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What are the effects of fasting?

KEKI R SIDHWA, ND DO, explains what takes place in the body when food is withheld.

The term fasting implies total or partial abstinence from food. People fast for many reasons; there are political fasts, religious fasts, voluntary fasts by professional fasters in circuses and fairs, and enforced fasts necessitated by famine etc. In this article, however, we are not concerned with any of these varieties of fast, but only with what may be called therapeutic fasting, ie, a fast which is resorted to voluntarily for the promotion and restoration of health. In this kind of fast, one abstains completely from all kinds of food and drink except pure, clean water, not too cold and not too hot.

Food is one of the primordial necessities of life, and so the average layman considers that abstention from food - for even one meal, let alone days - is synonymous with starvation. But fasting and starvation, although they both imply abstention from food, are as different as chalk and cheese in their effects upon the human body. The fact is that starvation begins where fasting ends - in other words, if one were to fast indefinitely, there would come a time when the physiological reactions of the body would be replaced by pathological reactions. Before such a border-line is reached, however, much may happen, as those who have undergone a fast in congenial surroundings will have learned from experience.

The First Function

What, then, does happen when we fast? The first and foremost function of the fast is to produce a state of complete physiological rest throughout the entire body. In the preceding article on toxaemia (HEALTH FOR ALL July 1961), the subject of enervation was mentioned briefly, ie, the lowering of nervous energy, or life force, as the basic factor in the development of toxaemia. By suspending all superfluous functions, fasting affords us total and complete rest, so that we are able to conserve our energy and recharge our batteries, which, in turn makes is possible for the more important functions of elimination, repair, restoration, healing and rejuvenation to continue at full speed, without let or hindrance. Health and vigour are the results.

In animals, fasting is commonly seen - a self-preserving instinct, where the animal refuses to eat until it is rested, inwardly clean, and ready for the labour of digestion. Fasting, first and last, is therefore a physiological vacation. It is not an ordeal, or a penance. It is a house-cleaning measure which deserves to be better known and more widely used.

In starvation, as distinct from fasting, the body is crying out for nourishment and sustenance, and today millions are starving, in the real sense of the word, in spite of the fact - or perhaps because of it - that they are eating three square meals a day or more. In fasting, the body voluntarily seeks rest and recuperation in order to deal with a toxic condition - expressed in the symptoms of either acute or chronic disease. But, the reader may ask, how can the body live without food? If man can fast - and it has been known for man to undergo prolonged fasts of up to 101 days - it is because he, like other forms of life, carries within himself a store of reserve food that is easily convertible and which can be utilised in cases of emergency, or when the raw materials are not available. This is the secret - and there is no other. The liver, muscles, fat deposits, blood and lymph, marrow of the bones, and the internal glands all contain a considerable quantity of glycogen, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals respectively. As the fast continues, readjustments are made to impose minimum demands upon these vital nutritive stores; the body tends to conserve its supplies by lessening physical and physiological activity, so that the rate of loss of these reserves gradually diminishes.

Nature is Wise

Therefore, it is very important that ideal conditions for a hygienic fast should be provided - ie, rest, quiet, warmth, mental poise - so that these reserves may last longer. However, Nature is very wise, and the most vital tissues of the body - ie the brain and nervous system, the heart, lungs, kidneys etc - remain almost intact even when prolonged fasts are undertaken, because these vital tissues are nourished first from the reserves of the non-vital tissues. Fat is the first material to be used up, and that rapidly, after which other tissues, such as muscle, etc are utilised. This process of converting the potential nutritive stores into readily available food is called autolysis. It is by autolysis that, during fasts, tumours, abscesses, boils, wens and such like disintegrate, dissolve and are reabsorbed by the body. This autolysis is a rigidly controlled process. Throughout the fasting period, as well as throughout the starvation period, the body exercises control over autolysis. Here, it should be stressed that in both fasting and starvation there is no indiscriminate wasting of the body; the more vital tissues are safeguarded, while the old deposits, abnormal growths, etc, are used up, and there is a slow sacrifice of the less vital tissues.

