Changes in the Fundamental Function
While Fasting


   Professor Morgulis says: "Laboratory as well as clinical experience corroborates the rejuvenating effects of inanition. If it is not too prolonged it is distinctly beneficent and may be used in overcoming somnolence and lassitude as well as in improving the fundamental organic functions (circulation, respiration), muscular strength, or the acuity of the senses." These improvements are typical of the improvements which occur, both in structure and function throughout the body when one fasts.

   The medical profession and the public have been slow in recognizing the benefits to be derived from judicious fasting. Even today there are few doctors of any and all of the rival schools of "healing" who understand fasting and who are qualified to properly conduct a fast. Few "natural therapists" and almost no medical men are sufficiently acquainted with fasting to properly carry one through it. Practically all of them insist on supplementing the fast and "aiding nature" with their various stimulating and suppressive measures. Many of the evils attributed to fasting are due to these measures and are common in patients treated by such methods, but who have not fasted. The other "evils of fasting" are imaginary evils.


   An important object secured by the fast is the rest of the organs of the body. The overstimulation of the physiological functions, which results from over-eating, weakens and impairs them through overwork. Fasting reverses this and permits them to recuperate. During the rest thus afforded, these organs are enabled to repair their damaged structures and restore their fagging energies, thus they are prepared for renewed function and are given a new lease on life. A fast is to the organs of the body what a night of restful repose is to the tired laborer.

   Digestion and assimilation of food are a tax on the vital powers of the organism and increase the work of the stomach, liver, intestines, heart, lungs, kidneys, glands, etc. The more food eaten the more work these already overworked organs are called upon to perform. How can increasing the work of these organs help the sick? If feeding does not prevent sickness how may overfeeding restore health?

   That fasting is a period of physiological rest was emphasized by all the early Hygienists--Jennings, Graham, Trall, etc. Thomas Low Nichols says: "in fevers and all inflammatory diseases fasting . . . . is a matter of the first importance. As a rule, nature herself points out this remedy. When animals have any malady, they stop eating. Loss of appetite is a symptom of disease, and it points also to the mode of cure. * * * Not only must the stomach have rest, but all the organs of nutrition, and the nerves which produce their action. When we stop food in fevers and inflammations, we diminish the volume of the blood and relieve the action of the heart; and by relieving the system of the labor of digestion and assimilation, we allow the nervous force to expend itself in recuperative action . . . . a cold is a sort of fever and there is no better remedy for a cold than abstinence from food." After pointing out that the loss of appetite seen in all acute diseases and common in chronic disease, is "the voice of nature forbidding us to eat," and lamenting the fact that physicians and nurses disregard this "voice of nature" and force food down the throats of "disgusted patients," Nichols says, "rest for the stomach, the liver, all the organs of the nutritive system, may be the one thing needful. It is the only rest we will not permit. . . In certain states of disease, the more the organs of digestion are weakened and disordered, the best beginning of a cure may be total abstinence from all kinds of food. There is no cure like it. If the stomach cannot digest, the best way is to give it a rest. It is the one thing which it needs."--The Diet Cure, 1881.

   Dewey referred to fasting as the "rest cure," and said that rest "is not to do any of the curing (healing) any more than it heals the broken bone or the wound; it is only going to furnish the condition for cure." Here he was speaking of physiological rest or fasting. Mr. Carrington also insists upon the necessity of physiological rest in disease, but he stresses particularly rest of the digestive system, even prescribing forcing measures that prevent rest of other systems of the body. Both Tilden and Weger emphasized the fact that fasting is a period of physiological rest. Perhaps Walter stressed this fact more than anyone else.

   I think it necessary to emphasize the rest that fasting affords to the other organs of the body and not overstress the rest of the digestive system. Let us take the heart: it is no uncommon thing to have patients come to us whose hearts are pulsating eighty or more times a minute against increased resistance. This is to say, the heart is rapid and the blood pressure is increased. The heart is slowly wearing itself out by this work.

   I have seen many diseased hearts that were supposed to be "incurable" fully recover during an extended fast. A few years ago a business executive came to me for care. Repeatedly during the preceding two years he had been refused life insurance because his heart was diseased. One month after a forty days' fast he bought ten thousand dollars of life insurance.

   The ductless glands, the respiratory system, the nervous system, in fact, the whole organism rests during a fast. The exception is the excretory system. This system does more work, at least through a large part of the fast, in freeing the body of its accumulated toxins. This inner rest, that is, this rest of the internal organs which fasting affords, is what is meant by physiological rest.

