral drops to keep other minerals at a minimum maintenance levels.

    • http://www.vyuzeno.cz/ Tomáš Bleša

      Why to use bullion cubes? They are disguisting. Make real beef/chicken broth. It’s easy.

      • LLVLCBlog

        I’m simply repeating what many of the leading low-carb researchers and practitioners have recommended. I agree with you bone broth itch adequate salt would be awesome.

    • don

      Thanks for sharing Jimmy! This very very helpful and inspiring. My confusion is that when in NK, Phinney recommends taking boullion cubes, Dave Asprey recommends taking sea salt in water. what brand of bouillon cubes are healthiest (I think alot of them have msg)? Do you think sea salt in water is enough or does one in NK need sodium/potassium/maganesium combo like from Elete Water or nuun type tablets? Thanks again Jimmy.

      • LLVLCBlog

        I think the point is simply to get salt in your body. I like Dave’s idea because it avoids the msg question altogether.

    • LLVLCBlog

      The interesting thing is my energy levels remained high throughout this. My point of doing this was to see how well I’d adapt to no food at all. Looks like 3 days.

    • LLVLCBlog

      Don’t know the ratio, but I take 400mg magnesium glycinate daily. But not during this fast.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fredrick-Hahn/633467863 Fredrick Hahn

      Jimmy – You said:

      “I’m coming up on the end of my official one-year “nutritional ketosis” (NK) experiment in May 2013 which for all intents and purposes has been nothing short of a resounding success. While the weight loss to date (73 pounds in 10 months)…”

      Q: Were/did you control your total energy intake (calories) during this time or, did/are you eating ad libitum but keeping yourself in NK? I ask because since you were eating a VLC diet before, which should have had you in NK before, what was the spark, so to speak, that caused the 73 pound loss? Did you ditch the “fake” LC products? Add strength training more regularly? Sleep better?

      Congrats on the 73 down!!!

    • Kelly Schumann

      Were you worried that doing this fast during the NK experiment would skew the final one year results? I’m not trying to criticize but it would seem that since this NK experiment will be submitted as a case study that you wouldn’t want to add other variables like a water fast that might change the final results. Maybe a water fast at the end as a kind of extra experiment? Don’t know. Just wondering.

      Sorry about the headaches. It does sound like electrolyte issues. I take capsules called Endurolytes that I have used in the past during long runs. They’re very convenient and contain salts, magnesium, calcium, potassium and other tasty things. Lol

      • LLVLCBlog

        Overall, it has changed much. Just a blip on the screen of this overall experiment. Next time I try this, electrolyte balance will be foremost.

    • tam

      A blood pressure machine is handy for these insufficient sodium/excess potassium issues as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Sourpusscandy Leslie Sourpusscandy

      Day 3 of a fast usually is painful, no doubt! Re: the low BG, I would think that’s no big deal since you have the ketones to live off of. The brain can eat ketones too right? Also, I know a ton of people who have fasted a week, 30 days, etc and didn’t even bother to read BG. The longest water fast I’ve done was 4 days, (coffee/caffeine w’drawal killed me!) juice fast 2 weeks. I want to try a week’s fast, I’m considering a Bulletproof fast, 1 week, supp’s, butter, coconut oil, bulletproof coffee. I just want to get rid of this excess fat already!

      • LLVLCBlog

        If I fast again, I will take care of electrolytes. That was my primary issue.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Swaringen/100000250965440 Jonathan Swaringen

      I’m really wondering where your Iodine levels are. Its somewhat unrelated to this post…but I just got done reading Iodine By David Brownstein, M.D.

      He makes it sound like most people are Iodine deficient and goes through the many important aspects of Iodine in the body.

      Very curious indeed.
      For those interested in information on Iodine since i mentioned it being very important.

      http://www.freegrab.net/Iodine%20update.htm#section18

      http://tinyurl.com/iodine-references

      http://jackkruse.com/forum/showthread.php?943-The-iodine-Thread!!!

      Jack Kruse has a great thread on his forum with people talking about Iodine Supplementation

      Iodine’s importance is one of the many reasons its focused on in his Epi-Paleo protocol.

      http://jackkruse.com/brain-gut-6-epi-paleo-rx/

      Sorry for all the links. Just like informing people. Good luck with your next N-1 Jimmy Love the blog.

      • LLVLCBlog

        I take kelp for iodine.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Swaringen/100000250965440 Jonathan Swaringen

          Recommendations were 6-50mg a day due to toxins such as bromide, fluoride, perchlorates, etc.. These bind to the same sites as Iodine.

          Considering your energy levels and everything if your feeling really good which it sounds like you are you may be sufficient. Just wondering if perhaps it would be even better if you weren’t sufficient and were made so if that would help even more.

          How much do you take per day? Just curious.

          I’m thinking about getting a loading test myself because I think I’m most likely deficient. The loading test is pretty interesting. They have a spot urine test you do in the morning than you take an Iodorol tablet and collect urine for 24 hours. If you excrete 90% of the Iodine dose into your urine that means your sufficient.

          From what I’ve seen on cost it appears to be a bit over 100 dollars. Not too bad.

          • LLVLCBlog

            1125 mcg daily.

    • Galina Lebedev

      I guess drinking broth for sodium is better choice than using bullion cubes because MSG increases appetite(Invest in a regular pressure cooker in orderto get a good broth in one hour). In order to get the best testing broth use turkey parts (like necks) , or just drumsticks. I wouldn’t go longer than 3 days fastingin order to preserve your muscle mass. I wish it would be ways for people after a weight loss to supplement a leptine. I guess, you can also check you TSN, it could be higher then normal as a response to your weight loss, may be supplementing of T3 could be usefull..