Death in the Fast


   Opponents never tire of telling us of the "large number of deaths" that have occurred "as a result of fasting." They read the story of the death of a faster in some sensational newspaper and, without knowing anything of the circumstances of the death, repeat the story over and over. If we were to publish the story of every death of patients while being treated with poisons by the physicians, they would rise up in their organized might and denounce us for insinuating that they are a group of murderers.

   It is the general custom for the Press to herald far and wide every death during a fast, and attribute the death to starvation. The many thousands who fast and live, who fast and recover health, are not mentioned. Horrified relatives and enterprising newspaper writers are sure to see that the world receives full information about any case of death during a fast.

   Cases of death are often attributed to "starvation," where death was due to other causes. We quite naturally expect that where thousands of cases are concerned, there will be an occasional death, whether patients fast or feast. But we may be certain that if we had some means of recording the experiences of a thousand individuals for a period of twenty years or more, while fasting and while eating, more deaths would occur among those taking three meals a day than among those who fast while sick.

   A few years ago Theodore Neuffer of Goldsboro, Pa., was reported to have died after only 18 days without food. As a newborn baby can go longer than that without food, it is possible that Neuffer died of causes other than starvation. He was 84 years old and it was said that because of his age he couldn't stand the strain. As numerous people of this age and older have "stood the strain" of much longer fasts with benefit, it is still probable that his death was not due to starvation.

   Dewey established the fact that it is physiologically impossible to starve to death before the skeleton condition is reached (by this is meant the mere weight of the skeleton and viscera). This fact has not been fully understood by many of the advocates of fasting, still less by its opponents. Opponents of fasting point to cases of death occurring long before the skeleton condition is reached, while there is still considerable flesh, even fat, on the body, sometimes, indeed, within a few days after starting the fast, and declare that these instances disprove Dewey's contention. Physiologists, on the other hand, estimate that "strong adults die when they lose two-fifths of the body weight."

   It must first be noted that instances of such deaths in fasting are extremely rare. Instances of prolonged fasting by people of all ages and in all possible physical conditions, are very common. Such deaths are, as will be seen, exceptions rather than the rule, and are to be accounted for in some other way than on the asumption that they resulted from starvation. For example, there is the testimony of Miss Marie Davenport Vickers (The Mazdaznan Feb., 1906, p. 28) who fasted forty-two days to good health from April 19, to June 1, 1904. She tells us that on two former occasions, before she knew anything of fasting, other than having seen it mentioned in the Bible, she was forced to go without food for some days, owing to the lack of funds with which to purchase it. She says: "and I did almost starve to death." I was once called to see a woman on the fourteenth day of the fast she had undertaken at home. She was a large, fat woman, with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, etc. I did not like the general aspect of the case and advised that she break her fast. She refused and in another day began to vomit. Three days later, she fainted while coming from the bath room. This frightened her. She never overcame her fright. Perhaps she would have done so, had a meddlesome and "know-it-all" daughter not kept up her fear engendering suggestions day and night. I have always been convinced that the chief cause of death in this case was fear. It certainly was not starvation, for at death she weighed nearly two hundred pounds. In Herter's Lectures On Chemical Pathology he tells us that death from inanition is not a possibility till the body has lost at least a third of its normal weight.

   Sick people are dying all the time. People seldom turn to fasting until they are desperate. It is inevitable that among such a desperately ill class of people a few deaths will occur. A physician who discovered a new "cure" for illness and was permitted to use it only upon cases that had been given up by all other doctors, would be looked upon as a great physician if he effected only an occasional cure. It is an indisputable fact that of the thousands who go upon a fast to enable them to recover from their ills, most of them have suffered for years and have given "regular" and "irregular" physicians unlimited opportunity to effect their recovery.

   In thousands of fasts ranging from a few days to sixty and even ninety days, no deaths have occurred that could be attributed to the fast. In every case, where an autopsy has been made, this has revealed an organic "disease" which would have resulted in death, with or without food. Dr. Dewey properly maintained, that if one's vitality is so nearly exhausted, or if a vital organ is so badly damaged, that death is near at hand, the result is absolutely certain, eating or fasting. Most people turn to fasting as a last resort, instead of the first resort. They turn to it after their bodies have been wrecked and ruined by years of wrong living, drugging and surgical operations. Under such circumstances we naturally expect that an occasional patient will die even while fasting. Honesty and fairness will not attribute death, under these conditions, to the fast.

