This section of the book is from "Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise", by Bernarr MacFadden.
There are alimentary reserve stores; accumulations of adipose tissue gathered to guard against this. They will supply all essential needs for the time being, and can be replaced at leisure, after the work of reconstruction has been finished. In some cases they may have been put away for the needs of old age, but are now drawn upon for a transient emergency. The body, so to say, has for a time to make shift with its winter stores.
These nutritive reserves are ready for use at short notice and their application to the momentary needs of the system does not interfere with other work. Digestive problems, in other senses of the word, would prove a serious handicap upon the efficacy of the disease fighters, and, moreover, could be solved only in a perfunctory manner. The ingesta would have to be concocted and hurried out without real benefit to the department of nutrition.
In the case of mental affections that precaution has sometimes a peculiar by-purpose. Care, worry, but especially fits of rage, have a tendency to vitiate the humors of the system, and precautionary Nature shuts off the kitchen-supplies to prevent more serious mischief.
Dr. Carpenter in his "Mental Physiology," quotes the experience of an Austrian doctor who was called to the death-bed of a child poisoned by the milk of its own mother. A soldier had been quartered in the house, and one day came in drunk and promptly picked a quarrel with the paterfamiliasa poor Bohemian shoemaker. A scuffle followed, the drunken ruffian drew his sword and the cobbler was getting worsted, when suddenly his wife rushed in and with the superhuman strength of fury overpowered the intruder, snatched his sword and snapped it into pieces. Neighbors interposed, and the cobbler's wife, still trembling with excitement, sat down to nurse her baby. A few minutes after, the child began to twist as in a fever fit, and died in convulsions, though medical assistance had been instantly summoned.
It has also been noticed that the bite of tortured animals often becomes poisonous. In a last resort of self-defence the organism has evolved an avenging virus, but observes the precaution to cut off the appetite for food, in order to lessen the risk of the envenomed saliva entering the circulation and its blood-poison reaching the wrong address.
More or less every disorder of the organic function involves a risk of food turning into poison, and thus suggests a secondary significance of the fasting instinct.
In other words, food, eaten in the crisis of a serious disease, would not only hamper the work of cure, but might expose the system to an added peril.
Over-eating has become a vice of enormous prevalence, and for millions a protracted fast would prove a specific for the cure of ailments that defy medication. Diarrhoea, for instance, admits of no readier or more harmless remedy. It is a result of dietetic abuses and Nature's usual way to evacuate irritant substancesoften accumulations of indigestible food threatening to become virulent under the influence of a high temperature.
A day's fast would mitigate the trouble. Two days of total abstinence would generally cure it and leave the condition of the alimentary organs improved in every way. But the patient cannot wait. Instead of earning the right to health he wants to buy it ready-made over the counter, and applies to a drug-monger. Loose bowels indicate a deficiency of vital strength, yet nearly every debilitating poison of the vegetable and mineral kingdom has been employed to paralyze the activity, and, as it were, silence the protest of the rebellious organs. Bismuth, arsenic, calomel, opium, mercury, nux vomica, zinc salts, acetate of lead and nitrate of silver are among the gentle "aids to Nature" that have been prescribed to control the revolt of the mutinous bowels. An attempt to control a fit of vomiting by choking the neck of the patient would be an analogous mistake. The prescription operates as long as the vitality of the bowels is absolutely paralyzed by the virulence of the drug; but the first return of functional energy will be used to eject the poison.
That new protest is silenced by the same argument; for awhile the exhaustion of the whole system is mistaken for a sign of submission, till a fresh revolt calls for a repetition of the coercive measures. In the meantime the organism suffers under a compound system of starvation; the humors are surcharged with virulent matter, the whole digestive apparatus withdraws its aid from the needs of the vital economy, and the flame of life feeds on the store of tissue; the patient wastes far more rapidly than an unpoisoned person would on an air-and-water diet.
It is not too much to say that the timely application of the fasting cure would have saved such patients nine-tenths of their time and trouble. Denutrition, or the temporary deprivation of food, exercises an astringent influence as part of its general conservative effect. The organism, stinted in its supply of vital resources, soon begins to curtail its current expenditure. The movements of the respiratory process decrease; the temperature of the body sinks; the secretion of bile and uric acid is diminished, and before long the retrenchment of the assimilative functions reacts on the intestinal organs; the colon contracts and the smaller intestines retain all but the most irritating ingesta.
A persistent hunger-cure will eliminate even an active virus by a gradual molecular catalysis and removal of the inorganic elements. No deepest-seated microbes have a living chance against that method of expurgation. With no digestive drudgery on hand, Nature employs the long-desired leisure for general house-cleaning purposes. The accumulations of superfluous tissue are overhauled and analyzed; the available component parts to be turned over to the department of nutrition, the refuse to be thoroughly and permanently removed. Germ diseases are swept out together with other rubbish. Influenza (La Grippe) can be nipped in the bud by a few days of total abstinence. Its microbes are preparing to feed on pulmonary tissues, but are bundled out before they have time to entrench their position. Catarrh ("colds") and incipient consumption can be cured in the same manner, and a U. S. army surgeon reports the case of a patient wrecked on the coast of southern Texas and reaching civilization only after a month of dreadful hardships, that reduced him to a living skeleton, but permanently cured his lung disorder. The mystery of the "King's Evil" cures probably admits of a similar solution. At a time when scrofula was ten times more prevalent than nowadays, thousands of health-seekers crowded the ante-chambers of royal palaces, to be touched by the hand of an anointed king. The Lord's anointed was in many cases a worn-out rake with his own hide full of germ-diseases, but his touch rarely missed its effect on patients who had come from a considerable distance, whence Dr. Burnett's remark that the natives of farthest Scotland and Ireland trusted the miraculous power of their sovereign more than his next neighbors. Scrofulous cockneys, who could reach the royal presence by crossing the street, crossed in vain; but pilgrims who had come from the other side of the Tweed and starved like Texas temperance editors, returned rejoicing, and would have been cured just as effectually if a Devonshire dairyman had touched them up with his pitchfork. The true believers were mostly children of poverty who had come the long road afoot; and microbes that could have defied the shoulder hits of all the legitimate despots of Christendom had succumbed to a hunger-cure, intensified by liberal doses of active exercise.