Everything you need to know about fasting and its benefits

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Why a blog article on therapeutic fasting on the Seignalet website? (Warning: Skimming first advisory – it’s long!) Well Dr. Jean Seignalet’s theories and the way his diet works throw new light on the way fasting works in my opinion. Before Seignalet, therapeutic fasting, (in my opinion as a health nut and medical historian), was the only reliable and effective way to reverse degenerative diseases apart from cancer. I will be sending sample copies of “How to prevent and reverse 100 diseases” to eminent fasting practitioners and asking them to write a guest blog. Please remember that these blog articles represent only my own (Chris Parkinson’s) opinions.

Therapeutic fasting

In 19th century America, there was no licensing of doctors and medical schools were for the most part just diploma mills. Doctors who had trained at European medical schools were a rarity. Bleeding, purging, cathartics and indiscriminate administration of calomel (a mercury compound), or other highly toxic metal based medicines like antimony were standard treatment for all ills by the “regulars” – what we would call nowadays orthodox physicians. If that was not bad enough, it might take a day or two’s ride to fetch a doctor. In this atmosphere, all kinds of alternatives to traditional European medicine flourished. Thompsonian medicine was a sort of home based franchise system based on Indian herbal knowledge (without ever acknowledging its debt to Native American healing). From mid century onwards homeopathy was the favoured medicine of the upper classes. The “Eclectic” school was a more advanced version of Thompsonian medicine which it largely supplanted, blending a traditional European training in anatomy and medicine with a sophisticated herbalism based on native American plants. The Osteopathic and Chiropractic schools also sprung up. In the first half of the century Sylvester Graham was a presbysterian minister who advocated vegetarianism, mainly to curb lust ! He also invented Graham bread, a wholemeal bread free from the many chemical additives and fillers used by the bakers of the day, (Plus ça change!) and founded the American Vegetarian Society in 1850.

The birth of fasting

By incredible co-incidence, two American doctors (“regular”, accredited physicians both), discovered the miraculous power of fasting in the same year and even the same month: July 1877. In Minneapolis, Dr. Tanner, after a long period of general ill health and digestive problems, fell ill and took to his room in the house of his consulting companion, Dr. Moyer. This is what he said about why he started the fast “….after a strenuous time with a patient critically ill, I virtually collapsed. I was at such a low ebb physically and mentally at the time that I did not care whether I lived or died, and I determined that, since my drugs gave me no relief, I would starve to death ere I again would suffer the physical misery that had been mine for months preceding. I accordingly told Dr. Moyer, my consulting companion, that I would not again eat food until I was dead or recovered in health.”

After ten days on nothing but water his symptoms of what appeared to be a sort of typhoid: “gastric fever”, abated and he gained in strength. As he felt better and better as he continued to fast, he carried on until he had fasted for 42 days in total, and completely recovered his health.

Word leaked out (via Dr. Moyer) about what seemed to everybody at the time, especially the medical profession, to be an impossible feat. Stung by the scepticism and disbelief, not to say derision, of his medical colleagues, 3 years later, Dr. Tanner carried out a second, public fast for 40 days in New York City at Clarendon Hall, where members of the public could pay 25 cents to enter and see him fasting. The New York Times ran a daily article reporting on Dr. Tanner’s condition, constantly predicting his demise. A huge crowd, paying half a dollar for admission, gathered to see him break the fast on the fortieth day, with many doctors in the audience confident that death would occur during re-feeding. The takings on the final day were 20,000 dollars. Tanner then went on a lecture tour, to promote “starvation” as a cure for disease.

Meanwhile, also in July 1877, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Dr. Dewey was attending a case of typhoid fever. (It seems that typhoid invented therapeutic fasting in the same way that hysteria is said to have invented psychoanalysis.) Dewey was alarmed to find that the patient was unable to keep any food or drugs down. This state of affairs continued for 3 weeks with the patient steadily improving and gaining strength until the point was reached when the patient would have been able to take food. Dr. Dewey however, rather than trying to enforce feeding, decided to allow nature to take its course and from the third week onwards, merely observed. On the thirty-fourth day, the patient, with natural hunger in evidence, began to eat.

Dr. Dewey:

Here was an object lesson:

  • Vital power supported without food.
  • Mental and physical strength increasing with the decline of symptoms
  • A cure without the aid of remedies and one that was eminently complete in every way.
  • No unusual wasting of the body.”

Both doctors attracted many patients and pupils and from this time onwards until the 1920’s when so called “scientific medicine” became institutionalized, fasting for any kind of chronic disease became increasingly popular. From 1914 onwards however, the Rockefellers (John D. Senior and Junior) endowed all the medical schools and became major investors in drugs and vaccines. Under their influence and particularly through the influence of their ally and surrogate, the American Medical Association, all the other forms of medicine, including therapeutic fasting, were marginalized, and practitioners risked prosecution and imprisonment by the authorities.

