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Man is an animal and, as such, is subject to the same laws of existence and the same conditions of living, as are other animals. As a part of the great organic world, he is not a being that is set apart from the ordinary and regular conditions of life, governed by different laws and requirements of existence. It is not surprising, therefore, that we find man not only able to fast for prolonged periods and able to do so with benefit, but also find him fasting under a wide variety of circumstances and for a wide variety of purposes. In the following pages, we shall briefly review the most important of the conditions under which man fasts and the purposes for which he fasts.
Fasting as a religious observance, has long been practiced for the accomplishment of certain goods. Religious fasting is of early origin, antedating recorded history. Partial or entire abstinence from food, or from certain kinds of foods, at stated seasons, prevailed in Assyria, Persia, Babylon, Scythia, Greece, Rome, India, Ninevah, Palestine, China, in northern Europe among the Druids, and in America among the Indians. It was a widely diffused practice, often indulged as a means of penitence, in mourning and as a preparation for participation in religious rites, such as baptism and communion.
At the very dawn of civilization the Ancient Mysteries, a secret worship or wisdom religion that flourished for thousands of years in Egypt, India, Greece, Persia, Thrace, Scandinavia and the Gothic and Celtic nations, prescribed and practised fasting. The Druidical religion among the Celtic peoples required a long probationary period of fasting and prayer before the candidate could advance. A fast of fifty days was required in the Mithriac religion in Persia. Indeed, fasting was common to all the mysteries, which were all quite similar to the Egyptian mysteries and were probably derived from these. Moses, who was learned in "all the wisdom of Egypt," is said to have fasted for more than 120 days on Mount Sinai.
The mysteries of Tyre, which were represented in Judea in the days of Jesus, in a secret society known as the Essenes, also prescribed fasting. In the first century A.D., there existed in Alexandria, Egypt, an ascetic sect of Jews, called Therapeutae, who resembled the Essenes and who borrowed much from the Kabala and from the Pythagorian and Orphic systems. These Therapeutae gave great attention to the sick and held fasting in high esteem as a curative measure.
Fasting is mentioned quite frequently in the Bible while several fasts of considerable duration are recorded therein, as, Moses forty days (Ex. 24:18; Exodus 34:28); Elijah forty days (1st Kings, 19:8); David seven days (2 Sam. 12:20); Jesus forty days (Matthew 4:2); Luke, "I fast twice in the week" (Luke 18:12); "This kind cometh not out save by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21); a fast throughout all Judea (2 Chronicles 20:8). The Bible cautions against fasting for mere notoriety (Matt. 6:17, 18). It also advises fasters not to wear a sad countenance (Matt. 6:16); but to find pleasure in fasting and to perform one's work (Isa. 58:3), and that certain fasts shall be fasts of gladness (Zech. 8.19).
We may very properly assume that some great good was the object of the many fasts mentioned in the Bible even though we may be sure that they were not always intended for the "cure" of "disease." We may also be sure that the ancients had no fear of starving to death by missing a few meals.
For two thousand years the Christian religion has recommended "prayer and fasting" and the story of the forty days' fast in the wilderness has been told from thousands of pulpits. Religious fasts were frequently practised in the early days of Christianity and during the Middle Ages. Thomas Campanella tells us that frail nuns often sought relief from attacks of hysteria by fasting "seven times seventy hours,"--or twenty and one half days. John Calvin and John Wesley both strongly urged fasting as a beneficial measure for both ministers and people.
Among the early Christians, fasting was among the rites of purification. Fasting is yet a regular practice among the nations of the Far East, especially among the East Indians. The many fasts of Ghandi are generally known.
Penance-worn members of the early church frequently retired to the desert for a month or two to fight down temptations. They would drink water from some dilapidated old cistern during the period, but to eat so much as a millet-seed was considered a breach of their vows and destroyed the merits of their penance. At the end of the second month the "gaunt world-renouncers" generally had sufficient strength to return home unassisted.
The writer of Peregrinato Silviæ, in describing how Lent was observed in Jerusalem, when she was there about 386 A.D., says: "They abstained entirely from all food during Lent, except on Saturdays and Sundays. They took a meal about midday on Sunday, and after that they took nothing until Saturday morning. This was their rule through Lent."
Although the Catholic Church has no law requiring fasting, as we use the term, it was voluntarily practiced by many individuals in the past. Fasting, whether total abstinence from food or abstinence from proscribed foods, is regarded by this Church as a penance. The Catholic Church also teaches that Jesus fasted in order to instruct and encourage belief in the practice of penance.