   We should bear in mind that of the thousands of patients treated in the regular way and regularly fed "plenty of good nourishing food," a large percentage die. How absurd, then, to blame fasting for the exceedingly small number of cases that have died while fasting when, too late, they turned to this method of healing.

   Dr. S. Lief, of England, says in the June 1929 issue of Health For All: "During eighteen years' experience in the treatment of thousands of cases, we have not known a single case where death took place as a result of fasting."

   Dewey not only emphasized the fact that it is physiologically impossible to starve to death before the skeleton condition is reached, but he also emphasized the fact that nature will always demand food long before this stage is reached, providing it is a remediable case. That people have died before the skeleton stage is reached is true, but in such instances death has been due to causes other than starvation. Too many people turn to fasting as a last resort; whereas, it should be the first resort. If, standing with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, they attempt a fast as a last desperate attempt to save life, and they die while fasting, the fast should not be blamed for the death. Fasting is a natural, vital process, and no such process is injurious unless it is wrongly used or over-used.

   Writing in Physical Culture, Sept. 1912, Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard says: "when severe and distressing manifestations arise during the period of abstinence from food, it is virtually certain that defects in organism lie within. Post-mortem examination of bodies of patients who have died while the fast was in progress give proof beyond confutation to this all important point, and in these cases it was further demonstrated that death would have occurred fasting or feeding."

   In a letter to Mr. R. B. Pearson, dated Nov. 18, 1919, Dr. Hazzard writes, "In sixteen years actual active practice" she had "fasted nearly 2500 cases with eighteen deaths, in every case of death a post mortem never failed to reveal organic defects which made death the inevitable outcome, fasting or feeding." Then she adds: "I have never turned a patient away."

   Dr. Dewey says (The No Breakfast Plan and Fasting Cure, p. 31); "As the months and years went on, it so happened that all my fatalities were of a character as not to involve in the least suggestions of starvation, while the recoveries were a series of demonstrations as clear as anything in mathematics, of evolving strength of all the muscles, of all the senses and faculties as the disease declined. * * * For years I saw patients grow in the strength of health without the slightest clue to the mystery, until I chanced to open a new edition of Yeo's Physiology at the page where I found this table of estimated losses that occur in death after starvation. * * * And light came as if the sun had suddenly appeared in the zenith at midnight. Instantly I saw in human bodies a vast reserve of pre-digested food. * * * I now knew that there could be no death from starvation until the body was reduced to the skeleton condition. * * * I could now know that to die of starvation is a matter not of days, but of weeks and months; certainly a period far beyond the average time of recovery from acute disease."

   "Death during a fast cannot occur," says Dr. Hazzard, "unless there is organic disease, and not then unless the organ or organs affected are in such degenerated state as not to permit of repair; and it is conclusively demonstrated that in a scientifically directed fast, although death in the condition cited cannot be averted, yet because of organic labor lessened, life is prolonged for days or weeks, and distress and pain, if present, are much alleviated."

   Tilden says: "It is safe to say that when anyone dies while going without food it is due to the fact that he died from the disease before the fast could be extended long enough for it to be thrown off, or from fright, or from lack of proper nursing, being allowed to freeze to death. It is a mistake to associate in mind the two terms 'fasting' and 'starving' as one and the same. It requires great skill to fast a patient properly. Any fool can starve a patient to death."

   There are conditions in the bodies of many patients which lead to death inevitably. If one so afflicted dies while fasting, everyone is only too willing to place the blame for death upon the fast. Dr. Hazzard says that in her experience "death during a fast never has occurred when merely functional disorder was present, nor did it ever result for the sole reason that food was withheld."

   True starvation begins only when the body has been reduced to the skeleton and the viscera. Dr. Dewey declares: "When death occurs before the skelton condition is reached it is always due to old age or some form of disease or injury and not to starvation." The organism deprived of income, must draw upon its capital to meet the expenses of living. Life endures as long as the reserve capital lasts.

