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Sat, Oct. 19

A short-term fast is a quick solution for dieters

What's the point of fasting?

Q: I have recently begun trying to do a weekly partial fast for spiritual and physical reasons. How long should a fast be in order for the digestive system to reap the benefits?

A: I'm not sure what you mean by "partial fast," but I can tell you that your digestive system will benefit from even one day of a total fast (when you consume only water or herbal tea). At one time, I experimented with fasting one day a week as a useful physical and psychological discipline. Many people experience a clearer mental state and increased energy after a short-term fast.

I no longer do weekly fasts, but occasionally I devote a day to drinking only fresh juice and water to give my digestive system a rest. Restricting your food intake frees up energy that your digestive organs (the bulkiest in the body) would otherwise consume. Unlike a water fast, a juice "diet" is unlikely to cause such side effects as lightheadedness, fatigue or headaches.

On a juice fast, you drink only juice from fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables. Drink at least four 8- to 12-ounce glasses of juice plus plenty of pure water (at least four 8-ounce glasses per day) and, if you like, unsweetened herb tea.

I recommend preparing the juice yourself. This is easiest if you invest in a juicing machine. Drink homemade juice within an hour after making it - otherwise, its nutritional value will deteriorate. If you can't make juice yourself, buy natural juices that don't contain added sugar.

To keep yourself regular while on a juice fast, take powdered psyllium. Mix a tablespoon in a big glass of water, drink it all, and then drink a glass of pure water. When the time comes to break your fast, be sure to eat lightly and slowly - some whole fruit, perhaps. A heavy, rich meal to celebrate the end of your fast is likely to make you sick.

You can safely do a juice fast for one to three days. I suggest consulting your health-care practitioner first. And definitely do not fast if you're diabetic, pregnant or nursing. Also, especially when starting out, be sure to fast during times when you know your activity will not be as strenuous as usual.

Q: What do you think of VEMMA, the latest craze in supplement drinks?

A: VEMMA stands for vitamins, essential minerals, mangosteen and aloe, and it comes as two liquid drinks to be mixed together and consumed daily instead of taking more conventional vitamin/mineral supplements.

Mangosteen, one of the highly touted components, is a tropical fruit prized for its delicate taste. It is sometimes called the "queen of fruits" and has been described as the most delicious fruit in the world. Mangosteen trees are native to Malaysia but grow elsewhere in the tropics, mostly in India, Thailand, Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. The fruit must ripen on the tree and doesn't keep very well. You should know, however, that mangosteen does not have a reputation in its native country as a health food, just as a tasty fruit. VEMMA and most mangosteen products sold in the United States include the inedible purple rind as well as its fruit, both of which are marketed as sources of antioxidant pigments.

VEMMA also contains green tea and aloe. Green tea has well-established health effects (that you can get by drinking a few cups a day), and aloe, a succulent plant from Africa, contains a clear gel that is a great home remedy for burns, sunburn and skin irritation. Aloe vera juice is sold in health food stores to help heal ulcers and other irritations of the gastrointestinal tract. Although it works well for some, I generally do not recommend it for this purpose. In high doses, it is an irritant laxative.

VEMMA comes with a marked shot glass - you're supposed to combine liquids from each bottle and drink this preset amount of the mixture daily. One pack of two bottles costs $60 and would last you only a month if you drank a shot daily. That's a lot of money to pay for what is essentially the same stuff you can find in any good-quality multivitamin/mineral that would cost you far less.

I also object to the fact that VEMMA is sold exclusively through aggressive multilevel marketing - that is, you can buy it only through distributors who make money not only through their own sales, but also those of the people they recruit. I'm sorry, but I am prejudiced against multilevel schemes of all sorts.

My advice: Save your money, and have a few cups of green tea.

Readers who wish to ask Dr. Weil a question may do so by visiting his Web site, www.drweil.com, and clicking "Ask Dr. Weil" and then "Ask Your Question." Because Dr. Weil receives so many questions, it is impossible for him to personally respond to every query.

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