Did you know that the Alaskan Fur Seal bull goes without food and water for three months during the breeding season of each year?
Did you know that a species of crocodile goes without feeding
for over a year during dry periods?
Did you know that the African snail, Helix desertorum remains in a dormant state for as long as five years?
We all know that a sick or wounded animal will retire to a
secluded spot for rest, avoiding food until well.
The ability of an animal to fast, even for long periods under varied circumstances of life, is a vitally important factor in survival. It is nature's best solution for dealing with certain physiological and biological problems. If an animal can fast it is only because it can rely upon adequate internal food reserves and man is no exception.
In this second and final part we will look into how fasting works, the benefits and the role of fasting to cure drug addiction.
Mechanism of Fasting
The following explanation is based on experience by renowned practitioners of fasting.
In physiology, autolysis is the process of self-digestion of tissue by enzymes. (Enzymes are chemicals with control chemical reactions.) The food reserves of the body are stored as complex chemical substances. Before these can be utilized or circulated, they must be acted upon by enzymes to be converted to simpler forms. A severely wounded animal will refuse to eat and yet its wounds heal. This is because the reserves are first autolysed (broken down) at the site of storage. This then mixes with the blood. Large amounts of blood which thus represent 'food' are sent to the site of the wound to repair the damaged tissues. Throughout fasting and starvation autolysis is rigidly controlled by the body.
This autolysis extends to abnormal tissues such as tumours, deposits, outgrowths, etc., and is not confined to the normal tissues of the body during fasting. The abnormal growths possess a deficient nerve and blood supply and thus do not have the support of the organism as do normal growths. This lack of support makes them the ready victims of autolysis.
One of the first indications of illness is failing appetite. The desire for food decreases a few days before any significant symptoms appear. Researchers have shown that 'hunger contractions' of the stomach are absent in gastritis, tonsilitis, influenza and colds. Pain, inflammation, fever, headaches, mental disturbances, etc., take away the appetite, inhibit secretion and impair digestion. Nature is trying to conserve energy and direct it elsewhere. This is why the digestive functions are temporarily suspended. Any undigested food will either be vomited or will decay and further cause discomfort. In certain disorders the stomach cannot digest even light food and therefore the best solution is to give it a rest. The stomach, intestines and colon are given a complete rest by a fast and are enabled to repair damages.
Fasting and Drug Addiction
Any form of drug addiction is an escapist's way of seeking 'relief' from the day to day pressures of life. Those who have good healthy habits seek no 'soothing' poisons. The alcoholic 'relieves' his headache with more of the alcohol that induced it. The same applies to smoking and the consumption of hard drugs.
Alcoholism usually starts in youth when the ability of the body to detoxify poisons is so great that almost any amount of indulgence seems perfectly safe. The habit progresses to a chronic illness and places great stress upon the family of the alcoholic. Man is a habit-forming animal. Many drugs are termed 'habit forming' but it is man that forms the habit, not the drug. Macfadden in his 'Encyclopaedia of Physical Culture' says, "There is no better method of giving a victim of alcoholism an opportunity to gain secure control of himself, at least in the beginning of the treatment, than can be suggested by a complete fast."
Fasting has even helped many a heavy smoker to shun his habit. It allows the body to re-adjust itself and quickens the elimination of poisons such as nicotine, tar, etc.
The thickening of the lining of the mouth, throat and stomach which occurs in a heavy drinker and the substantial loss in taste and smell in a heavy smoker all disappear during fasting and a thin sensitive lining appears.
The craving for drugs will clear and it will positively die out of the ex-addict. The same is true for cocaine and morphine addiction though great care has to be taken to combat the withdrawal symptoms.
Benefits of Fasting
(1)Provides the vital organs a rest
(2) Stops the absorption of foods that decay in the gut
(3) Empties the digestive tract and facilitates elimination of wastes
(4) Promotes the breakdown and absorption of diseased tissues, deposits and other abnormal growths (5) Increases the powers of digestion and assimilation (the usage of food)
(6) Re-establishes normal body chemistry and secretions
(7) In itself does not remove toxins. This is done by the excretory organs
(8) Rather creates an environment which allows organs to perfect their work
(9) Improves mental powers generally e.g. the ability to reason is increased and attention and association are quickened when fasting. The Romans believed that 'a full stomach does
not like to think.'
(10) Tends to increase one's control over all appetites and passions and
(11) Is, therefore, ideal for meditation.
What Magazines and Journals say
For those who are over-weight 'Time' magazine suggests, 'fasting is the oldest, the surest and the quickest way to get rid of excess fat.' 'Vogue' described fasting as 'the newest and yet the most ancient practice, a historic mode of cleaning, a conditioner for meditation…' The Journal of the American Medical Association is of the opinion that fasting provides the best method of self-discipline needed by the obese, 'one that can be safely repeated with beneficial effect.' The New England Journal of Medicine echoes that fasting is, 'a valid experience for any otherwise healthy person who has failed to relive the weight problem by every other method.'
Even a one-day fast is beneficial. In an article entitled, 'Live Better Naturally' in a London based magazine 'Doctor's Answer' (July 1982), the following advice appeared: 'A one-day fast is an excellent way to rest our digestive system… and leave you refreshed… the intake of liquid should be stepped up to assist the process of flushing out the body's toxic wastes.'
Charak, an ancient renowned practitioner of Ayurveda, the old Hindu practice of combating diseases, had said that, 'Langhanam Paramaushadhum' i.e. Fasting is the ultimate medicine.
The entire philosophy of Ayurveda which has its roots in the Vedas, rests on the foundation that self-restraint of the senses leads to tranquility and puts forth one fundamental principle that without (karshan) - fasting, (tarpan) - nutrition is never possible.
Lord Swaminarayan describes the ultimate fast as, the ten 'Indriyas (senses)' and the eleventh mind should be withdrawn from their respective sense-objects. Control over the 'Ekadash Indriyas' by checking their rampancy is the correct method according to the scriptures for observing 'Ekadashi Vrata.' One who remains cautious and rejects the frivolous calls of the 'Indriyas' invites the grace of God.
How to Break a Fast
So much for abstinence. What about breaking the fast? A one-day fast may preferably be broken initially by slowly sipping a glass of fresh fruit juice only without any solid food. About an hour later another glass can be sipped and if necessary a very light meal of natural food should be taken. Canned foods, soda type drinks, overcooked, fried, oily and spicy foods, sweetmeats and chocolates should all be strictly avoided. An example will suffice to illustrate the consequence if the above is not adhered to: A 24-year-old man who had suffered from chronic constipation and indigestion fasted for 27 days after reading a health article. He broke the fast by eating beef-steak, potatoes, bread and butter with coffee! Result? He suffered violent vomiting spells and could not tolerate even a teaspoonful of water. The invariable craving to over eat without proper mastication should be avoided. A sudden above normal distension of the stomach with heavy foods can only led to harm in the long run if frequently repeated. Any fasting program should not be started without medicial advice and under medical supervision.
There are conditions in which fasting or extended fasting is inadvisable. There is an art and a science to fasting and under experienced hands it is very safe. As Dr. Herbert M. Shelton in 'Fasting Can Save Your Life' says: 'The fast should not be misused but the results of its misuse should not be used to condemn the whole process.'