In Chapter 4 I provided evidence of the usefulness of fasting in health promotion. Why and how should this knowledge be incorporated into a life extension prograrnme/calorie restriction diet? First, the why.
Benefits of fasting
- Fasting provides the body with the opportunity for a ‘physiological rest’ which allows the speeding up of detoxification and healing processes. A demonstration of this was provided by fasting treatment in Japan of people poisoned by toxic cooking oil, in which ‘dramatic’ relief was seen after seven to ten day fasts (American Journal of Industrial Medicine (1984) 5:10-53), and also by treatment of acute pancreatitis where fasting was found to be preferable to drugs or other therapy (Digestion (1984) 30:224-30).
- Fasting enhances irarnune function. We saw evidence of this in treatment of auto immune diseases such as glomerulonephritis, where fasting shortened its early stages and improved the chances of recovery (Lances (1958) i:760-3). The conclusion of the doctors involved was that ‘all patients with acute glomerulonephritis should fast’. In another auto immune condition, rheumatoid arthritis, patients who fasted showed significant improvement in their ability to grip, in reduction of pain and of swellings, lowered erythrocyte sedimentation rate and improved general functional ability, after a seven day fast (Clinical Ecology (1984) 2:3:137 44). These benefits were confirmed by the one year Norwegian study referred to in Chapter 4.
- Fasting stimulates production of growth hormone (see Chapter 7) which is of particular significance to life extension. This phenomenon is not as obvious in people who are very much overweight.
John Mann, writing in Secrets of Life Extension (Harbor, San Francisco, 1980) said: ‘The effectiveness of fasting as a life extension measure is fairly well backed by experimental evidence.’ He describes one research study in which rats were made to fast on one day out of three throughout their lives (normal eating on the other days). They achieved a 20 per cent increase in life span compared with non-fasted rats. This has nothing to do with calorie restriction, according to Mann, who cites enhanced general function and growth hormone stimulation as more likely factors.
Fasting for health has been an integral part of naturopathic medicine for a century or more, and practicing naturopaths in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and North America will have experience of these methods, as will medical doctors who use the methods of treating allergy called Clinical Ecology, since they use five day fasts as a normal measure to investigate and treat chronic allergy.
So how should you go about achieving some of the benefits of fasting, since spending one day in three on water for the rest of your life may well be unappealing! Guidance and advice from such a practitioner as mentioned above is advised should there be any reason (see below) why short fasts should not be conducted on your own, or if you require the support of someone experienced in the method when you first start.
- First, this is not something to do for anything more than a short period (defined as 48 hours) unless you are under the supervision of a health professional who understands the physiology of fasting. Even short one and two day fasts require guidance and this is provided below.
- No-one who has a serious health problem should fast unsupervised unless they have experience of the process. This includes anyone who is diabetic or pregnant (not that fasting is contraindicated, only that it requires expert guidance under these circumstances).
- No-one who is currently taking prescription medication should fast unless under the supervision of an expert.
- No-one who has a history of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia should fast unless under supervision.
Technique for a short fast
Important note: The fasting methods outlined here are not aimed at treating anything. Therapeutic fasting, while a health problem is being addressed by this method, calls for personal evaluation by a suitably qualified practitioner who would then prescribe a particular fasting pattern, as well as ensuring that some guidance and supervision were available. The fasting which is being described is preventive, and aimed at enhancing already existing well-being, not as a treatment.
- The ideal way to start a fast is to have a light meal the night before the first day of the fast, say a small bowl of natural yogurt, or a light vegetable or chicken soup.
- In modern life a weekend is the perfect time for most people to apply fasting, since it interferes least with normal life, especially if they are working during the week (working and fasting are not a good idea at the same time!). You should ensure that you have available a means of contacting a health expert, ideally having warned them that you might contact them if problems or anxieties should occur during your fast (highly unlikely).
- If you feel ready, then start the fast by having only a bowl of yogurt or soup on Friday night.
