|People rarely believe that fasting - abstaining from food - is a great medicine for many common and chronic ailments. Even otherwise, a shutdown of food intake once every 15 days is beneficial for health. The spiritual implications and benefits of fasting are a lot more profound, helping to discipline and elevate the senses, mind and soul.
In 1958, a 28-year old American food specialist named Dr. Jack Goldstein developed diarrhoea accompanied with bleeding and intestinal spasm. As the months progressed and the symptoms persisted, he consulted his physician who after a series of examinations and tests diagnosed ulcerative colitis, which is a serious complication of the large intestine. The treatment prescribed by his first physician consisted of various modern drugs. The condition worsened and he was hospitalized. With a dose of new drugs he showed signs of improvement. Indigestion and stomach upsets were some of the side-effects of all the drugs.
In the winter of 1960 he suddenly had a frightening reaction which forced the doctor to reduce the drug doses. Other side-effects which were ever-present by this time included the drying of the mouth, headaches, blurred and double vision, nervousness, mental slowness, a chronic low grade fever and weakness. His physician finally gave up after two and a half years of treatment. Early in 1961, Dr. Goldstein consulted another specialist. Drugs were once again changed and his prescribed diet consisted of eggs, milk, meat, whole wheat bread, all of which were too heavy to digest for an already weakened digestive system. His bowel movements increased to between 12 and 15 a day. Another complication also developed - haemorrhoids ( veins around the anus become dilated and swell out into the rectum).
By early 1962, he had an infection in the large intestine and a continual fever. Fed up, he resorted to another specialist. Dr. Goldstein was re-hospitalized for 5 weeks but the side effects continued.
Later the use of the steroid prednisolone was employed in heavy doses. This drug has a masking effect. Although his condition seemed to improve, this "remission" only lasted for two months, after which the fever returned and the bowel movements averaged to 15 per day. The steroid dose was then decreased. Soon he suffered from muscle spasms and cramps in the limbs. He started gaining (unhealthy) weight, causing a puffy face and water and fat being deposited along the back of the neck. The bowel movements increased to 20 per day. His entire body was now suffering.
In 1963, he was 33 years old but felt twice that age. The bowel movements increased further to an astonishing 30 per day with increased spasm and bleeding. The haemorrhoids returned causing unbearable pain and local injection therapy proved unsuccessful. He seriously contemplated suicide. By the end of the year, three of the haemorrhoids had gangrene - death of tissue. These were surgically removed.
In the late spring of 1964, after six years of treatment and tremendous suffering, he made the last visit to his final physician who offered him two choices. One was to do nothing and die. The other was a total colectomy, which is the removal of the entire large intestine and the connection of the end of the small intestine to an opening in the abdominal wall. The body wastes would continually empty into a bag attached to the outside of the body. Statistics from the National Foundation for Ibitis and Colitis (U.S.A.) showed that about 25 to 35 % of patients operated upon could develop further complications and needed more surgery of the bowel higher up if the disease progressed. Neither choices appealed to him.
Aftr a long mental battle he turned to Natural Hygiene in the late summer of 1964, and if this proved unsuccessful surgery was always there. At a Natural Hygiene Institution under an experienced practitioner of fasting and close medical supervision he abstained from food for six weeks and lived only on water. His pre-fast weight was 140 lbs.
During the first ten days the intestinal inflammation and the fever disappeared. The frequency of the bowel movements decreased to around five per day.
By the 22nd day the bowel movements averaged to two per day and he felt " on top of the world physically, mentally and spiritually." This was all without drugs.
On the 33rd day he had no bowel movements! His skin and gums were "re-conditioned" and experienced extreme mental alertness and tranquility, which he had not experienced for the past six years.
He broke the fast on the 43rd day weighing 108lbs; a loss of 32 lbs. For the next 4 weeks his diet (vegetarian) was meticulously supervised, after which he weighed 138lbs. He felt about 60% better than when he had come to the institution. After returning home, his family adopted a wholly vegetarian diet, the raw materials being unprocessed and unadulterated.
Every year since then he fasted for a period of four to five weeks at the institution. By 1976 he felt 95% normal.
One of Dr. Goldstein's room-mates at the institution was a 68 year old chronically ill man, who had all the treatment that medicine had to offer for an enlarged prostate gland called Bright's disease - a kidney disorder in which one suffers from high blood pressure plus the presence of a protein in the urine and he was also over-weight. He fasted for 52 days, at the end of which his weight had decreased, his prostate problem had cleared, his blood pressure was lowered and the urine contained no protein. After a few weeks on a vegetarian diet he returned home rejuvenated.
Another room-mate, a man in his seventies was over-weight, had high blood pressure, arthritis and a locked hip joint. He was constantly in pain and especially in the joints of his hands. He underwent a fast for four weeks. By the fifth day of the fast his pain subsided, without drugs. On termination of the fast his weight and blood pressure were lowered and his joints were able to function more freely. The locked hip joint became just a little more mobile. The erosion of the joint renders the process irreversible. He was then instructed to follow a basically raw vegetarian diet.
Historically, fasting is of early origin. Religiously, partial or entire abstinence from food or from certain kinds of foods during specific seasons prevailed in Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Persia, India, China and among the American Indians. Moses is said to have fasted for more than 120 days on Mount Sinai. The Bible has 74 references to fasting. Plutarch said, "Instead of using medicine, fast a day." Avicenna, the great Arab physician, often prescribed fasting for three weeks or more. Mark Twain in"My Debut as a Literary Person" (1899) had this to say of fasting : "A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet; I mean total abstention from food for one or two days. I speak from experience, starvation has been my cold and fever doctor for 15 years and has accomplished a care in all instances."
It is well to emphasize the difference between fasting and starvation.
Fasting means abstaining entirely or in part and for longer or shorter period of time from food and drink or from food alone. Under ordinary circumstances, the food reserves of man and animal are able to maintain the daily functioning and maintenance of the body for a considerable time without more food being consumed. These reserves are stored for use when environmental and / or bodily conditions are adverse. Dr. George F. Cabill Jr. of the Howard School of Medicine has said, " Man's survival is predicated (dependent) upon a remarkable ability to conserve the relatively limited body protein stores while utilizing fat as the primary energy - producing food."
Starvation on the other hand is "the deprivation of the tissues from nutriment" which they require and is invariably accompained by harmful effects. Fasting starts with the omission of the first meal and ends when natural hunger returns because during a properly conducted fast there will be no hunger. Starvation commences if food is abstained from after the return of natural hunger and will eventually terminate in death due to destruction of vital tissues. The former process merely expels the body's wastes and useless fatty tissue. In starvation there will be very little tissue fat, the heart is always smaller than normal, the pancreas is almost entirely absent and there will be marked anaemia. A number of English soldiers died at Aldershot after eight hours of manoeuvres in an English summer and after being deprived of food for only eight hours it was actually proposed that they died of starvation. A British physician, A Rabagliati asserted, "They did not and could not have died of starvation," and contrasted these soldiers with patients of his who had fasted and whose fasts had lasted not for hours or days, but for weeks after which, in numerous cases patients had recovered from severe and long continued illnesses.