Bodily Changes During Fasting

During fasting, the blood diminishes in volume in proportion to the decrease in the size of the body, so that the relative blood volume remains practically unchanged during a fast. The quality of the blood is not impaired, but it undergoes a form of rejuvenation, Dr Rabagliati, Professor Benedict, and Drs Senator and Mueller, in reporting the results of examinations of blood slides, made before and after fasting, state that there is an increase of red blood cells due to improved nutrition. This increase has been noted in anaemia cases. A decrease of red blood cells is seen only after starvation has set in. Also, the number of white blood cells decreases as the fast progresses, the number of mononuclear corpuscles decreases, and the haemoglobin content is increased. Dr Tilden, Dr Weger and Dr W Hay have all reported wonderful blood pictures in cases of anaemia and even in cases of pernicious anaemia. The microscopic picture changes, showing red blood cells with regular edges, no crenations or irregularities, and there is gradual disappearance of the adventitious cells which were present at the beginning of the fast. The exquisite texture and delicate pink colour of the skin that develops whilst fasting attests the rejuvenation that the skin undergoes. The clearing of blotches, blemishes and wrinkles is particularly significant. That fasting also benefits the heart is demonstrated by the results obtained in functional and even in organic heart troubles. These are due to three chief causes: 1) fasting removes the constant stimulation of the heart, 2) it takes a heavy load off the heart and permits it to rest, and 3) it purifies the blood, so that the heart is nourished with better food.

A heart that beats 80 times per minute will beat 115,200 times in 24 hours. Shortly after the fast is instituted the heart rate decreases. It may fall temporarily much below 60 beats per minute (the lowest the writer has known is 39), but it settles ultimately at 60 beats per minute, ie 28,800 fewer pulsations each day than was the case before the fast. This represents a decrease of 25 per cent in the work of the heart. The saving in work is seen not only in the reduction of pulse beats but also in the vigour or force of the pulsations. The fasting body does not lose its inorganic constituents - ie minerals - as rapidly as it loses its organic constituents, ie fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. It holds on to the precious materials whilst throwing away any excess of acid-forming elements.

That repair of wounds, broken bones, sores, ulcers, etc, takes place very rapidly is well known to those who are experienced in observing fasts. Dr Dewey and Dr Felix Oswald have often quoted remarkable cases of healing and repair that have taken place during a fast. Pashutin records that in cases of hibernating animals the growth of granulation tissues in wounds goes on during the deepest slumber, even when all functions seem almost to have ceased, and the hart may beat only once in from 5 to 8 minutes, the blood circulation being so slow that cuts made in the flesh bleed only very slightly.

That elimination is increased during the fast is another well-known fact which can be demonstrated in various ways, eg, changes occur in the relative ratio between the nucleus and cytoplasm of the cells, the nucleus growing larger and more normal looking, while the cytoplasm diminishes because it has rid itself of stored waste products.

One great source of toxins - ie decomposing food in the digestive tract - is eliminated quickly and completely during the fasting process. The alimentary canal becomes practically free from bacteria, and in many cases a week of fasting is all that is required to bring about the complete disappearance of all germs from the stomach. The small intestine becomes sterile. Typhoid cases who fast through their illness are free of "typhoid bacilli" at the end of the acute stage and are not "dangerous" as "carriers". At the start of the fast there occurs a temporary increase in elimination over the amount usually thrown out, after which there follows a rapid drop to lower levels.

Proved Beyond Doubt

Exhaustive experiments by Professor Morgulis have proved beyond doubt that fasting rejuvenates. The fact that old cells take on the appearance and characteristics of cells found in young animals and embryos accounts for the rapid tissue restoration after a fast.

Professor Child, Huxley and others have carried out experiments to show that earthworms and planaria which are very old and ready to die take on a new life and appear to look and act younger after periods of fasting.

Drs Calson and Kunde, of the Department of Physiology of the University of Chicago, showed that a fast of 14 days temporarily restores the tissues of a man aged 40 to the physiological condition of the tissues of a youth of 17. Dr Kunde says "It is evident that where the initial weight was reduced by 45 per cent and subsequently restored by normal diet, approximately half of the restored body is made up of new protoplasm. In this there is rejuvenescense."

Experiments on human beings and dogs, performed at the Hull Biological Laboratory of the University of Chicago and reported in the Journal of Metabolic Research, show that a fast of from 30 to 40 days produces a permanent increase of from 5 to 6 per cent in the metabolic rate. A decrease in the metabolic rate is one of the phenomena of old age.

A great change in cell life and structure takes place during a fast, and it is well to continue the fast until this change is complete and nothing but healthy tissue remains. In this way, a new body emerges from the process. It is thin, but ready to be rebuilt upon normal lines. After such an overhauling process, when the body has been largely torn down and thrown away, when the accumulated waste and debris of a lifetime have been refined or cast out, and after the chemical readjustment occasioned by the fast has occurred, the body that is properly cared for is built anew and its youth is renewed.

