The Rationale of Fasting


   In previous chapters four important facts about fasting have been fully established, as follow:

   1. Fasting, as a period of physiological rest, affords the tissues and organs of the body an opportunity to repair, renew and replenish themselves. Damaged organs are repaired, worn out and diseased cells are discarded and cast out.

   2. Fasting, as a period of physiological rest, affords an opportunity for recuperation of depleted energy.

   3. Fasting, because it compels the body to rely upon its internal resources, forces the tearing down (by autolysis) of growths, effusions, infiltrations, deposits, accumulations and excesses. These are thoroughly overhauled, their usable constituents are employed in nourishing the vital tissues, their unusable portions are excreted.

   4. Fasting, by the foregoing and related processes, enables the body to regenerate itself to a marked degree. It becomes younger in physiological condition. Its functions are improved, its structures repaired, and its fitness to live increased.

   Two replies may be made to those investigators who stress the ephemerality of the cellular regeneration that results while fasting. The first of these was made by Dr. Christopher Gian-Cursio. He says: "it does not take more than a transitory regeneration to remove a structural abnormality and to increase functional efficiency. Even where the structural impairment cannot be completely removed, there is, nevertheless, great functional betterment through compensation. The activity that removes the toxic influence may be transitory, but the removal of that toxin is permanent." The other reply is that these investigators, in making their experiments, have guaranteed the transitory character of the regeneration that results, by the post-fasting feeding and other care that have been given to their subjects. Always have they sent their "washed sows" back to "their wallowing in the mire." Nothing should be expected to produce permanent regeneration if, after the regeneration has been achieved, the renovated organism returns to the habits of living that accounted for the prior degeneration. Unfortunately, biologists who have observed the structure and function of cells during and after fasting, fail to recognize the part played by unbiological and unphysiological habits of mind and body in inducing pathological changes in the cells and tissues.


   Writing of a case that passed under his care, Dr. Jennings explains the rationale of fasting, thus: "The child has taken no nourishment for a number of days and may take none for many days to come; if it should live; yet there is nothing to be feared on this account. Take a healthy child from food while its vital machinery is in full operation, and it will use up its own building material and fall to ruin in two or three weeks; but in this case the system has been prepared for a long suspension of the nutritive function. There is now little action of the system generally, and consequently there is but little wear and tear of machinery; and like the dormouse, it might subsist for months on its own internal resources, if that were necessary, and everything else favored. The bowels too have been quiet for a number of days, and they might remain as they are for weeks and months to come without damage, if this were essential to the prolongation of life. The muscles of voluntary motion are at rest and cost nothing for their maintenance, save a slight expenditure of safe-keeping forces to hold them in readiness for action at any future time if their services be needed. So of all other parts and departments; the most perfect economy is everywhere exercised in the appropriation and use of the vital energies. It is an 'extreme case' and calls for extreme measures; but they are all conducted under a perfect law, which adapts with the most punctilious minuteness the means to the end."--Philosophy of Human Life, pp.159-160 (Italics mine, Author).


   The body's reserve stores are designed for use in just such emergencies and may be utilized in such circumstances with greater ease and with less tax upon the body than food secured through the laborious process of digestion. As Jennings explained:

   "There is one particular in relation to the lymphatic system of vessels, that deserves special notice and remembrance. In some forms of impaired health, when the nutritive apparatus is disabled, either from defects in its own structure, that require suspension of its action for recuperative purposes, or because the only organic forces that can be used to sustain its action, are, for the time, either exhausted or employed more advantageously in other duties, the lymphatic vessels interpose their kind offices to supply the deficiency by taking up the adipose and fleshy substances wherever they can find them, or any matters that they can work up into nourishment, and throwing it into the general circulation to be distributed among the weary and hungry laborers according to their several necessities,--for they that work must eat. Indeed, this expedient is often resorted to in severe cases of illness, particularly in those of protracted general debility; for it is less expensive to the vital economy to furnish the requisite sustenance in this way, than to do it by the nutritive machinery from raw material. This wise provision for sustaining life under critical circumstances, should allay all fears and anxieties on the score of eating when there is a lack of appetite; for when there is a demand for nourishment, and the nutritive machinery is in working order, and the necessary forces can be consistently spared to operate it, there always will be appetite, and just in proportion to the necessities of the system for nourishment; for real genuine appetite is simply and only nature's appeal for something with which to supply a want, and if she makes no call, it is either because there is no want to be supplied, or she is not in a condition to meet it, and in either case it would be useless to urge food upon the stomach, either in repugnance to obvious indication, or after having provoked an unnatural appetite.