Meanwhile in Germany “..Dr. Otto Buchinger opens his fasting clinic in 1920 in Witzenhausen after being invalided out of the German navy due to Rheumatic Polyarthritis and curing himself with a fast. The Buchinger clinic continues to this day. (The sanatorium moved to Bad Pyrmont in 1935)…” (extracts in italics from my forthcoming book “This book will save your life : medicine versus health, the big picture and the fine detail.”)

…In the US, from the 1920’s onwards. Fasting is kept alive by Bernarr Macfadden with his Physical Culture magazine with a circulation of one million and by Dr. Tilden, an Eclectic physician until his death in 1949, with his sanatorium in Denver Colorado and his monthly self-penned magazine on health which is widely distributed, and also by Dr. Herbert Shelton who coins the term “NaturalHygiene”, with his “health school” in San Antonio Texas from 1928 until 1980. Shelton is not a physician. He is a doctor of naturopathy and a doctor of chiropractic….”

…1935 in Germany. The Buchinger sanatorium moves from Witzenhausen to Bad Pyrmont (Both roughly in the center of Germany.) Buchinger publishes “The Therapeutic Fasting Cure”….”

….In the US 1939. Shelton tirelessly proselytizes for fasting with his own monthly, self penned magazine, started in 1939, called the “Hygienic Review” and inspired by Tilden’s review. Shelton promotes “food combining”, originally developed in the 1920’s by Dr. William Hay, who cured his own nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) with his diet. Shelton adds further refinements to food combining. Unlike Hay’s version for example, Shelton says that fruit should not be eaten with a meal but should only be eaten on its own. Because Shelton is not a medical doctor, he faces endless persecution from the medical profession and the authorities. In 1927 Dr. Herbert Shelton is arrested three times in New York for “practising medicine without a licence” and does jail time. Shelton regards this with irony, as he wanted nothing to do with “medicine”. Shelton is careful never to claim to “cure” or “heal” any disease. He claims only that fasting and proper diet will “restore health”. (Like Tilden, he believes that every disease is just a symptom of the same thing – departure from good health caused by unhealthy eating and lifestyle.) In 1928 Shelton opens his first health school in San Antonio Texas, the first of seven later reincarnations until it finally closes in 1980. By 1960, Shelton has personally supervised over 30.000 fasts. (Jean A. Oswald)

Before the second world war, the four practising “hygienists” in the US are Shelton, Claunch, Gian-curso and Esser. (Jean A. Oswald)….”

…In 1949 in the US. The “American Natural Hygiene Society” is founded. 400 members join. Local chapters are set up across the US. Dr. Shelton was the first President…..”

From 1947 onwards in the USSR, Doctors Narbokov and Nikolaev had great success in treating disease with fasting, particularly psychiatric disturbances. The Russian form of fasting uses the German form, with some calories taken in the form of fruit juices, herbal teas sweetened with honey and vegetable broths with ketosis maintained by daily walks to burn off these calories.

….1953 in Germany. Second Buchinger sanatorium called Buchinger Wilhelmi opened in Überlingen on Lake Constance in Southern Germany on the border with Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Austria by Otto Buchinger and his daughter and her husband….”

In the ’60’s in the US, UK and Germany there was a craze amongst the orthodox medical profession for using fasting to treat obesity and dozens of programs were set up to fast fatties. Unfortunately, none of the doctors carrying out these fasts sought to consult the experts on fasting: the Natural Hygienists or the Buchingers, who would have told them that obese people make difficult subjects for fasting. So amongst the dozens of papers on fasting of the obese from this period that we find on pubmed, we find titles such as “Lactic acidosis and death after the treatment of obesity by fasting” or “Occurrence of acute Wernicke’s encephalopathy during prolonged starvation for the treatment of obesity”.

….In 1973 in Marbella, Andalusia. After Dr. Otto Buchinger’s death, Maria and Helmut Wilhelmi set up Clínica Buchinger in Marbella, Andalusia….”

Present day in the US:

“….New, scientific evidence on the benefits of fasting

Valter Longo and Mark Mattson are pre-eminent researchers in the fields of calorie restriction and ageing. They have both done important and acclaimed research on fasting. Longo at the Longevity Institute, Davis School of Gerontology and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and Mattson at the Department of Neuroscience, John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. In 2013 they wrote a joint article in Cell Metabolism Review called “Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications. In the article they say:

…Depending on body weight and composition, the ketone bodies, free fatty acids, and gluconeognesis allow the majority of human beings to survive 30 or more days in the absence of any food and allow certain species, such as king penguins, to survive for over 5 months without food…

They say that the nervous and endochrine systems have a pivotal role as mediators of adaptive responses of major organ systems in fasting. (They actually say “in intermittent fasting” but I think we can assume that this holds true for prolonged fasting as well.)…”

Present Day in Germany:

………Fasting is big business in Germany. 17% of Germans have fasted (De L’estrade)