Healthy Tissue is Built Up

With toxin deposits cleared up, the body purified, the blood rejuvenated, organs renewed, senses improved, digestion and assimilation enhanced, cells and tissues returned to a more youthful condition, infiltrations, effusions, and growths absorbed, dead and dying tissues removed and replaced by new tissues, and body chemistry normalised, the body is in very much the same condition as the mattress that has been to the factory for renovation and making over. After the fast has cleared away the accumulations and the devitalised cells, stronger, more vital and healthy tissue is built up through the daily renewal of its cells and tissues - a process which is in turn hastened by fasting.

Fasting therefore is a "must" in all acute diseases. Disease, and especially acute disease, is a struggle - often a violent struggle. It uses up energy, and often leaves the patient exhausted at the end of the severe effort. Disease frequently entails a much greater expenditure of energy than the activities of health, 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 intestine, inaction of bowels, skin and liver, general debility, prostration, etc are conservative measures. Energy conserved through these means is available for more urgent work, and so fasting is a compensatory measure. Years ago Dr H M Shelton, of Texas, USA, laid down a law: "Power cannot be expended with equal and increased intensity in all directions at the same time." The use of fasting in both acute and chronic disease is the physiological application of this law.

Fasting itself, however, does not do anything. It really stops the doing, and in thus stopping certain activities it permits, and even enforces, certain tissue changes and chemical readjustments in the body which result in increased vigour and improved health. But fasting is not a "cure" in the ordinary sense of the word. Rightly conducted, it is a sure, quick, safe way to remove toxic overload, but "curing", or "healing", is a biological process that succeeds if the toxins have been eliminated and if life has been righted. Fasting followed by rational feeding habits has proved satisfactory in helping millions to re-establish health and strength - but it is not a cure.

The real cure consists of correcting the errors of living that have brought on and perpetuated the underlying toxaemia. These errors are not all errors in eating. Personal habits other than dietetic ones - worry, excesses, dissipation, etc, - also have as much to do with the production of the symptoms of enervation - namely, the hundreds of ills that man brings upon himself.

Every good thing can be misused and abused. Fasting is a frequently subjected to abuse and misuse as any other therapy that man uses. Just as he can, and frequently does, abuse diet, exercise, sunshine, sex, etc, so he can and does abuse fasting. But the fact that something is abused is no argument against its valid use. One does not cease to drink pure water, when thirsty, because somebody was drowned in a lake.

Correctly interpreted, fasting is beneficial, but before embarking on it one should either study the process very thoroughly, so as to understand it, or else place oneself under the guidance of a practitioner who has had considerable experience in conducting therapeutic fasting.

Fasting, then, could surely be termed the fasted road to health.


  1. A woman aged 30 years was brought in a wheelchair suffering from MS (Multiple Sclerosis) unable to walk but a few steps and with defective eyesight. After 28 days of fasting she recovered and eventually was able to run, let alone walk, and her eyesight improved.
  2. A man in his fifties suffered from a stroke causing hemiphlegia (paralysis of one side). After a 30 day fast he regained all mobility, but for a slight limp and is still alive after 30 odd years.
  3. A woman aged in her fifties was told by her GP that she had gangrene of her foot and if it was not removed by an operation, eventually she would have her whole leg removed. She also was put on a long fast of 25 days and completely recovered, retaining her leg and foot and only died recently after 30 years of extended life.
  4. Recently an American (ex-West Point) came because all his life (he is now 70) he had suffered from Asthma and Hay Fever and without his inhalers he was miserable. After only 3 days of fasting he was able to breathe and he could lie down flat in his bed without snoring. He went on to complete a 15 day fast and threw away all his inhalers and medication.
  5. An osteopath came to see me suffering from Crones Disease, a very serious case of inflammation of the bowels and intestines. He was prescribed steroids which he did not want to take. He was also advised to have colostomy to remove part of his intestines which he also refused to have. He fasted 15 days and then stuck to a strict vegan diet and more than 3 years have gone by and he is still doing ok.
  6. A woman came with severe Rheumatoid Arthritis. Her knees, ankles and wrists were swollen and she could hardly walk. She fasted for 25 days and completely recovered. She had a bonus, as a result of the fast she also recovered her sense of smell which she had lost for 25 years. In some cases eyesight and hearing loss have also been helped by fasting.