   Rest! Where is there a rest like fasting? People go away for a rest. They get a change of scenery, a change of food, a change of activity, but they fail to secure the rest they need. If they would but fast a few days they would return to their old duties with renewed zest and increased energy. Nothing can give renewed power of digestion to a worn-out digestive system, nothing affords such rest to over-wrought nerves, to fatigued bowels, or to an over-worked heart and glandular system as a fast--physiological rest.

   Most vacationists go away and increase their physical exercise and eat more because of increased appetite and come back worse than before. Physiological rest, decreased physical activity and long hours of recuperating sleep, will do more for these people in a few days, than months spent in the conventional manner.


   Metabolism is lowered from one-fourth to two-fifths during the fast. This falls quite rapidly during the first part of the fast until the true physiological minimum for metabolism is reached. From this point on, until the return of hunger, metabolism is maintained at a fairly uniform level. If food is not consumed when hunger returns there follows, soon, a rapid dropping of metabolism to new low, but pathological levels.

   During the first fifteen days of Levanzin's fast there was an appreciable decrease in oxygen consumption and in carbon-dioxide production. During the first seven days of the fast he consumed 352.6 liters of oxygen and produced 260.4 liters of carbon-dioxide. During the second half of the first fifteen day period he consumed 303.2 liters of oxygen and produced 219.5 liters of carbon-dioxide. During the first half of the second fifteen day period he consumed 272.3 liters of oxygen and produced 193.7 liters of carbon-dioxide. During the last half of the second period he consumed 270.3 liters of oxygen and produced 192.9 liters of carbon-dioxide.

   In a general way the changes in the metabolism of proteins, fats, etc., run fairly parallel with carbohydrate metabolism. Nitrogen metabolism in the fasting baby supplies a remarkable apparent exception to this. Nitrogen excretion tends to increase from day to day, rather than decrease. The small supply of glycogen possessed by the baby is rapidly oxidized and it is compelled to draw upon its proteins for maintenance. It will be recalled that the growing infant utilizes its proteins primarily for the building up of tissue and that it, normally, excretes less nitrogen than is consumed.

   Dr. Kunde quotes Dr. Carlson who suggests that "the higher metabolism after prolonged fasts may be due to temporary excess activity of such glands as the thyroid and the gonads that seem to have direct effects on the metabolic rate.

   "It is well established that fasting induces a marked atrophy of these glands. The recuperation of these glands on the resumption of eating may carry them for a while beyond the level of activity normal for the age of the subject. This would in all probability lead to a higher metabolism."

   That this explanation is incorrect is evident from the following considerations:

   (1) Fasting does not cause atrophy of the glands. Atrophy takes place in starvation.

   (2) There is no reason to believe that atrophied glands will function excessively. They would be more likely to function deficiently.

   (3) The increased metabolic rate begins immediately upon the resumption of eating, before the "atrophied" glands have had time to recuperate.

   John Arthur Glaze records in the American Journal of Psychology that one result of a two weeks' fast which he observed was a marked intensification of the sexual impulse after the fast was over, though it was largely inhibited during the fast. This certainly cannot be due to atrophy of the gonads. It indicates increased gonadal efficiency corresponding to the increased acuteness of the senses of sight, taste, smell, hearing and feeling. We would not attribute better eyesight following a fast to optic atrophy, or better hearing to auditory atrophy.

   One is constrained to ask, what is the "level of (glandular) activity normal for the age of the subject?" The level of activity presented in the old man and woman of today is a pathological level rather than a physiological or biological norm.

   Kunde dwells at length on the increased metabolic rate (oxygen consumption) following a fast and suggests that this may be due to the cell membranes becoming more permeable to food than before the fast. The doctor does not seem to understand the significance of toxin elimination by fasting. Lack of understanding of toxemia and its role in reducing physiological processes leads to much misinterpretation of phenomena.

   Kunde continues: "But the fact that there is a tendency for the metabolic rate to return to its former level points to internal coordinating processes that are not permanently altered by fasting." But this may point to a speedy reproduction of the pre-fast-ing "physiological" condition by a return to the former mode of living. Living cannot be left out of the formula. What is meant, for example, by a normal diet? New protoplasm built by a "normal" diet may not be of better quality than that lost during the fast.


   This is one of the fundamental organic functions which Morgulis states is improved by fasting. The remarkable effects of fasting upon the breathing of asthmatics can be really appreciated only by those who have watched it in many cases.

   During the fast the excretion of carbon dioxide decreases. During the first stage of the fast the amount of carbon dioxide produced grows steadily less as the fast progresses, until the fasting level for metabolism is reached. This is due to decreased activity and lowered metabolism, and not to any lessening of the efficiency of the excretory function of the lungs. The breath is exceedingly foul; so much so at times that one can hardly remain in the same room with the patient.