Fasting is called “Fasten” or Heilfasten” (healing fast) or “Hungerkuhr” (hunger cure). A search for Heilfasten on German amazon brings up 369 results. A search for “Fasten” brings up 1,591. They have titles like “Fasting rejuvenates” or “Fasting for Health and Vitality”. Hungerkuhr is sometimes used pejoratively and this brings up 26 results. They mostly have titles such as “Get slim without fasting” or “Ideal weight without fasting”. There are some variations on fasting such as the “soup fast” where you eat 3 soups a day for a week to lose weight. There are 13 private fasting clinics in Germany (including the two Buchinger clinics). There are also a dozen hospitals in Germany with fasting departments. (De L’estrade). The largest hospital in Europe, the Charité University Hospital in Berlin has an annexe for fasting in a village on lake Wannsee, south of Berlin. It specializes particularly in rheumatic diseases and metabolic syndrome – diabetes together with high blood pressure and heart disease. (De L’estrade).

Combined fasting/walking holidays are a whole industry in Germany (with one or two new start ups in France, started by Germans). I searched for Wandern + Fasten on google and got 330 results! The week long fasts/walking tours are always modeled on the Buchinger type fast with a medical examination before the fast, then fruit juice at mid-day, vegetable broth in the evening, herbal teas with a little honey and plenty of pure water. There are even variations on this with fasting/horse riding or fasting/cycling or fasting/meditation or fasting/ayurvedic etc………..”

Extracts (in italics) are by kind permission of the author (me!) from my forthcoming book: “This book will save your life: medicine versus health, the big picture and the fine detail”. The section on fasting is very complete and is really a book in itself.

Present day in Russia

With the breakdown and dissolution of the old Soviet Union, fasting was no longer paid for by the state and is now only available in private clinics, mainly in Moscow and St Petersburg. (See De L’estrade’s documentary on Arte TV). The soviets did a great deal of research into the science of fasting, so their fasting practitioners are very highly qualified and trained.

One place where fasting was wholeheartedly embraced in Russia was in Siberia in the Russian Federal Republic of Buryatia in Siberia which is about the size of Montana. There are four fasting sanatoriums and 100 fasting specialist doctors. This would be the equivalent in the UK of 280 fasting institutes and 7,000 specialist doctors or in the US, 1,260 fasting centers & 30,000 specialist fasting doctors! The fasting centers are owned by Buryatian trade unions and fasting cures are free for citizens of Buryatia.

Important notes:

In the above extracts I have not explained the physiology of fasting which is now largely understood. Fasting can be dangerous, particularly if you try to do it yourself and particularly in the first 3 days as the body goes into ketosis and also when breaking the fast. During a prolonged fast, hunger disappears after the first 2 or 3 days once ketosis has set in properly, but a ravenous hunger can signal that everything has healed and it is time to end the fast. At the end of a long fast, the digestive system will have completely shut down and it needs to be very gently awoken with very small amounts of specific kinds of foods like watermelon. So giving in to one’s voracious hunger and eating huge amounts of foods that cannot be digested can be fatal! Fasting therefore, should be carried out under the guidance of a qualified and experienced fasting practitioner who will know a) whether you can fast successfully in the first place and b) will recognise warning signals which indicate that the fast should be ended and how it should be ended. I have given underneath some contact details of fasting practitioners.

Fasting, in my (unqualified) opinion should not be seen as an alternative to the Seignalet diet. Seignalet demonstrated successfully that most degenerative diseases have a genetic component among others and the disease is switched on by certain foods and switched off, often completely, by avoiding them. So while fasting may appear to reverse the disease, because the gut will heal during the fast and the extraneous molecules in your cells will be eliminated, mainly by autophagy – a natural cell cleansing mechanism which takes place during fasting – unless you avoid these foods the disease will reappear. Dr. Seignalet stated that his diet is compatible with all other kinds of therapy, including drugs and homeopathy. So you might consider a short Buchinger or Natural Hygienist type fast of a week perhaps, as an adjunct. The diet on its own should work however without the need for fasting.

There are many books (hundreds?) on fasting and a lot of them, especially the early ones when the science behind fasting was poorly understood, contain much waffle.

Here are some that I personally have read and recommend:

If you read French (one of the best books on fasting):

Thierry de Lestrade: Le jeûne, une nouvelle thérapie ?

Here, on youtube is Thierry’s documentary by the same name which appeared on the Franco/German TV channel Arte. (Also in French).

Joel Fuhrman (The eating part is close but not quite Seignalet. Most fasting practitioners are vegan – remember: Seignalet is the diet proven to reverse chronic disease)

Fasting and Eating for Health

Joel is an MD. He is a prominent vegan and was one of the contributors to the film Forks over Knives (See Denise Mingers review of the film here

Do you have to be a vegan to fast? Absolutely not! Although many fasting practitioners are vegans. Do you have to be a vegan to reverse your disease? Dr. Seignalet considered that it was important to eat animal protein to avoid deficiencies.

Fasting: An Exceptional Human Experience: Randi Fredericks Ph.D

These opinions are the author’s own (Chris Parkinson’s) and are not necessarily shared by the Seignalet family.