The Roman Church has both "fast-days" and "abstinence-days," though they are not necessarily the same. The "law of abstinence" is on a different basis and "is regulated, not by the quantity, but by the quality of food" permitted. "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat or meat broth, but not eggs, 'lacticinia' (milk) or condiments of any kind even from 'the fat of animals'." The rule of the church in fasting is: "What constitutes fasting is the taking of only one full meal in a day." "In earlier times a strict fast was kept until sunset. Now this full meal may be taken any time after mid-day, or, as the church's approved authors hold, shortly before. Some even hold that the full meal may be taken at any time during the 24 hours." But this "one full meal in twenty-four hours" does not prohibit the taking of some food in the morning and evening. Indeed, "local custom," which is often a somewhat undefined phrase, as determined by the local bishop, determines what extra food may be taken daily. In America the rule is that the morning meal should not exceed two ounces of bread; in Westminster (England) the limit is three ounces. Obviously a "fast" of this nature is not what we mean by fasting, for a man may eat enough in this manner to grow fat. Nor can Hygienists accept the so-called moral principle of the Roman Church--"parvum pro nihilo reputatur" and "ne potus noceat"--"a little is reckoned as nothing," "lest drink unaccompanied by anything solid should be harmful." We hold, as Page expressed it, that little driblet meals are not fasting.
The Lenten fast of Catholics is also merely a period of abstinence from certain proscribed foods, although there are Catholics who take advantage of the period for a real fast. The early practice of fasting until sundown, then feasting, is similar to the practice of Mohammedans in their so-called fast of Ramadan. During this season the people do not eat and cannot drink wine nor smoke cigarettes from sunrise to sunset, but they have their cigarettes handy, ready to begin smoking as soon as the sun goes down and they enjoy a night of feasting. A grand carouse at night makes up for their abstinence during the day. Their cities hold nightly carnivals, the restaurants are lighted and the streets are filled with revelers, the bazaars are well illuminated and the peddlers of lemonade and sweetmeats are in their glory. The wealthy sit up all night receiving and returning calls and giving dinner parties. After forty days of this feasting and revelling, the people celebrate the end of their month of "fasting" with the feasting of Bairam.
At the present time Christians of all sects and denominations rarely undergo real fasts. Most fasts of Roman, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant communicants are merely periods of abstinence from flesh foods. Abstinence from flesh foods other than fish on "fast" days appears to have been enjoined merely to aid the fishing and shipbuilding industries. Among the Jews fasting always means entire abstinence from food, and at least one of their fast days carries with it abstinence from water, also. Their periods of fasting are commonly only short ones.
While the Hindu Nationalist's leader, Ghandi, fully understood the hygienic value of the fast, and often fasted for hygienic purposes, most of his fasts were "purification" or penance fasts and political weapons by which he compelled England to accede to his demands. He even fasted for the purification of India, and not merely for his own cleansing.
Fasting formed part of the religious observances of the Aztecs and Toltecs of Mexico, the Incas of Peru and of other American tribes. Fasting was also practiced by the Pacific Islanders; while there are traces of fasting in China and Japan, even before their contact with Buddhism. In Eastern Asia and wherever Brahmanism and Buddhism have spread, fasting has been kept alive.
With fasting as magic we have nothing to do, except to study the phenomenon. Tribal fasts, as seen among the American Indians, to avert some threatened calamity, or fasting, as by Ghandi to purify India, is the use of fasting as magic. Fasting was widely observed, both in private and in public ceremonials by the American Indians. Fathers of newborn children are required to fast among the Melanesians. Fasting was often part of the rite of initiation into manhood and womanhood or for sacred and ritual acts among many tribes of people. David's twelve days' fast, as recorded in the Bible, while his son was ill, was a magic fast. Ceremonial fasting carried out in several religions may properly be classed as magic fasting. If we carefully distinguish between magic fasting and protest fasting, as in hunger strikes, we may say that magic fasting is fasting undergone to achieve some desired end outside the person of the faster. We are interested in such fasts, simply as another part of the evidence that man, like the lower animals, may fast for extended periods and may do so, not only without harm, but with positive benefit.
Major W. C. Gotschall, M. S., says: "There is nothing new about fasting. Among the ancients it was recognized as a sovereign method of attaining and maintaining marked mental and physical efficiency. Socrates and Plato, two of the greatest of the Greek philosophers and teachers, fasted regularly for a period of ten days at a time. Pythagoras, another of the Greek philosophers, was also a regular faster, and before he took an examination at the University of Alexandria, fasted for forty days. He required his pupils to fast for forty days before they could enter his class." H. B. Cushman tells us in his History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians, that the Choctaw warrior and hunter "often indulged in protracted fasts" to train him to "endure hunger."
Luke mentions in his Gospel the practice of fasting one day out of each week, which seems to have been very general in his day. Periodic fasting has been practiced by many different peoples and by many different individuals. It is asserted that the ancient Egyptians were accustomed to fasting for a brief period, about two weeks each summer. Many people of today do this same thing. They have a fast or two fasts each year. Others follow the custom referred to by Luke and fast one day out of each week. Others fast three to five days out of each month. The practice of periodic fasting takes many forms with many different individuals. These fasts are usually of but short duration, but they are always of distinct benefit.