- On Saturday your forward planning should have kept the day clear of any obligation to get involved in anything physical, and you should avoid the need to drive. Arrange to have some light reading or some pleasant music to listen to. Keep the day free of any social or work obligations.
- Take the day slowly, drinking water (it’s a good idea to add a mere touch of lemon juice to freshen your mouth) whenever thirsty and ensuring that through the day you drink no less than a litre and no more than three litres of water.
Some people prefer to fast on diluted juices. Strictly speaking this is no longer a fast, since the sugars in the juice prevent the physiological changes of a fast from progressing (ketotic metabolism).- A sense of hunger rapidly disappears on a fast but is maintained far longer when juices are being used. Juice days (‘restricted diet’) are, however, sometimes useful before and after a fast, and are used as appropriate during a long fast if this is considered necessary by a practitioner. On a short (24 to 48 hours) fast, juice is best avoided, apart from that small squeeze of lemon juice in the water you drink.
- Expect that on this first day you might develop a headache, a sense of nausea, a furred tongue, and possibly a sense of anxiety and restlessness. More likely though will be a feeling of tiredness and unnatural coldness of your extremities. None of these signs and symptoms is unusual or a cause for any concern. The headache/nausealfurred tongue are all signs of detoxification starting, with some degree of liver overload. They wi11 pass, requiring no treatment, and will, with subsequent fasts and the overall dietary improvement, become less and less obvious as the need for deta~afication reduces and your liver becomes more efflcient.
You can clean your teeth or rinse your mouth out whenever the taste becomes unpleasant (a usual occurrence at the beginning of a fast).
The symptoms of anxiety/restlessness might indicate that withdrawal signs are appearing in relation to a chronic food allergy. This happens because we literally become addicted to substances to which we are allergic if we have them frequently in our diet. The frequency of exposure prevents them producing obvious allergy symptoms, but produces chronic symptoms (called a ‘masked’ allergy) which you might never relate to allergy. If these symptoms of edginess, anxiety and restlessness do not pass within 24 hours, break the fast (see below for how to do this) and consult an expert (naturopath, clinical ecologist etc.) for further guidance.
No medication or supplementation should be taken during a fast, and if you are on a course of such treatment you should clear with whoever prescribed it that you can abandon it for the duration of the fast. If you cannot stop the medication do not fast without supervision. No smoking of any sort should be allowed during a fast.
- If you do have any detoxification symptoms, avoid at all costs any use of medication to treat this, since the body reacts unpredictably when fasting. A far simpler means of getting rid of the symptoms, if you can’t face continuing with the fast and its early and short-lived symptoms, is to break it (see below). Usually, though, all that is needed is patience and rest to allow the body to take care of itself. All social and business obligations should be put on hold, and stress avoided if at all possible. This is a time for physiological and mental rest.
- Your bowel function may stop during the fast, and this is not something about which you should be concerned. If a fairly high intake of vegetables (raw) and fruit was achieved on the day before the fast, then a bowel movement should occur during it. If not there is no reason to resort to enemas or other methods of making the bowels open, as they will take care of this function on their own in the fullness of time. Do not be concerned, and do not take anything to reverse the situation, if the bowels do not work for a day or so after the fast (or even if a degree of diarrhea is noticed).
- Avoid exercise during the fast, although some fresh air and a little walking are fine. It is highly desirable that some exposure to sunshine be achieved (not sunbathing) if possible.
- As indicated, you might feel a little cold, so dress more warmly than usual (one extra layer of clothing) and rest in pleasant surroundings as much as you can. This is not a social time, but best reserved for sleep, rest and contemplation. Even reading might be too much of an effort in the early stages.
- By Sunday afternoon you should be feeling comfortable, without apparent hunger, the headache and nausea should have eased, and you should have slept more peacefully than for many years. Your mental function should have a clarity you had forgotten existed. It is time to break the short fast (the same procedure is used for a short and a long fast).