   "In an extreme case, when it is expedient to make dependence on the lymphatic system for nutrimental aid for a long period, until all the material suitable for supply through that medium is exhausted, and starvation becomes the alternative to digestion and assimilation, if it is a remediable case, the nutritive system will be clothed with power sufficient to make a call for food, and on its reception, commence operations; it may be in a very slight degree for a while, and at intervals of some hours, just sufficient to sustain the essential organs in working condition, and may need extreme care in feeding, in quality and quantity, lest feeble vitality should be smothered and destroyed. But, if under these circumstances, with proper treatment in other respects, no effort is put forth by the nutritive organs to stay utter extinction of life, it may be regarded as inevitably a fatal case; for neither the incitement nor power to effort in this direction can be increased by artificial means."--Philosophy of Human Life, pp. 57-59 (Italics, mine. Author).

   The process of nourishing the weary and hungry laborers of the body is not as simple as Jennings describes it, but it must be understood that nothing was known of the process of autolysis at the time he wrote. It will be recalled that Graham also described the process in much the same way as did Jennings. Indeed, as the two men were friends and more than once discussed such matters, it may be that they arrived at a common understanding of how the nourishment of the vital tissues was accomplished during periods of abstinence. In its general outline, however, Jennings' explanation of the way in which the body makes use of fasting in order to better achieve certain ends, is correct.

   Sylvester Graham explained that when more food is used by the body than is daily supplied, "it is a general law of the vital economy" that "the decomposing absorbents always first lay hold of and remove those substances which are of least use to the economy; and hence, all morbid accumulations, such as wens, tumors, abscesses, etc., are rapidly diminished and often wholly removed under severe and protracted abstinence and fasting."

   Recording another case, Jennings declares: "There has been no nourishment taken into the stomach for a number of days, and none will be taken for a number of days to come, for it would be a waste of power to compel the nutritive apparatus to work up raw material under present circumstances, if this could be done."--Philosophy of Human Life, p. 166.

   This principle is susceptible of a wide application. Its workings are particularly apparent in the fast. The fasting body is very careful to hoard its materials, but rapidly absorbs and either eliminates or utilizes the materials contained in growths, deposits, effusions, swellings, etc.


   Dr. Oswald says: "A germ disease, as virulent as syphilis, and long considered too persistent for any but palliative methods of treatment (by mercury, etc.), was radically cured by the fasting cures, prescribed in the Arabian hospitals of Egypt, at the time of the French occupation. Avicena already alludes to the efficacy of that specific, which he seems to have employed with similar success against smallpox, and Dr. Robert Barthlow, a stickler for the faith in drugs, admits that 'it certainly is an eminently rational expedient to relieve the organism of a virus by a continuous and gradual process of molecular destruction and a renewal of the anatomical parts.' Such is the hunger-cure of syphilis, an Oriental method of treating that disease. Very satisfactory results have been attained by this means." The point here is that the body tears down the defective parts and eliminates them during the fast, and then builds anew after the fast. With no digestive drudgery on hand, as Dr. Oswald expressed it, nature employs the long desired leisure for general house cleaning purposes. The accumulations of superfluous 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. That this is true will become very apparent as we progress with our study of fasting.

   "The organism, stinted in its supply of vital reserves," says Dr. Oswald, "soon begins to curtail its current expenditure. The movements of the respiratory powers decrease;--and before long the retrenchment of the assimilative function reacts on the intestinal organs. The colon contracts and the smaller intestines retain all but the most irritating ingesta."

   Dr. Shew explained that "the principle on which the hunger cure acts is one on which all physiologists are agreed, and one which is readily explained and understood. We know that, in animal bodies, the law of nature is for the effete and worn-out and least vitalized matter first to be cast off. We see this upon the cuticle, nails, hair, and in the snake casting off its old skin. Now, in wasting or famishing from want of food, this process of elimination goes on in a much more rapid manner than ordinarily, and the vital force which would otherwise be expended in digesting the food eaten acts now in expelling from the vital domain whatever morbific matters it may contain. This, then, is a beautiful idea in regard to the hunger cure--that whenever a meal of food is omitted, the body purifies itself this much from disease, and it becomes apparent in the subsequent amendment, both as regards bodily feeling and strength. It is proved also in the fact that, during the prevalence of epidemics those who have been obliged to live almost in a state of starvation, have been free from attacks, while the well-fed have been cut off in numbers by the merciless disease."