Hunger strikes have become very frequent during the past thirty years. Perhaps the most famous of these have been the protest fasts of Ghandi and the hunger strike of McSwiney and his co-political prisoners in Cork, Ireland, in 1920. Joseph Murphy, who went on the hunger strike with McSwiney, died on the 68th day of his fast; McSwiney on the 74th day.
Older readers will recall that some years ago when the suffragettes of England would go on hunger strikes, they would be forcibly fed by a painful process, while, at the same time, there was much talk of letting them "starve" in prison.
Ghandi's frequent fasts were usually protests against some British policy, although sometimes he fasted to purify India because of some wrongs she had committed. He was, however, fully acquainted with the Hygienic value of the fast and was fully conversant with the literature on the subject. His longest fast seems to have been about twenty-one days. Many men and women in all parts of the world have staged hunger-strikes of longer or shorter duration.
There have been a number of fasters who were more or less professional fasters, fasting largely for show and making money out of the process. These have fasted publicly and have charged admission to the public to get in to see them. Of such were Succi and Merlatti, two Italian exhibition fasters, and Jacques. Jacques fasted 42 days in London in 1890 and 50 days in the same city in 1891. He fasted 30 days in Edinburgh, in 1889. Merlatti fasted 50 days in Paris in 1885. Succi took several long fasts ranging from 21 to 46 days. One of his fasts was carefully studied by Prof. Luciani, famous Italian authority on nutrition.
Experimental fasts in which men and women have taken part are, perhaps, more numerous than we think. Profs. Carlson and Kunde, of the University of Chicago, made a few experiments of this nature a few years ago. Their fasts were of relatively short duration. At this time, I believe that Dr. Carlson is conducting experiments with the fast and he is said to take occasional short fasts himself. But few experimental fasts of considerable duration have been made in man.
Dr. Luigi Luciani, professor of Physiology in the University of Rome, studied a thirty days fast undergone by Succi in 1889.
Victor Pashutin, director of the Imperial Military Medical Academy, Petrograd, Russia, performed a number of experiments upon animals, and investigated cases of death from starvation in man and published the results of his researches in his Pathological Physiology of Inanition.
Dr. Francis Gano Benedict, of the Carnegie Institute at Roxbury, Mass., published a book some years ago, entitled the "Metabolism of Inanition." In spite of the care observed in the conduct of his fasting experiments and the skill with which the various tests and measurements were carried out, very few decisive results came from these experiments, for they were based on short fasts, the longest one of seven days, having been that of a hypochondriac, who, according to Tucsek, being abnormal, could not produce normal physiological results. It is also true that the first few days of the fast witness the worst troubles, so that the results of these short fasts were very misleading, or as Prof. Levanzin says, "that great book on which the Carnegie Institute squandered six thousand dollars is not worth the paper on which it was printed." Benedict's discussion of past experiments with the fast is devoted to fasts in healthy subjects and this can throw but little light on the importance of the fast in disease.
In 1912 Professor Agostino Levanzin, of Malta, came to America to be studied by Prof. Benedict, while he underwent a fast of thirty-one days' duration. His fast was commenced on April 13, 1912 at a weight of "less than two pounds over 132 pounds, normal weight, according to the Yale University measurements, my height being five feet, six, and one-half inches." Levanzin thinks that this is an important point in every fast. He points out that professional fasters, like hibernating animals, generally overeat before they start fasting and accumulate a good store of fat and other reserves. He thinks that, due to this fact, the long fasts previously studied were of the destruction of adipose tissue and not of the whole body. He attempted to avoid this "mistake" by starting his fast at "normal" body weight. It was his opinion that the length of the fast is of no importance if it is not started from normal body weight. He was of the opinion that man can lose sixty percent of his normal body-weight without any risk of death or damage to his health. He says that the greatest part of the normal body weight is also a storage of food.
"At the outset of my fast my exact weight was a shade over 133½ pounds (60.6 kilograms). At the conclusion of the thirty-one days of my fast, I weighed barely 104½ pounds (47.4 kilograms), a total loss of twenty-nine pounds during the fast. Throughout the fast tests were taken of my pulse rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, respiration volume, blood examination, anthropometrical measurements, urine analysis, and growth of hair, not to mention innumerable other observations of my mental and physical condition from day to day."
There are pathological conditions under which eating is impossible. Such conditions as cancer of the stomach, destruction of the stomach by acids, and by other causes, renders it no longer possible to take food. Persons in this condition often go for extended periods without food, before they finally die. A few such cases will be mentioned in the text as we proceed with our studies. In certain conditions of gastric neurosis food is vomited about as fast as it is swallowed, or it is passed into the small intestine with almost equal rapidity and hurried to the exit and expelled without being digested. Such an individual, though eating, is to all practical purposes, going without food. Such a state of affairs may last for an extended period.
Shipwrecked sailors and aviators forced down at sea, have, in many instances, been forced to exist for long periods without food, and often without water. Many have survived long periods without food under the many severe conditions that the sea offers. During the recent war many instances of this nature received much publicity.