   He records the case of a frail, spare boy of four years, whose stomach was so disorganized by a drink of a solution of caustic potash that not even a swallow of water could be retained. He died on the 75th day of his fast, with the mind clear to the last hour, and with apparently nothing of the body left but bones, ligaments, and a thin skin, and yet the brain had lost neither weight nor functional clearness.

   "In another city a similar accident happened to a child of about the same age, in whom it took three months for the brain to exhaust entirely the available body-food."

   If such a prolonged period is required for small boys to starve to death, death from starvation is certainly a remote possibility in the average adult who carries a much larger reserve of food. It should not be overlooked that the length of time any individual can live without food is determined by the amount of reserve food stored in his or her body. The fat person can go without food much longer than the thin person.

   The average patient need have no fear of starving before he recovers from his trouble. I have fasted patients for as much as twenty days who were "skin and bones" at the outset of the fast. In no instance has such a patient been injured by the fast. If fear and worry are absent, if the faster is warm and not forced to exert himself, he may go without food for a long period not only without damage to his body, but with actual benefit.

   The American Encyclopedia quotes Chossat and Brown-Sequard as saying: "In man, as in animals, the immediate cause of death from starvation is a decline in the animal temperature. Death is accelerated by cold, and delayed by the presence of moisture in the atmosphere." Pashutin mentions the case of a man whose temperature remained normal throughout a 50 days' fast and says: "However, we know from the experiments upon animals that only when the total of the body reserves is consumed, the body temperature decreases markedly."

   It is suggested that the "true mode of death" from starvation is from want of heat, due, no doubt, to a lack of combustible material at the end. Chossat found in starving animals, that when death seemed imminent, restoration could be effected by the application of artificial heat. The American Encyclopedia recounts that M. Chossat "deprived a number of animals (birds and small mammals) of all sustenance and carefully observed the phenomena that followed, and his experiments throw much light upon the subject of starvation. The temperature in all the animals was maintained at nearly the normal standard until the last day of life, when it began rapidly to fall. The animals previously restless now became quiet, as if stupefied; they fell over on their side unable to stand, the breathing became slower and slower, the pupils dilated, the insensibility grew more profound, and death took place either quietly or attended with convulsions. If when these phenomena were fully developed, external warmth was applied, the animals revived, their muscular force returned, they moved or flew about the room and took greedily to the food that was presented to them. If now they were again left to themselves they speedily perished; but if the external temperature were maintained until the food taken was digested (and from the feeble condition of their digestive organs this often took many hours) they recovered. The immediate cause of death seemed to be cold rather than starvation."

   Carrington gives 76° Farenheit as the lowest temperature at which life has survived in human beings, although we know that some warm-blooded animals (hibernating) have survived a body temperature as low as 2° Centigrade.

   Despite the fact that one maintains normal body temperature on a fast, or even has a rise in temperature, there is a feeling of chilliness in a moderate temperature in which one ordinarily feels comfortable. This is due to decreased cutaneous circulation.

   Several theories have been offered to account for death from starvation; for, it is known that death is not due to exhaustion of stored food, since fat and other stores may persist in appreciable amounts, but none of them are adequate.

   The following are the most prominent theories that have been offered to account for death: (1) impoverishment of the blood, resulting from loss of solids; (2) fall of temperature (obviously not applicable to cold-blooded animals); (3) inability of organs to utilize remaining reserve stores (inability not explained); (4) asphyxia resulting from paralysis of respiratory center by accumulation of toxic materials; (5) auto-intoxication, produced by toxins, resulting from disordered metabolism of malnourished tissues; (6) it is suggested that death is due to infection due to lowered resistance; (7) also to disorders of the ductless glands. As all of these conditions are present in varying degree it has been suggested that the immediate cause of death may vary according to circumstances.

   The loss of weight in total inanition, in animals, resulting in death, runs from 30 to 65 per cent; averaging about 40 per cent; but varies with the age of the animal, the temperature and activity as well as with different kinds of animals. Certain arthropoda can sustain a loss of ninety per cent of body weight before life ends. In many cases of fasting in men, death has not resulted until after a loss of 60 to 70 per cent of body weight.