   Fasting is nature's own method of ridding the body of "diseased" tissues, excess nutriment and accumulations of waste and toxins. Nothing else will increase elimination through every channel of excretion as fasting will. Nothing else affords the organs of elimination the same opportunity to catch up with the work they are behind on and thus bring their work up to date.

   At the start of the fast there occurs a temporary increase in elimination over the amounts usually thrown out, after which there follows a very rapid drop to lower levels. The fasting body strikes a new balance of excretion, one which represents a closer approach to the true wastes of the daily activities of life. Much of the larger amounts eliminated daily previous to the fast was due to the daily intake of much more food than the body required. As soon as this surplus is excreted, elimination seeks a lower level.

   As the fast progresses, the blood and lymph (lymph makes up from 25 per cent to 35 per cent of the body weight; blood only amounts to about 5 per cent of body weight) becomes purified; pent-up excretions are expelled from the body; the nervous system and all the vital organs rest. As the nervous system secures relief, body and mind become rested and the bodily irritations that have caused the mental irritations and the mental bad conduct cease; indeed, the individual is "made over." Ridding the cells and fluids of accumulated toxins accounts for most of the benefits derived from fasting. The benefits last until the toxins reaccumulate and in most cases, this takes place quite rapidly due to subsequent return to a toxogenic mode of living.

   One great source of toxins is decomposing food in the digestive tract. Fasting soon eliminates this completely. The alimentary canal becomes practically free of bacteria. Only a week of fasting is required to result in the complete disappearance of all germs from the stomach. The small intestine becomes sterile. The hibernating bear and other hibernating animals lose all their colon bacilli during hibernation. Typhoid cases that fast through their illness are free of "typhoid bacilli" at the end of the acute stage and are not "dangerous" as "carriers."


   The vital cells of the body must be nourished during the fast. These are nourished off the food reserves stored in the body and off the less essential tissues, or off the salvable portions of the "diseased" and dead tissues. The body possesses power to refine and use the materials it has on hand during a fast of reasonable length. The popular belief that immediately upon the discontinuance of meals the blood and solid structures of the body begin to break down and that organic destruction sets in, is unfounded as is proved by the results obtained in many thousands of cases of fasting patients. The vital cells of the organs and glands of the body, those cells doing the actual physical and chemical work of these organs, do not begin to disintegrate until actual starvation sets in. We know that it is not until the total of the body's reserves has been consumed that death from starvation sets in and it is only after these are consumed that nature will permit a single vital organ to be damaged. Under favorable conditions of rest and warmth these reserve stores may hold out for weeks and even months.

   The faster lives on the same thing when fasting as when eating, the difference being that when eating, he replenishes his nutritive stores each day, while, in fasting he gradually consumes them. The faster lives on those portions of his body which represent stored food and not upon the vital or functioning tissues of his body. The vital cells are not injured unless the fast is prolonged beyond the point where all the body's nutritive reserves are consumed and no fasting advocate believes in or practices such a thing.

   The fasting body begins to grow smaller, and in order to maintain the integrity of its vital organs, it utilizes all the surplus material it has on hand. Growths, deposits, effusions, dropsical swellings, infiltrations, fat, etc., are absorbed and used to support these organs. With no digestive drudgery on hand, nature employs the long desired leisure for general house cleaning purposes. Accumulations of surplus tissues are overhauled and analyzed; the available component parts are turned over to the department of nutrition, while the refuse is thoroughly and permanently removed.

   Emaciation frees the body of excess inert materials in its tissues and proves thereby to be a great boon. One of the first things that nature does in an acute "disease" is to cast off a lot of her surplus weight. She dispenses with the unnecessary burden. The lowering of weight is a natural method of defense. It represents a reduction of the body's nutritive labors, so that these may be fulfilled without exhausting the visceral organs.

   There is no known measure that is equal to fasting as a means of accelerating the processes of elimination. When food is withheld, only a short time elapses before the organs of elimination increase their work of throwing off accumulated waste products. Secretions begin a physiological house cleaning.

   Carrington and others insist that in fasting accumulated waste and toxins are eliminated first and until these are eliminated none of the really valuable tissues of the body will be destroyed. This is to say, excess food materials in the body and diseased tissues are utilized first in the fast. Carrington, indeed, thinks that "the whole physiology of the fast is contained in" this principle. He says that "weakness is due, not to lack of food, but to the poisons of the disease; emaciation is due not to the fact that too little food is supplied the system, but to the fact that disease wastes the body--by poisoning it."


   The nervous system of the faster becomes relatively larger than at other times and its sensibilities become more acute. For this reason, the actions of the body in relation to drugs are more prompt and vigorous when fasting than when feeding. Because this is so, fasting usually compels one to discontinue one's drug habits. This will be discussed more fully in a later chapter. The faster should avoid drugs of all kinds.