Article #2: Fasting In Nature by Dr. Alec Burton
When we closely examine the animal world we discover that fasting is almost as common as feeding. But aside from fasting per se there are two similar conditions which are related to our subject. They are hibernation and aestivation.
It is a universal verity that animals have some means of adaptation to food scarcity. Obvious examples of this are squirrels storing nuts, bees, storing honey, chipmunks storing roots and nuts, beavers storing twigs, and finally other animals capable of storing significant food reserves within themselves. These are the animals which hibernate. They undergo a period of winter sleep. Their metabolism is slowed down and they take no food for long periods of time. Bats, mice, hedgehogs, woodchucks, toads, lizards, snakes, flies, wasps, bees, bears, crocodiles, and alligators are among those that undergo some degree of hibernation. True hibernation is a dormant state of existence accompanied by great diminution of respiration, circulation, and metabolism. At this time, the animals' functions are almost suspended. Body heat is little. Action of the heart is almost imperceptible, and as much as 40% of the animal's total weight may be exhausted by the time it recommences feeding.
True hibernation is restricted to only a few animals: hedgehog, doormouse, marmot, and bat. This is a state where most of the essential vital functions continue at a very low level or degree. They are referred to by biologists as "imperfectly warm blooded types," which are unable to produce enough heat to make good their losses in cold weather. It is probable that the biologists' conception is inaccurate because in a number of species it is only the female that hibernates, which would suggest that it is food scarcity rather than temperature that precipitates hibernation.
Conversely, aestivation is a similar process which occurs in the summer time, and quite obviously these are not cold blooded animals. An example is the tenree of Madagascar. This climatic dormancy requires that the organism makes a variety of gradual physiological and biochemical adjustments that apparently correlate with temperature, light, and food scarcity.
Different hibernators adapt to different sets of conditions. Some store food, others do not. Some accumulate a great deal of fat and food reserves, others do not. However, there is a general preparation for the period of hibernation. An increase in fat deposition and adjustments of body temperature or what appears to be a "resetting" of the body thermostat are common. Metabolism adjusts, the heart and cardiovascular system show generally lower levels of activity.
A number of biochemical changes associated with the nutritional adaptation are evident. There is an increase of the element magnesium in the blood and the endocrine glands reduce their activity. This is especially so of the gonads. It is generally agreed among experts and observers that hibernation follows normal sleep. In other words the state is entered via sleep.
If, however, hibernation is to be looked upon as a type of sleep, it is an extremely complex one. But one factor which is dominant is energy conservation. All the adapted devices conserve the energy of the organism concerned.
One extremely interesting feature of hibernation which is of particular interest to us in our studies of fasting is the apparent improvement of health experienced by hibernating animals. According to observers, they do not develop "infectious" diseases. They are said "to have a greater resistance to disease," or at least some of its causes. It is claimed that the host's defensive mechanisms against parasites and their proliferation is substantially increased, it has also been demonstrated that the hibernating organism is more resistant to radiation and especially are the tissues rejuvenated and more capable of healing following the period of hibernation. Hibernation is in many ways an important survival mechanism.
As I mentioned earlier, hibernation and aestivation are interesting examples in our quest for understanding the biology of fasting; but as it is not possible for man to significantly reduce his physiological and metabolic processes, we cannot extrapolate from the lower mammals to man knowledge which is gained in this way.
It need hardly be said that the living organism requires materials with which to work. It requires nutrients to fuel its biological processes. It requires nutrients as a source of energy and to provide the needed materials for the repair of wear and tear, for healing or regeneration, and for reproduction. It also requires a variety of other essential substances, minerals and vitamins, which are necessary for the regulation of the body's processes. Simply stated, it is not possible for an organism to survive without nutrients.
Professor Morgulis states that during a fast, an organism is living off the fat of the land. The Gila monster, a large lizard of the southwestern desert in Mexico, in fact a poisonous reptile, has a conspicuously large heavy tail. This is a source of nutrients in times of food scarcity and it is well known that the lizard is capable of going for extended periods of time without food. In one observation, one fasted in excess of two months.
It is commonly thought by people that the camel, having a large hump, is capable of travelling long distances without water. It is more true that the camel is capable because of its hump of going for long periods of time without food. The fat-tail sheep of Iran has an enormous reserve of nutrients available to it during times of scarcity. During periods of abundance, it stores food in the tail which is utilized when scarcity prevails.
As we would expect, there are many and diverse differences among the different species of animals so far as fasting and stored food reserves are concerned.
As we have seen, some animals hibernate—they are inactive for long periods, perhaps six or seven months. Conversely, there are animals that engage in vigorous physical activity while fasting. The Alaskan fur seal bull and the salmon are common examples. The fur seal engages in tremendous and relentless sexual activity over a period of twenty to thirty days during which it takes no food. During their long upstream swim salmon do not take food. It is also claimed that whales are capable of abstaining from food for long periods of time.
Professor Morgulis states in his book, Fasting and Under Nutrition that "active growth and regeneration are not incompatible with inanition and the wear and tear at least in some organisms is so completely repaired as to evade for a long time the effect of nutritional stringency. Inanition does not preclude the ability for extreme and sustained exertion."
It should be stressed that so far as our own discussion is concerned, we are advocating fasting as a means of physiological rest and this should be associated with physical, mental, emotional, and sensory rest so far as practicable.
One of the most unusual and fascinating examples of fasting is that it takes place during metamorphosis which represents a complete change of form during the life of an insect or other living creature. A good example of this is the tadpole during its period of transformation to a frog. It does not shed its tail, the tail contains nutrients; proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. It is a source of nourishment for the changing organism.
We observe the process of "autolysis" which is the breakdown of stored nutritional reserves by the inter and intracellular enzymes. The nutrients are not usuable as glycogen, fat, protein, etc. They must first be digested inside and thus supply the changing organism with basic materials to develop its new form. We will observe in this that the process of "autolysis" is a rigidly controlled series of events. The developing frog does not suddenly lose one of its newly formed legs or part of an eye. It only breaks down the needless tail.
Another example of this important biological process, which in life is going on all the lime, is the common aspect of healing with the absorption of a ring of calus, which temporarily supports a fracture, when a bone has sustained an injury. By this remarkable process, this supporting ring is slowly removed. We see evidence of the same thing where congestive deposits surround a lesion, cut, or surface on the body—how these are rapidly broken down and removed. There are literally thousands of examples of fasting in nature, and it is indeed almost as common as feeding.
Home > Lesson 45 - Introduction To Fasting
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