2. History Of Fasting
Fasting has a long history, but much of it is associated with religion. There are over 30 references to fasting in the Bible. There are numerous references to fasting among non-Christian religious groups. As a religious observance fasting has been practiced for centuries, and it undoubtedly, as a practice, preceded recorded history.
It is evident from records that exist that abstinence, either partial or complete, from all food or from certain foods, existed in Assyria, Babylon, China, Greece, India, Palestine, Persia and Rome, and the records from the early civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt indicate that fasting of some type was an important part of religious practice. However, I would refer the reader to other literature to investigate this aspect of fasting because here we are more properly concerned with the utilization of fasting as a means of recovering and preserving health.
We are interested in therapeutic fasting and I use the word “therapeutic” in the original sense and this is important.
“Therapeutic” is derived from the Greek language and means “to attend,” “to minister,” “to tend the sick.” It does not necessarily mean to employ a range of treatments called therapies.
So our preoccupation with fasting relates to the application of fasting as a health measure.
Aside from religious fasting it has also been associated with magic, with specific disciplinary practices, with exhibitions for the sake of notoriety, and also in the twentieth century especially with hunger strikes. The recent incident involving Bobby Sands and his comrades in Northern Ireland has given a lot of publicity to the subject. However, these and other uses of fasting have little to do with our consideration of fasting as a scientific procedure involved in the care of the well and the sick.
During the last hundred years or so, the subject of fasting has undergone close experimental and scientific scrutiny which was probably initiated by the famous physiologist, Dr. Francis Gano Benedict of the Carnegie Institute in Massachusetts. His book, The Study of Prolonged Fasting, is well worth close perusal today.
In more recent times, Dr. G.F. Cahill has made enormous strides in our understanding of the physiological and biochemical mechanisms of fasting. It has been only over the last 150 years or so since the development of the hygienic system that fasting has been employed as a serious and satisfactory health procedure, and the work of these remarkable pioneers has added greatly to our understanding of the clinical aspects of fasting and the remarkable benefits that are available to the sick through its employment.
A brief review of some of the giants of hygienic history may be relevant here, for it was through these people that the employment of fasting became a fundamental practice in the hygienic care of the well and the sick.
Dr. Isaac Jennings was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1788, and after many years of conventional medical practice, he made an enlightened discovery. That was in the year 1822 when his ideas as a result of his experiences and observations radically changed and he came to the sudden conviction that “medicine is a gross delusion from beginning to end.” He developed and taught a philosophy which he called “Orthopathy,” which he claimed expressed his conception of the essential nature of disease. Dr. Jennings lies at the beginning of a new movement, a health reform movement, which took place not only in the United States but also in Western Europe. It was subsequently absorbed into the hygienic system. One of Dr. Jennings converts was Dr. William Alcott from Boston, a second cousin of Louisa May Alcott who wrote the classic novel Little Women.
Dr. Alcott was a prolific writer and expounded the principles of diet reform, vegetarianism, and other major ingredients of the health revolution.
Dr. Thomas Low Nichols and his wife, Mary Gove, were influenced by the reformatory and inspiring lectures and teachings of Sylvester Graham, a preacher of the early nineteenth century who based his health reform principles on basic physiology.
Dr. Nichols and his wife became avid supporters of the hygienic movement and its practices.
In the mid-nineteenth century a magazine entitled The Laws of Life was edited by Dr. Harriet Austin who was among the first four women to graduate in medicine in the United States. She was associated with another famous hygienist, Dr. James C. Jackson. Both of these fine practitioners were enthusiasts of hygiene and especially fasting, and Dr. Austin herself was vigorously active in women’s reform movements.
Another contemporary was Dr. Susanna Way Dodds, and these two women brought about a great deal of health reform in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Dr. Dodds actually established a major college in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1887, and she wrote extensively on the subject of hygiene.
Among all of these eminent figures arose one man who displayed a remarkable ability for referring arguments back to first principles.
Here, I allude to Dr. Russell Trall, a most prolific writer, who expounded his revolutionary ideas with vigor and clarity. His many books, some of which have been reprinted recently, make vitally important reading for the student of hygiene and fasting.
Among the many hygienists was Dr. Edward Hooker Dewey who was born in Pennsylvania in 1849 and developed a strong advocacy of fasting. He wrote a number of books, one being The No Breakfast Plan which introduced the subject of fasting. Even at this time the development of the science of physiology was supporting the employment of fasting.
In this connection, the famous Dr. Beaumont did a lot of useful experimental work on a North American called Alexis St. Martin. This gentleman has sustained a gunshot wound in the abdomen and the lesion was open into the gastric cavity. As a result of this, Beaumont was able to observe the digestion of various foods and the change in the gastric juice constitution under different conditions, and I quote Beaumont.