In My Debut As A Literary Person, Mark Twain, seriously in this instance, records some of his experiences with and observations of fasting: He says: "A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best of medicines and the best of doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet, I mean total abstinence from food for one or two days. I speak from experience; starvation has been my cold and fever doctor for fifteen years, and has accomplished a cure in all instances. The third mate told me in Honolulu that the 'por-tyghee' had lain in his hammock for months, raising his family of abscesses and feeding like a cannibal. We have seen that in spite of dreadful weather, deprivation of sleep, scorching, drenching, and all manner of miseries, thirteen days of starvation 'wonderfully recovered' him. There were four sailors down sick when the ship was burned. Twenty-five days of pitiless starvation have followed, and now we have this curious record: 'all men are hearty and strong, even the ones that were down sick are well, except poor Peter.' When I wrote an article some months ago urging temporary abstinence from food, as a remedy for an inactive appetite and for disease, I was accused of jesting, but I was in earnest. 'We are all wonderfully well and strong, comparatively speaking.' On this day the starvation regimen drew its belt a couple of buckle-holes tighter; the bread ration was reduced from the usual piece of cracker the size of a silver dollar to the half of that, and one meal was abolished from the daily three. This will weaken the men physically, but if there are any diseases of the ordinary sort left in them they will disappear."
Frequently, when there are mine cave-ins, one or more miners are entombed for shorter or longer periods, during which time they are without food and often without water. Their survival until they can be rescued depends not upon food, but upon air. If the oxygen supply is exhausted before rescuers reach them, they perish, otherwise, they survive days without food. The entombed miner is like the animal buried for days and weeks under a snow-drift. He is able to go for prolonged periods without food and survive, just as are these animals.
It is estimated that fasting for the alleviation of human suffering has been practiced uninterruptedly for 10,000 years. No doubt it has been employed from the time man first began to get sick. Fasting was part of the methods of healing practiced in the Ancient Asculapian Temples of Toscurd Guido, 1300 years before the time of Jesus. Hippocrates, the mythical Greek "Father of Physic," seems to have prescribed total abstinence from food while a "disease" was on the increase, and especially at the critical period, and a spare diet on other occasions. Tertullian has left us a treatise on fasting written about 200 A.D. Plutarch said: "Instead of using medicine rather fast a day." Avicenna, the great Arab physician often prescribed fasting for three weeks or more.
I think that there is no room to doubt that man, like the lower animals, has always fasted when acutely ill. In more modern times the medical profession has taught the sick that they must eat to keep up their strength and that if they do not eat their resistance will be lowered and they will lose strength. The thought behind all of this is that unless the sick eat they are likely to die. The reverse of this is the truth--the more they eat, the more likely are they to die. In his Eating for Strength, M. L. Holbrook, an outstanding Hygienist of the last century, says: "Fasting is no cunning trick of priestcraft, but the most powerful and safest of all medicines."
When animals are sick they refuse food. Only when they are well, and not before, will they resume eating. It is as natural or normal for man to refuse food when sick as for animals to do so. His natural repulsion to food is a safe guide to not eating. The aversions and dislikes of the sick, especially to food, noise, motion, light, close air, etc., are not to be lightly dismissed. They express protective measures of the sick body.
War and famine, whether the famine has been produced by drought, insect pests, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, freezes, snows, etc., have frequently deprived whole populations of food for extended periods, so that they have been forced to fast. In many of these instances they have had limited food supplies, but in others no food has been available for long periods. The ability of man to fast, even for long periods, proves to be, as with the lower animals, an important means of survival under such circumstances. Such prolonged periods of deprivation were much more frequent in past ages than today, when rapid transportation and modern means of communication make it possible to get food to people in famine districts in a very short time.
Grief, worry, anger, shock and other emotional irritations are almost as potent in suspending the desire for food and in rendering digestion practically impossible as are pain, fever and severe inflammation. An excellent example of this is that of the young lady, in New York, who a few years ago attempted to drown herself and who explained, when rescued by two sailors, that when her sweetheart who had been in port two days had not called to see her nor communicated with her, she thought she had been jilted. Her sailor friend, kept on duty and not having opportunity to communicate with her, was permitted to see her. He asked when she had eaten and she replied: "Not since yesterday, Bill, I couldn't." Her grief or sense of loss had resulted in a suspension of digestive secretions and a loss of desire for food.
The insane commonly manifest a strong aversion to food and, unless forcibly fed, will often go for extended periods without eating. It is customary in institutions devoted to the care of the mentally ill, to force-feed such patients, often by very cruel means. This aversion to food by the insane is undoubtedly an instinctive move in the right direction. In his Natural Cure, pp. 140-143, Dr. Page presents a very interesting account of a patient that recovered normal mental health by fasting forty-one days, after other treatment had miserably failed. One case of insanity in a young man who came under my care refused food for thirty-nine days, resuming eating on the morning of the fortieth day of fasting, greatly improved in mental condition. I have used fasting in other cases of mental disease and have no doubt that fasting is distinctly beneficial and, I am convinced that when the insane patient refuses food, this is an instinctive measure designed to assist the body in its reconstructive work.