   Morgulis found that the collie, a high strung nervous dog, dies after a loss of only 30 per cent of body weight, whereas other animals recovered health after a weight loss of 60 per cent, which suggests that mental and nervous peculiarities need to be taken into account in the conduct of a fast.

   We see many striking examples of this principle in fasting nervous people. We never permit them to go without food long enough to result in death but many of them do not stand fasting as well as the non-nervous types.

   Starvation can come only after the body is reduced to the skeleton condition, death resulting then more as a result of cold than anything else. This means that no one will ever starve to death as a result of fasting in "disease." If death occurs at all during the fast it would not occur in the time required to recover from practically all "diseased" states.

   Pashutin records the case of a girl who drank sulphuric acid and ruined her digestive tract. He says, "some liquid food was given for four months but not believed absorbed as it was eliminated too rapidly and no chlorides in urine at all. Last 16 days no food at all." In this case the body temperature did not begin to decline until the last 8 days of life.

   Fasts of long duration are on record. Mr. Macfadden records one of ninety days; nine of the Cork hunger strikers fasted for ninety-four days; thousands have fasted up to forty days and longer. Many fasts have gone to fifty, sixty and seventy days and longer, McSwiney died on the seventy-eighth day of his fast. While this hunger-strike was on, I heard Dr. Lindlahr tell of a fast of seventy days which he conducted. Dr. Dewey records one of three months.

   In none of these cases has there ever developed deficiency "diseases" nor has death ever been due to so-called acidosis. It would seem that a deficiency "disease" can only develop when the body is being filled with denatured foods. Its vast store of reserves seems to be well-balanced. It is known that the blood has almost unlimited power of resisting analkalinity (acidosis), for it will die before turning acid.

   More remarkable proof that death in hygienic fasts is due to irremediable organic troubles, and not to starvation, is the fact that it has been found that in every case where death occurred, there still remained considerable subcutaneous fat, and this is always entirely absent in death by starvation. The heart has been found to be normal in all cases, except where normal development had never occurred, while in real starvation, the heart is always markedly atrophied and contracted. The blood has always been found to be practically normal in volume with no real anemia, while in starvation there is a marked decrease in the relative blood volume with a marked anemia. In death during hygienic fasts the pancreas has been found to be either not affected at all, or but slightly; in starvation this organ is almost entirely absent.

   Here, let me emphasize the fact that the destructive and degenerative conditions found in animals, which have been used in laboratory experiments in inanition, are due to starvation and not to fasting. The line of demarkation between fasting and starving is distinct and unmistakable, although few, if any laboratory investigators have ever recognized it.

   We know that it is only when the total of the body's reserves have been utilized that death from starvation can occur, and it is only then that nature will permit any vital organ to be damaged. The autopsy, in ever case of death while fasting, shows that there was some serious organic "disease" which made death inevitable, whether the patient fasted or ate "plenty of good nourishing food." Indeed, it may be affirmed, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that death would have come sooner in practically every instance except for the fast.

   Sinclair says: "It is perfectly true that men have died of starvation in three or four days; but the starvation existed in their minds--it was fright that killed them. * * * As an example of the part that mental disturbances may play in the fast, I will cite the case of a woman friend who started out to fast for a complication of chronic ailments. She was rather stout, and did not mind it at all--was going cheerfully about her daily tasks; but her husband heard about it and came home to tell her what a fool she was making of herself; and in a few hours she was in a state of complete collapse. No doubt if there had been a physician in the neighborhood, there would have been another tale of a 'victim of a shallow and unscrupulous sensationalist.' Fortunately, however, business called the husband away again, and the next day the woman was all right, and completed an eight days fast with the best results. Bear this in mind, so that if you wake up some morning and find your temperature sub-normal and your pulse at forty, and your arms too weak to lift you, and if your friends get 'round you and tell you that you look like a mummy out of a sarcophagus of the seventeenth dynasty--you may be able to smile at them good naturedly and tell them that you will never again eat until you are hungry."

   Fear of the fast should certainly be avoided. I do not doubt that well-meaning, misguided relatives and friends of fasters have caused the death of more than one by their cultivation of fear in the fasting individual. One hesitates to say that a loving son or daughter kills his or her mother or father, yet the evidence certainly points this way in more than one case. We should encourage and cooperate with the faster and not frighten him to death.