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.
In presenting this volume on fasting I am well aware of existing prejudices against the procedure. It has long been the practice to feed the sick and to stuff the weak on the theory that "the sick must eat to keep up their strength." It is very unpleasant to many to see long established customs broken, and long cherished prejudices set at naught, even when a great good is to be achieved.
"Shall we not respect the accumulated wisdom of the three thousand years," ask the defenders of the regular school and their feeding and drugging practices.
Where, we ask, is the wisdom for us to respect? We see little more than an accumulation of absurdities and barbarities. "The accumulated wisdom of three thousand years!" Look at sick humanity around you; look at the mortality reports; look at generation after generation, cut off in the very spring-time of life, and then talk of wisdom or science!
In this volume we offer you real wisdom and true science--we offer you the accumulated wisdom of many thousands of years, wisdom that will still be good when the mass of weakening, poisoning and mischief-inflicting methods of regular medicine are forgotten. A brief history of fasting will help to prove the truth of this.
During the past forty years fasting and its Hygienic accompaniments have gained immense popularity and the position to which they are entitled by virtue of their intrinsic worth. The advocates of fasting are constantly increasing in number and the strenuous opposition that fasting has had to face from the medical profession and from laymen alike, has merely served to advertise its possibilities and the simplicity and reasonableness of the claims made for it. The benefits that flow from a properly conducted fast are such that we do not hesitate to predict that it is the one procedure in disease that will be universally employed when it is once fully understood.
The literature of fasting is not well known to the average doctor of whatever school. Few of them have made a study of the subject. Likewise, they have had no experience with fasting and lack confidence in its application. A brief review of the history of fasting will serve, therefore, as a background to the subject and will give confidence to practitioner and patient.
As will be shown later, fasting for the many purposes for which it has been employed, has been in use since before the dawn of history. Indeed, it may be said that it is as old as life. As a procedure in the care of the sick, it fell almost wholly into disuse during the Dark Ages and was revived only a little over a hundred years ago.
Records of fasting are found among almost all peoples in both ancient and modern times. Our encyclopedias tell us that, although the objectives of fasting vary among individuals, the aims of fasting fall, for the most part, into two distinct categories: (1) fasting for reasons of spiritual enlightenment, self-discipline and other religious motives; and (2) fasting for the purpose of achieving political ends. Unfortunately the writers of articles on fasting in the encyclopedias have limited themselves too severely in their studies of fasting; perhaps they have done this for the distinct purpose of suppressing many important truths about fasting. Writers of articles for encyclopedias are not addicted to the commendable habit of telling the truth and they are usually from ten to a hundred years behind the march of knowledge.
The authors of the articles on fasting in the various encyclopedias seem to confine their reading and bibliographies to religious fasting. Although none of the present-day encyclopedias that I have consulted carries the old statement that if a man goes without food for six days his heart will collapse and he will die, they carry statements almost as absurd. For example, the article on starvation in the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Americana carries the statement that the "preliminary" hunger is accompanied with "severe pain," in the stomach and epigastric region generally, thirst "becomes intense," "the face assumes, meanwhile an anxious, pale expression; * * * the skin is said to become covered with a brown secretion." It speaks of the "decomposition and organic decay of the tissues," as though the fasting person is undergoing a rotting process. "The gait totters, the mind becomes impaired, delirium and convulsions may ensue and death occurs." "From 8 to 10 days is regarded as the usual period during which human life can be supported without food or drink. * * * A case is recorded in which some workmen were dug out alive after fourteen days in confinement in a cold, damp vault; and another is mentioned in which a miner was extricated alive after being shut up in a mine for twenty-three days, during the first ten of which he subsisted on a little dirty water. He died, however, three days after his release."
There is, in this description, and there is much more to it (I have merely repeated the high-lights), of "starvation," no differentiation between fasting and starving, little differentiation between fasting with and fasting without water, and a gross exaggeration of the actual developments, together with the addition of fictional elements that are drawn from the realm of the imagination. The bibliography at the end of this section lists exactly three publications one of these dated 1884-5, one dated 1847 and the other dated 1915. But the most important part of the 1915 publication is entirely ignored.
Physiologists who discuss fasting, or as they prefer to term it, starvation, are as prone, as are the writers of articles for the encyclopedias, to rely upon a limited and antiquated bibliography. Howell, for example, in his Textbook of Physiology, a standard text, relies largely upon Voit. He gives as a bibliography of "original sources," Virchows's Archives, Vol. 131, Supplement 1893; Luciani's Das Hungern, 1890, Weber's Ergebnisse der Physiologie, Vol. 1, part 1, 1902, and finally Benedict's A Study of Prolonged Fasting, Carnegie Institute, No. 203, 1915.
Such deliberate suppression of all the accumulated information about fasting makes it extremely difficult for the student of the subject to learn the truth about fasting. Coupled with this suppression of information is the habitual failure of all standard authors to distinguish between fasting and starving. Is this done through ignorance, or is it done with malice aforethought; is it done for the deliberate purpose of prejudicing the student against the subject? I leave this for the reader to draw his own conclusions.
Fasting in its modern phase had its beginning with Dr. Jennings in the first quarter of the last century. Jennings may be said to have stumbled upon it by accident at a time when his waning faith in drugs caused him to look for other and more dependable means of caring for the sick.