Of possible human hibernation, it has been said that it is "a condition utterly inexplicable on any principle taught in the schools." Nonetheless, there are a number of peoples who practice a near approach to hibernation during the winter season. This is true of the Eskimos of northern Canada, as well as of certain tribes of northern Russia. By putting on fat and wintering very much as does the bear, only much less completely, the Eskimo reveals that man has some hibernating power. By keeping warm, usually by huddling together in the home, and moving very little, he goes through the long winter on half the usual food. At the onset of winter, the Eskimo will sew himself up in his fur-lined parka, leaving accessible openings for certain physiological necessities, and will stay in his hut for the duration of the winter, existing on dried salmon, hard-tack, ground corn cakes and water. The fact that he undertakes very little physical activity reduces the amount of energy spent, thus aiding him in sustaining the food reserves accumulated in his body at a level at which there is no danger of systemic detriment.
Certain Russian peasants of the Pskov region have been known to sleep around a fire during most of the winter, awakening once daily to eat. There is no evidence that this is anything other than a quasi-hibernation, as they employ fire to keep themselves warm, awaken daily to eat and, it should not be forgotten, it is easily possible to take all the food required by an even active life in one meal daily. Reports that certain Indian fakirs have been able to assume a dormant state and survive burial for a year or more, must be treated with skepticism.
Fasting above all other measures can lay claim to being a strictly natural method. There can be no doubt that it is the oldest of all measures of meeting those crises in the organism called "disease." It is much older than the human race itself since it is resorted to instinctively by sick and wounded animals.
"The fasting-cure instinct," says Oswald, "is not limited to our dumb fellow-creatures. It is common experience that pain, fevers, gastric congestions, and even mental afflictions 'take away the appetite,' and only unwise nurses will try to thwart the purpose of nature in this respect."
The doctrine of total depravity taught men to distrust the promptings of their natural instincts, and while the doctrine is slowly fading from religion, it is as strong as ever in medicine. The promptings of instinct are ignored and the sick are stuffed with "good nourishing food" to "keep up their strength."
"There is a very general concurrence of opinion," says Jennings, "that the aversion to food that characterizes all cases of acute disease, which is fully in proportion to the severity of the symptoms, is one of Nature's blunders that require the intervention of art, and hence enforced feeding regardless of aversion." Dr. Shew declared: "Abstinence is by far too much feared in the treatment of disease generally. We have good reason for believing that many a life has been destroyed by the indiscriminate feeding which is so often practiced among the sick."
In the human realm, instinct prevails only to the extent that we permit. Although one of the first things Nature does to the person with acute "disease" is to stop all desire for food, the well-meaning friends of the sick man encourage him to eat. These may bring in tasty and tempting dishes designed to please his taste and excite an appetite but the most they ever succeed in doing is to get the patient to nibble a few bites. The ignorant physician may insist that he must "eat to keep up strength," but Mother Nature, who is wiser than any doctor who ever lived, continues to say, "do not eat."
The man who is sick, but who is able to be about his work, complains of having lost his appetite. He no longer enjoys his food. This is because his organic instincts know that to eat in the usual way is to increase the "disease." The man thinks the loss of appetite is a great calamity and seeks a way to restore it. In this he is encouraged by physician and friends, who, alike, erroneously think that the sick man must eat to keep up his strength. The doctor prescribes a tonic and stuffing and, of course, the patient is made worse.
In the preceding chapter it was shown that animals may go without food for prolonged periods without damage to their bodies or to individual organs. The objection is often raised that, while some animals may do this, man cannot. For, there are still those who would place man outside of the uniformities of Nature and make him an exception. Nevertheless, the facts prove that man may go for long periods without food, not alone without injury to himself, but with positive benefit.
Old mistakes are repeated year after year in reference works, so that the public is at all times misinformed. The New Standard Encyclopedia (1931) says: "Generally death occurs after eight days of deprivation of food." This encyclopedia mentions the fifteen men survivors of the frigate Medusa (1876), who were thirteen days on an open raft without food, and also a case instanced by Bernard which was "sustained on water alone for 63 days." Succi's forty days fast is also mentioned. No mention is made of fasting as a hygienic or remedial measure, and not a single scientific and up-to-date book on fasting is included in the bibliography.
Until the 1921 revisions of that work were made, the Encyclopedia Britannica and similar works, carried articles on inanition and fasting, stating, over the signatures of eminent medical authorities, that from ten to fourteen days marked the extreme limit to which the human body could endure without food.
Thousands of fasts of much longer duration, even up to 70 and 90 days, had been recorded; but the medical profession and scientists gave no attention to them. The "authorities" gave up their false notions only after the McSwiney hunger strike forced them to do so.