“In febrile diatheses very little or no gastric juices are secreted, hence the importance of withholding food from the stomach in febrile complaints. It can afford no nourishment, it is actually a source of irritation to that organ, and consequently to the whole system. No solvent can be secreted under the circumstances and food is insoluble in the stomach as lead would be under ordinary circumstances.”
Beaumont reports that food had lain in the stomach of Alexis St. Martin from six to fourteen hours unchanged except by decomposition, that is, by fermentation and putrefaction.
Beaumont also made reference to the old adage “feed a cold and starve a fever.” Unfortunately, this particular saying has undergone considerable change over the centuries. When it was first uttered, it stated “feed a cold and you will have to starve a fever.” This was subsequently shortened which has entirely altered its meaning and implication.
Another illustrious hygienic teacher was Dr. Robert Walter, born in 1841. Like Graham, Trall, and many others, he had the exceptional ability to understanding the law of causality. He practiced in Pennsylvania, possessed a brilliant mind, was a keen thinker, and a careful logician. He made a great contribution to our understanding of health and disease.
Dr. Charles E. Page was born in 1840. He studied medicine during the Civil War and wrote extensively on the subject of hygiene and fasting. He also made valuable literary contributions to numerous magazines as well as extolling the virtues of fasting in the care of children.
In the late days of the nineteenth century a man arrived from Belgium, born in 1845. His name was Dr. Felix Oswald, and among his numerous writings was one book entitled Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise which should be of more than passing interest to any student of the subject.
Dr. John H. Tilden was born in Illinois in 1851. He graduated in medicine in 1872 and wrote extensively on health, disease, diet reform, and numerous procedures and techniques employed in the care of the sick. Among these techniques was fasting. Most of Dr. Tilden’s major work and writing took place during the twentieth century, and his magazines and books are full of epigrams and philosophies which depict his clear and penetrating mind. At his clinic in Denver, he regularly employed fasting as a means of care.
An Englishman, Dr. Henry S. Tanner, made fasting somewhat popular. He underwent a number of fasts, the first undertaken in 1877 which I believe lasted for fourteen days. Later Dr. Tanner experimented with a fast of forty days. His experience gave a clear understanding of the need and importance of water during fasting. From the information I have, his initial fast was without water, with rather serious consequences.
Discussing the work of many able men in the twentieth century, we should seriously investigate the work of Lief, Thomson and Shelton. Dr. Stanley Lief traveled from England and was educated in the United States. He returned to Britain around 1912, and throughout his life had extensive experience with fasting, conducting numerous clinics where the procedure was employed. He encouraged and recommended long fasts, but not without competent supervision and had remarkable successes despite strong medical opposition.
Dr. James C. Thomson, a Scotsman, also went to the United States for his education. He returned to Scotland around the same time that Dr. Lief settled in London. He practiced in Edinburgh for many years and later established the famous Kingston Clinic. While an advocate of fasting in the short term and especially in febrile conditions, he was not enthusiastic about long fasts.
Dr. Herbert M. Shelton, the leading American hygienist, has properly had more experience with fasting than any other living authority. He has written a number of books on the subject which are highly recommended, and for many years conducted Dr. Shelton’s Health School in San Antonio, Texas, where fasting was the fundamental procedure employed in the hygienic care.
Another prodigious worker for the twentieth century with a wide experience of fasting was Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard. Her book, The Fasting Cure, is valuable and expresses a wide experience of the subject. Not only was her experience of fasting extensive, but she was thoroughly familiar with the long fast, which demands much more understanding and supervision than those of short duration.
In our consideration of the hygienic movement with special reference to fasting, it would be incomplete and inexcusable not to mention the current hygienists whose knowledge and experience is both wide and detailed.
Dr. William Esser had been in practice for almost fifty years and conducted an institution in Lake Worth, Florida.
Dr. Robert Gross has been active in the movement for several decades and conducts an institutional practice at Hyde Park, New York.
Dr. Gerald Benesh, who has now retired, was for many years vigorously active in both Cleveland, Ohio, and later in Southern California. Today, in the Cleveland area, Dr. David Scott operates an extensive practice employing fasting as a basis for hygienic care.
As a result of the urgent need to exploit the experience and knowledge of a number of unique individual professionals, in 1978 an organization was established—The International Association of Professional Natural Hygienists. This comprises professionals who have specialized knowledge of the value and employment of fasting. They are familiar with its processes and they are competent to conduct fasts in all states of health and disease where indicated. A list of members of this singularly important organization is available upon request.
- 1. What Is Fasting?
- 2. History Of Fasting
- 3. Why We Should Fast
- 4. The Body’s Innate Wisdom Guides Us During A Fast
- 5. What The Body Does When You Fast
- 6. Juice Dieting Vs. Fasting
- 7. What A Fast Cannot do
- 8. Questions & Answers
- Article #1: Living Without Eating By Dr. Herbert M. Shelton
- Article #2: Fasting In Nature By Dr. Alec Burton