- Around mid-afternoon on Sunday (assuming you started on Friday night with the small meal recommended) take one of the following:
- An apple, either raw or baked in the oven, or lightly stewed (no sweetening) or
- a small bunch of grapes or
- a few prunes or
- a small bowl of live yogurt or
- a small bowl (mug) of thin homemade vegetable broth/soup.
Whichever of these you have, try to make each mouthful a meal in itself, chewing it thoroughly, even when in a liquid state. Take a long time eating this first ‘meal’, and then rest. An hour or so later have another of the choices offered on the list, in a slightly larger quantity.
- An apple, either raw or baked in the oven, or lightly stewed (no sweetening) or
Say that so far you have had some stewed apple at 4 pm, and a bowl of yogurt at 5:30 pm. Now, at around 7:30 to 8 pm have a slightly more substantial intake of food, but only if you feel like it. If you are hungry have either a small mixed salad with cottage cheese, or a lightly boiled egg, or a slightly more substantial (thicker) soup. As before, chew each mouthful for as long as you can. If you are not hungry, wait until breakfast the next morning, at which time resume your normal food intake, although you will probably want a little less than usual.
How often should you fast?
It is an excellent idea to introduce a two day fast as a quarterly part of your programme. Two days of fasting, every three months, is not going to place any great strain on your leisure or social time, and offers a magnificent method of regularly ‘spring cleaning’ yourself.
Some people increase their frequency of fasting to every six weeks, and this is a matter of personal choice. The truth is that the more often you fast, within reason, the less obvious are the symptoms of nausea etc. and the greater are the benefits of clarity of mind and sense of abundant energy and well-being which follow.
What about one day fasts?
A 24 hour fast achieves something, but not nearly as much as the 48 hour version, and the benefits from a one day fast take a lot longer to show. Nevertheless, 24 hour fasts are better than no fasts at all, and they can certainly be applied on a six-weekly or even monthly basis. All other guidelines are the same as for the 48 hour fast given above.
A variation of the fasting technique is the introduction of periodic days, or several days at a time, on one food only – a monodiet. The foods involved are open to personal taste, and among those most successful and popular are grape diet (a period during which grapes only are eaten), rice diet (said to be ideal for helping reduce high blood pressure) and potato diet (like the rice diet, often used for specific health purposes, such as treatment of rheumatic disorders). However, for the purposes of our life extension programme the monodiet is not being suggested as a therapeutic measure, but as an alternative to complete fasting aimed at encouraging general well-being, and preventing health problems rather than trying to deal with them.
If a monodiet is decided on, then all the same rules apply as for fasting. A weekend is ideal, following the monodiet for 48 hours. Less care is needed in breaking the monodiet than would be the case for a fast, so that in a weekend setting the Sunday evening meal could simply revert to a normal one, rather than
going through the various gentle stages required to safely break a fast.
Effects such as headache etc. are possible on a monodiet, but less intensely so than on a fast. Monodiets are recommended for people who wish to avoid the rigours of fasting but who want to increase the detoxification/health enhancing effects which fasting offers. They achieve the same thing as fasting but very much more slowly.
When eating whatever food has been selected, a small amount (say 6 or 7 grapes, or an ounce or two of cooked rice) should be very well chewed whenever hunger is felt, which could be seven or eight times during the day. The total amount eaten should be small (no more than a pound of cooked rice or a pound of grapes through the day). In between, drink water as required.
In Chapter 4 the methods used by Dr Bircher-Benner were described, showing some of the remarkable results he obtained in Switzerland and at the Royal Free Hospital, London, using raw food as the only method of treatment of chronic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. The rich source of enzymes available through eating raw foods makes them a highly suitable addition to the calorie restriction diet, in terms of prevention and enhanced well-being. Raw food days or meals, though, should not be thought of as a treatment for anything in our particular purpose.