That "common sense" may still be arrayed against the demonstrated facts of experiment and experience, and that men who pose as scientists, may deny what may be known about the body because it does not seem to them to harmonize with what they think they now know about the body is amazing proof that there have been ignorant bigots and that they are not all dead.
Sinclair says he talked with a well-known and successful physician, "who refused point-blank to believe that a human being could live for more than five days without any sort of nutriment." "There was no use talking to him about it--it was a physiological impossibility." He refused to investigate the evidence offered that it could be done. Bigotry we have with us always. Men who form their opinions in advance of investigation and, who, then refuse to investigate, lest they have their opinions swept away, are all too common.
The American People's Encyclopedia says that the survival time of acute "starvation" (complete abstinence from all food save water) is forty days in man. It says that in individual men the survival time (as determined in laboratory "starvation" experiments) ranges from 17 to 76 days. It is not likely that any such laboratory experiments have ever been made. One thing we may be certain of; namely, the survival times given are not accurate. A baby may survive more than seventeen days of fasting. Numerous fasters have not only survived but benefitted by fasts lasting longer than 76 days.
While man is, apparently, not capable of fasting for such long periods as are many of the lower animals, many long fasts have been recorded in man. "Modern science" is said to be very skeptical of these reported long fasts; but "modern science," despite its proud boasting of its experimental methods and its readiness to investigate, is not willing to investigate fasting. If any of the nit-wits who are called scientists really desire to observe and study long fasts at firsthand, it may be easily arranged. There is no excuse for either doubt or incredulity when knowledge may be had.
In this connection, it should be noted that the so-called authorities look well upon the reported fast of 65 days underwent by Marion Crabtree, of Savanna, Ill., in 1911 at the age of 101, because, they say, old people need much less energy than younger ones; accordingly, they say, old people would be the best of all people to take long fasts.
Long fasts have been reported that were never undergone and that, on their very faces, were frauds. There is the famous case of Mary J. Fancher, of Brooklyn, N. Y. She undertook a fast in 1866. Her fast is reported to have lasted for thirteen years. Under test conditions all such fasts have failed. In 1807 Ann Moore, the "Staffordshire Wonder," was reported to have gone without food for more than two years. Under test conditions Ann gave up her fast after nine days of real fasting. Then she confessed that during her long fast, she had been supplied all the time with smuggled food.
Miss Maria de Conceicas, a young girl of about seventeen years of age, of Mendes, Brazil, fasted some years ago for the "cure" of epilepsy. At the time her fast was reported in the New York Journal, she was said to have fasted for six months, greatly puzzling her physicians. Her fast continued for some time thereafter. After six months without food a medical examination showed: "Pulse, temperature and respiration, normal, complete vacuity of the bowels; all organs perfect; repugnance to all kinds of food." At one time previous to this she fasted two months. I personally have some doubts about this case.
The above picture of a girl, was taken on the 28th day of a fast she underwent in Dr. Shelton's Health School in January and February, 1933. She was 11 years and 4 months of age at the start of the fast.
The fact that fakers have pretended to fast for such incredibly long times, and have been revealed as frauds, however, is not evidence that real fasting for prolonged periods has not been done. A brief mention of a few fasts in men and women will help to dispel the lingering doubts about the ability of man to go without food for long periods of time. Muni Shri Misrilji, a member of the Jan religious sect, underwent a fast which lasted 132 days, to impress upon his co-religionists the need for unity. Although this fast was not carefully watched, there seems to be no doubt that the man actually fasted this long. In 1828 the Parisian medical journals reported the case of a young girl who had typhoid fever and who took no food for 110 days.
Robert de Malone, founder of the Cistercian brotherhood, being overcome with grief upon hearing of the death of a female friend, decided to follow her into the henceforth. His religion forbade direct suicide, so he retired to a mountain-lodge of a relative, and abstained from food, hoping that one of his frequent fainting fits would result in death. After seventy days without food, he began to suspect the miraculous interposition of Providence, reconsidered his resolution and resumed eating. He began taking his food in half ounce installments and soon recovered from his great emaciation. He led an active life for the next fourteen years, supervising an ever-increasing number of scattered monasteries.
Augusta Kerner, of Ingolstadt, a trance faster, survived in a semi-conscious condition nearly a quarter of a year without food.
Dr. Dewey tells of two children, of about four years, one of them his patient, whose stomachs were destroyed by drinking a solution of caustic potash. This patient of Dr. Dewey was "a delicate boy of spare-make." It required seventy-five days for the body to exhaust its reserves, "and there seemed to be only a skin and a skeleton when the last breath was drawn." Dr. Dewey tells us that "not one light drink of water was retained during life and yet the mind was clear up to even the last half hour." "The other child (with a larger supply of reserves) lived three months."