   The principle here presented, that the energy customarily expended in the digestion and assimilation of food may, when no food is eaten, be employed through other channels in the increased work of elimination, is accepted by Mr. Carrington and Mr. Macfadden in this country and Dr. E. Liek and Otto Rosenbach in Germany. Dr. Liek says, "By saving the force required for the process of digestion, the body saves strength and mobilizes forces for other purposes, such as the healing of wounds, combating the microorganisms of disease, etc." Rosenbach has written much in the German language upon fasting.

   While fasting bars any direct or measurable income to the system from nourishment, it does not incur any expenditure in digestion. The large sum of energy thus saved is available for use through other channels; that is, in carrying on other, and for the moment, more important functions and processes.

   Disease, especially acute disease, is labor, action, struggle--it is often violent action. It uses up energy. It often leaves the patient exhausted at the end of his severe effort. It may so completely exhaust him as to end his life. Disease frequently means a much greater expenditure of energy than the activities of health require, hence the urgent need for conservation of energy in every possible way. Loss of appetite, cessation of digestion, suppression of the digestive secretions, suspension of the muscular contractions of the stomach and of the peristaltic motions of the intestine, inaction of the bowels, skin, liver, kidneys, general debility, prostration, etc., are conservative measures. Energy not expended through these channels is available for more urgent work elsewhere.

   The urgent demand for increased effort, which the presence of toxins occasions, is the reason for the increased, even violent effort. But violent effort in one direction means reduced effort in other directions. Fasting by the acutely ill is definitely a compensatory measure and its urgency is in direct proportion to the severity of the symptoms. There is still digestive power in a cold, in pneumonia there is none. By this is meant that the more ill the patient, the greater is the need for fasting. Curious as this may appear at first thought, the return of health and hunger come together.

   "Nothing is remedial," said Trall, "except conditions which economize the vital expenditures." Physiological rest (fasting) is the surest way of economizing vital expenditures. Walter pointed out that "the patient often grows stronger through the process of fasting and always better."

   Some years ago I laid down the principle that: power cannot be expended with equal and increased intensity in all directions at the same time. I pointed out that increased activities in one part of the body require concomitant and coetaneous diminution of activities in other parts. Power saved through one channel is always available for use through other channels. All forms of power obey this principle. A convenient example is the diminished force with which the water runs in your bath tub, if some one turns on the water in the kitchen. Cut off the water in the kitchen and the force of the flow is immediately increased in the bath tub.

   Dr. Jennings understood that the withdrawal of energy from the digestive organs, in "disease," was for the purpose of employing the energy ordinarily expended through these channels, in the work of elimination and repair.

   Mr. Macfadden says: "We do not perhaps realize to what extent the processes of metabolism draw upon the body energies. It requires an enormous amount of energy to digest, convert, and push through thirty feet of tubing, several pounds of food material, and to carry the normal and excess assimilated food elements through every blood vessel in the body, over and over again. If this energy is not utilized for that purpose, it is free to be utilized in other directions, and in all cases of disease it is in the main actually used for purposes of cure. Many people keep themselves tired and exhausted by using up the energies of the body in continual digestive processes."

   There is another and equally important reason why the gross overeating which is so prevalent causes people to be tired. The intestinal toxemia, resulting from excessive food, poisons the tissues and cells throughout the whole body. Sluggishness, laziness, and chronic fatigue are some of the results of this poisoning. The fagging energies of the body revive to a remarkable extent, when eating is discontinued for a few days, due to the conservation of energy and to the cutting off the source of toxins.

   Dr. Walter also recognizes these facts and says in Life's Great Law, p. 209: "No process of treatment ever invented fulfills so many indications for restoration of health as does fasting. It is nature's own primal process, her first requirement in nearly all cases. As a means of prompting circulation, improving nutrition, facilitating excretion, recuperating vital power, and restoring vital vigor, it has no competitor * * * "In chronic diseases fasting is hardly less important than in acute cases. Obstruction of the vital organs, and especially of the process of nutrition, is the rule. Giving rest to the organs is of utmost importance, in order to improve nutrition, and restore vigor. The secondary effect is the exact opposite of the primary.

   "Extremes of practice, are, however, to be avoided. Men are always prone to indulge forcing processes. A fast for a few days or at most a week, will often be comforting and valuable; but to compel the organism to live for a month without food is an unnecessary violence. But in acute diseases the fasting may continue for weeks, because nature cannot appropriate the food; we only object to arbitrary fasts for long periods. Fasting is not a cure-all; it may do evil as well as good; but it should always be employed in connection with rest of the general system."

   Walter's fear of the long fast, in chronic "disease" need not engage our attention at this place, beyond saying that such a process is not essentially violent and that, while the short fast is preferable in some cases, the long fast is alone productive of results in others.