This section is from the book "The Hygienic System: Fasting And Sun Bathing", by Herbert M. Shelton. Also available from Amazon: The Hygienic System Vol III Fasting and Sun Bathing.
Nowhere does the beneficial office of physiological rest in enhancing mental clearness show more clearly than in fasting by the insane. I shall have more to say about this in a future chapter. Here it is necessary only to deal with it briefly.
The common practice is to feed nervous patients all the "good nourishing food" they can be induced to swallow. If they are deprived of food and their accustomed stimulants, there follows a period of depression and an increased nervous irritability. Feeding and drugging smother these symptoms just as a dose of morphine relieves the addict who is suffering from forced abstinence from his drug, and this leads physician and patient to believe he is improved thereby. Yet, these very measures, so frequently employed to cure, are often the cause of nervousness.
If such patients are permitted to fast for a few days, a remarkable change occurs in their mental and nervous symptoms. One example must suffice. A young lady once consulted me. She was so extremely nervous that if her husband only pointed his finger at her and said "boo!" she would become hysterical, laughing and crying alternately for sometime before she would finally regain composure. A little noise in the house or outside at night frightened her. She was placed on a fast. It lasted only a week, but her nervousness was completely overcome in this short time. Nothing frightened her any more and nothing would cause her to become hysterical.
Kellogg suggests a "bland diet" "in cases of insane persons who refuse to eat and must be nourished by tube feeding." I helped care for one such case and we permitted him to fast. For forty days he continued to refuse food, then he developed an uncontrollable hunger and would invade the kitchen, if not watched, and get food at all times. The young man made great improvement both mentally and physically and was able to run and also to put up a stiff fight when efforts were made to restrain him in some of his actions. He committed suicide before his recovery was complete, however.
Insanity is frequently overcome while fasting, and practically all cases are improved by the fast. Max Nordau declared: "Pessimism has a physiological basis." It really has what we call a pathological basis and this is removed by fasting. Many cases of paralysis of the throat, legs, arms and other forms of paralysis have yielded to the kindly influence of fasting.
Dr. Kritzer, following the lead of the late Dr. Henry Lindlahr, warns against fasting in mental, nervous and "psychic diseases." "Beware of an empty stomach in melancholia," he says, "for the patient's constant brooding causes a congestion of blood in the brain, and unless the blood is withdrawn through the process of digestion, the chances of aggravation of the mental symptoms are increased. All persons negatively inclined physically, mentally or psychically--the 'sensitive types'--would fare better on a properly balanced diet rather than fasting, even though for short periods."
All of us deplore this mixing of occultism and spiritualism with physiology and dietetics. I once placed on a fast, a psychic woman who had previously been warned that a fast would ruin her. She improved steadily during the fast and went on to good health. I do not hesitate to fast nervous and mental cases and always with good results. Dr. E. R. Moras tells of placing a woman on a diet of strained orange juice who "had been insane for eight months and treated by eminent neurologists." In seven days the girl called for food and in six weeks was normal. She was "psychic."
Dr. Kritzer says, "The ill effect of prolonged fasting upon the nervous system is, however, more pronounced and of longer duration. Indeed, the individual drifts into a negative condition, becomes irritable and extremely sensitive.
"It often requires years of careful living in order to successfully overcome the shock received by the nervous system after an injudicious long fast."
Dr. Kritzer has not been studying fasting; but a mixture of fasting with hot and cold baths, spinal manipulations, massage, electrical treatment, psychotherapy and other such forms of destructive nonsense. Fasting does not produce the effects he attributes to it. The depletion of the nervous system, he and and others write about, is due to the insane abuse in the form of so-called treatment to which patients are often subjected in most drugless, and semi-drugless institutions, and often occur in patients that are fed.
"Those who obtain the best results from fasting and proper dieting," to quote Dr. Weger, "are those whose mental state is not shattered by the long continued use of drugs and by psychic shock." He makes this observation with particular reference to cases of epilepsy, but it is true in general. By this is not meant that even these cases do not derive benefit from fasting and proper diet, but merely that the benefit is not so apparent and requires, often, much longer time to make itself manifest.
Lennox and Cobb, of the Harvard University Medical School, experimented with fasting in epilepsy and reported that except in one patient there was little permanent effect on the "seizures." They found that in the majority of the cases the "seizures" were entirely absent or were greatly reduced during the fast, but that these returned with the resumption of eating. As this experience is wholly out of keeping with my own I shall make a few remarks concerning the "essentially negative results of fasting" which they report.
Let me say that I have had only two cases in which the fits returned after the fast. I recall one case, however, which was in a sanatorium with which I was connected. This patient had two fasts of about twenty days each. The milk diet was employed after each fast. It was found that if more than six quarts of milk were consumed in one day a "seizure" would result. It was also found that if he was given milk for six days and no food of any kind on the 7th day, he would go for long periods without trouble; but as soon as he took milk on the 7th day he had a "seizure." This case very forcibly illustrates the relation of eating habits to the "disease." Another of my cases that had been having one and two "seizures" a week, did not have one seizure during over three months under my observation after a fast of less than a week. The fast was followed with proper diet and living reform. The fasting cases of Lennox and Cobb lasted from four to twenty-one days, and the longer fasts were certainly long enough to produce great benefit in these cases. They think that if fasting were employed in the early stages of the "disease" the results might be more encouraging. They also say that it would be strange if an "acute therapeutic dieting measure" should give lasting results in a chronic condition like epilepsy.
I would say, however, in view of my own experience, that their lack of knowledge of fasting and especially their lack of knowledge of proper feeding after the fast, is responsible for their partial results. The effects of fasting are profound and lasting, but these may be totally spoiled by injudicious care.
Dr. Weger says, "It is conceded by physicians that most epileptic seizures are precipitated by gastrointestinal derangement, gastric hyperacidity and intestinal fermentation, even by a very slight deviation from normal at any period of the digestive cycle. The most frequent source of irritation is the colon."
If good digestion is so important in these cases, it should be quite obvious that the permanency of the results obtained by fasting must depend largely upon proper feeding and proper general care after the fast. As Dr. Weger says, "It is absurd to look for good results in this class of cases unless some attention is given to the kind and combination of food. If the same kind, quality, and quantity of food is permitted after the fast that the patient was in the habit of taking before the fast, the experiment is doomed to failure."
Fasting and prayer were prominent among the remedies employed by the ancients in epilepsy. Dr. Rabagliati says that the best remedy for epilepsy "consists of a careful restriction of the diet. * * * I have for many years now advised restriction of the acute cases in epilepsy to two meals daily, and sometimes one, and in acute cases have recommended further and greater restriction to a pint or a pint and a half of milk daily for a considerable period of time. * * * Fasting in fact, seems to be of very great efficacy in the treatment of epilepsy."