Dr. Hazzard tells us of an emaciated patient who had been bed-ridden for years, because of chronic functional "disease," the muscles being greatly wasted from lack of use, who fasted a total of 118 days out of a period of 140 days with practically complete recovery of health as a result.
Mr. Macfadden had one man to fast for ninety days in his institution. While the McSwiney hunger strike was in progress, I heard Dr. Lindlahr tell of one man who fasted seventy days in his institution. The longest fast I have ever personally conducted up to the present writing was one of sixty-eight days. Long fasts in men and women have been numerous. Literally, thousands of them have gone beyond forty days, some of them going beyond a hundred days. The hunger strike of McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, and his companions attracted a goodly amount of attention in 1920. Nine of these strikers kept up their fast for ninety-four days, and then returned to eating, and to health and strength. Although these men fasted longer than did McSwiney, they all recuperated rapidly, after their return to normal feeding, and are reported to have acquired a condition of body superior to that existing before the fast.
On the 47th day of his fast, McSwiney's sister addressed a letter to Cardinal Bourne in which she said: "Those of us who have been watching him through all these weary days have come to the inevitable conclusion that he has been supernaturally sustained in his struggles." Archbishop Mannix of Australia said of him: "I find him to be a veritable miracle."
No assumption of divine intervention in such cases is needed to explain them. God does not intervene in the cases of fasting worms, hibernating bears, and sexually active seals or salmon. Man is sustained while fasting as these animals are sustained. No miraculous element enters into a long fast. The whole thing may be explained by ordinary natural causes.
Strychnine was injected into the veins of McSwiney, after food and alcohol were forced upon him. Undoubtedly he would have lived longer except for this and the nervous tension under which he was kept throughout his "strike." One of his colleagues died after 68 days of fasting.
Pashutin records the case of a youth, age eighteen, who took a spoonful of sulphuric acid after which he was unable to take any food at all for the first week, took only a little liquid food for the next four weeks and the last ten weeks no food but water. He reports that there was no albumen or sugar in the urine and that the man vomited after every attempt to eat. He died at the end of three months and twenty days.
He records the case of a man, age forty-two, who died in four months and twelve days after drinking some sulphuric acid. Pashutin says of this case "starvation appears complete," but informs us that two days before death the blood contained 4,849,000 red and 7,852 white cells per cu. mm.
A third case recorded by Pashutin is that of a young girl, age nineteen, who drank sulphuric acid. 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." Her "dead body was like a skeleton, but mammary glands remained unaffected." Her body temperature began to decrease only during the last eight days of her life. The girl complained only of thirst, not of hunger.
Dr. Hazzard describes a sixty days' fast by a woman, age 38, who suffered with obesity and Bright's "disease." The woman recovered health, and though she had been married twenty years, had her first baby one year after the fast. She records the case of another woman, age 41, with heart trouble, who fasted sixty-three days and attended her home duties and visited Dr. Hazzard's office daily.
In January, 1931, the press carried the following account of a woman in Africa, who fasted 101 days to reduce her weight:
"Cape Town, South Africa, Jan. 31--Authentic reports from Salisbury, South Rhodesia, state that Mrs. A. G. Walker, a noted Rhodesian singer, has been fasting 101 days, during which time she has consumed only two or three pints of cold and hot water daily.
"Last October Mrs. Walker weighed 232 pounds, so she decided to fast. She has lost sixty-three pounds. She says that she is in perfect health, goes out to parties and carries on with her public singing."
At noon, Oct. 31, 1932, an English businessman (age 53 years) of Leeds, London, who refuses to permit his name to be published, but who freely discussed his fast with reporters, began a fast under the direction of Mr. John W. Armstrong, who, though not a doctor of any school, has conducted hundreds of fasts and has been very successful in his work.
This man received nothing but water until 6:30 P.M., Feb. 8, 1933, when he was given the juice of one orange. Thereafter he received nothing but water until noon of Feb. 9. He weighed 191 lbs. (13 st. 9 lb.) at the beginning of the fast; 132 lbs. (9 st. 6 lb.) at the end of fifty days of fasting and 102 lbs. (7 st. 4 lb.) at the close of the 101 days without food--a loss of 89 lbs.
Before going on the fast the patient was blind (cataract in both eyes), had no sense of smell, had hardening of the arteries and heart trouble. He had previously been treated with iodine, aspirin, atropin and other drugs. In August before commencing the fast he was unable to tell night from day.
Mr. Armstrong reports that by the fifty-sixth day of the fast the cataracts had ceased to exist and the patient was able to see a little. Thereafter, sight improved gradually until vision again became normal. His sense of smell returned, heart improved and arteries became better.
To newspaper reporters, who interviewed the patient on the last day of the fast, the patient stated, "I was on my last legs. Nothing did me any good and I tried fasting as a last resort." "I would have tried anything in the hope of getting better again. I started the fast as an experiment for 10 days, then, as I seemed a little better, I went on from day to day.
"I stopped at 101 days. But I could have gone on for another 10 days or so easily if I had wished."