The menus discussed in the previous chapter offer the chance to include at least one raw meal daily as a main meal (salad or fruit) and such an approach is highly recommended. It is also possible to further boost the benefits of raw food eating by allotting a day a week to raw food only (a day a week is only a suggestion; it could just as easily be a day a fortnight, or a weekend a month, or any odd day that the mood takes you, whatever is easiest for you). On such days, increase the intake of vegetables and fruits so that you meet your calorie requirements mainly from these sources, with protein and fat being derived from fresh nuts and seeds, or as a single exception to the raw food theme, by a small amount of pulses/grains (say a rice and lentil savoury).
As long as you are getting fairly dose to your calorie, protein and fat requirements (the exact meeting of all needs is not something to become obsessed about) the benefits of raw food eating will be felt, and will add appreciably to the value of the programme. Some people follow raw food eating all the time, and feel nothing but good results. The social difficulties of this might create stress, however, so the suggestion offered is that raw foods should be the main part of at least one meal daily, and that a day every now and then (weekly, fortnightly etc.) should be allotted to raw food only. Raw food patterns are not an alternative to fasting but an addition.
In Chapter 8 I described the potential that free radicals have for creating cellular damage and havoc. In the next chapter one of the additional life extension health promotion strategies which will be outlined will be the use of antioxidant supplements which can assist the calorie restriction diet to keep free radicals under better control.
Another method is also available. This is not as a self-help measure, however, but one which has powerful anti-free radical potential. It is chelation therapy, and it uses an artificial amino acid called EDIA. EDTA was first developed to treat people suffering from heavy metal toxicity in industry, such as lead poisoning in shipyards following the painting of ships with leadbased paints. EDTA was used to chelate (chemically bind) with the lead, allowing its elimination from the body. Other benefits were observed after its use, and Elmer Cranton, writing in The Journal of Holistic Medicine (1984 6:21) states the case as follows:
EDTA can reduce the production of free radicals by a millionfold. It is not possible for free radical pathology to take place or be accelerated by metaUic ions in the presence of E1~A. Traces of unbound metallic ions are necessary for uncontrolled proliferation of free radicals in living tissues. EDTA binds ionic metal catalysts, making them chemically inert and removing them from the body.
He goes on to describe an important finding in Switzerland:
Free radical inhibition by EDTA may explain the recently
published observation of Blumer in Switzerland, who reported a 90 per cent reduction in deaths from cancer in a large group of chelated patients (they had all been chelated
following a lead toxicity scare in their area) who had been
carefully followed over an 18 year period. When compared
with a statistically matched control group (who had received
no chelation therapy) Blumer reported a ten times greater
death rate from cancer in the untreated group, compared to the
death rate of the patients who had been treated with EDTA.
A greatly reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease was also
Here then were people, all living in similar city environments, of the same age and sex, and eating roughly the same diets, who had a 10-fold difference in incidence of cancer, with the only difference between them being that some had received chelation therapy some 20 years earlier, and others had not.
As described earlier, it is now largely a matter of accepted medical fact that free radical damage plays a major part in the onset of cancer and in developing the scene for cardiovascular disease, and EDIA removes this risk dramatically by chelating surplus ionic metals from the system. Elmer Cranton has documented the benefits of EDIA therapy to people suffering cardiovascular and other diseases in his book Bypassing Bypass, and I have given my explanation of its value in my 1991 book Chelation Therapy. Chelation therapy’s only drawback is its cost, since it is generally only available privately unless you are suffering from obvious heavy metal toxicity.
Chelation therapy involves a series of infusions of EDIA in a solution into a vein, a process which takes up to 90 minutes, and which needs to be repeated as much as 20 times over a three month period in order to get maximum benefits. If you wish to learn more about this remarkable and useful approach to switching off free radical pathology you are referred to one of the books just mentioned.
In the next chapter I deal with the usefulness of additional supplementation to augment and support the calorie restriction programme.