He said, "It is easy to fast after the first fortnight," but during the first fortnight he was forced to use great will power to resist food.
In a letter to me dated April 12, 1933, Mr. Armstrong informs me that his patient was able to walk about daily during the whole of the fast and talked rapidly to reporters for two hours on the 101st day. The patient was in first class condition at the time of writing the afore-mentioned letter. He also reports that up to the fiftieth day of the fast there were "no visible favourable results except that his skin was more natural in appearance and his arteries were softer."
These cases should convince any fair-minded and intelligent person that there is no immediate danger of starvation when a patient is placed upon a fast. If the pathological condition is remediable, the body will remedy it before any danger of starvation threatens.
A J. Carlson, Prof, of Physiology, University of Chicago, holds that a healthy, well-nourished man can live from fifty to seventy-five days without food, provided he is not exposed to severe cold, avoids physical work and maintains emotional calm. His maximum period of seventy-five days has been surpassed several times.
Luciani found that Succi lost 19 per cent in weight during his thirty days' fast and was otherwise in good health. With the gradually lowering rate of daily loss of weight as the fast progresses, it would probably have required another fifty days for Succi to have lost the forty per cent of his weight that some physiologists now consider the limit of safety.
Terence McSwiney died after seventy-eight days of fasting. On Sept. 14, 1929, Jatindranath Das, arrested along with fifteen others in the Lahore Conspiracy, died after sixty-one days without food--a hunger strike. Assuming that the conditions surrounding the two prisoners were similar, and that the emotional struggle in each of these men was not greatly different, the difference in time required for these two men to reach the end was due to the differences in the amounts of stored food reserves each carried.
Pashutin records the case of a criminal who died on the sixty-fourth day of a hunger strike and says of the case: "It indicates that in a man there are no less reserves than in animals." The amount of reserves carried by man varies in individual cases and this is the biggest determining factor in deciding how long one may safely go without food.
In more than thirty years of conducting fasts, I have conducted over twenty-five thousand fasts, ranging in duration from three days to more than two months. I have conducted about six fasts that have gone sixty or more days, the longest being sixty-eight days. I have had literally hundreds of fasts that have lasted from forty to fifty and more days.
The statement has been made by certain religious authorities, in discussions of religious fasts, that the ancients could withstand fasting better than man of today. Such statements have been based on ignorance. There is no reason why the American of today cannot fast as long and with as much benefit as could the ancient Roman, Greek or Hebrew. There is no physiological, biological or other evidence that nature favored those ancient peoples more than she has us. They were not better constructed than are we.
I have had many people tell me that the forty day's fast of Jesus was a miracle. It has also been asserted that the long fasts of Moses and Elijah were miracles. Tanner's two fasts, one of forty days and the other of forty-two days, are frequently referred to as "unusual." Such fasts, of which there have been many, are often set down as historical oddities or eccentricities. They are thought of as isolated and extra-ordinary facts that have occurred from time to time, but as being without the limits of possibility for the average man or woman. Jesus or Tanner may have fasted for forty days and lived, and Tanner may have secured distinct benefits from his fast, but I could not go without food for even a day, is the statement of many when the fast is under discussion.
As Dr. Page puts it in The Natural Cure, "It is commonly supposed that these are uncommon men; they are uncommon only in possessing a knowledge as to the power of the living organism to withstand abstinence from food, and in having the courage of their opinions.
The facts presented in this chapter prove conclusively that nature has no fear of a fast, even a long fast, and that the danger of starvation is very remote. We may enter upon a prolonged fast, in most instances, with perfect confidence that we are not going to perish of starvation in a few days, or even in a few weeks. This, of course, is not sufficient reason for us to fast. If fasting is not productive of positive benefit, the mere fact that it is not essentially dangerous is not enough to cause us to abstain from food. It shall be the purpose of the succeeding pages of this book, not alone to point out the many and varied benefits that may be derived from judicious fasting, but how to fast to secure maximum benefits.
From the foregoing parts of this chapter it will be seen that fasting in man is practiced under about as wide a variety of circumstances as among the lower orders of life and for about as many purposes of adjustment and survival. Fasting is a vitally important part of man's life and, until modern times, when we have made a fetish of eating and have developed a ridiculous fear of going without food, even for a day, has played a major role in many of his activities.
It is very obvious that the ability to go for prolonged periods without food is as important a means of survival under many conditions in the life of man as it is in the lower animals. It is quite probable that primitive man was forced even more often than modern man to rely upon this ability in order to survive periods of food scarcity. In acute disease, in particular, the ability to go for prolonged periods without eating is very important in man, for the reason that he seems to suffer far more with disease than do the lower animals. In this condition, in which, as will be shown later, there is no power to digest and assimilate food, he is forced to rely upon his internal stores.
If man can fast, this is because he, like the lower forms of life, carries within himself a store of reserve food that may be utilized in cases of emergency or when raw materials are not available.
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