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.
The heart muscle does not diminish appreciably, deriving its sustenance from the less essential tissues. Its rate of pulsion varies greatly, rising and falling as the needs of the system demand. Studying the respiration rate, Benedict noted various minor fluctuations and arrived at the conclusion that "at least during the first two days of the fast, the pulse rate is much more liable to fluctuations than the respiration rate." That fasting benefits the heart is certain from the results obtained in functional and even in organic heart "disease" during a fast. This arises from three chief causes--namely, (1) it removes the constant stimulation of the heart; (2) it takes a heavy load off the heart and permits it to rest; (3) it purifies the blood thus nourishing the heart with better food.
The heart that is pulsating at the rate of 80 times a minute pulsates 115,200 times in twenty-four hours. Shortly after the fast is instituted, the heart rate decreases and, while it may temporarily go much below 60 pulsations a minute, it ultimately settles at 60 beats a minute and remains there for the duration of the fast. This is 86,400 pulsations in twenty-four hours, or 28,800 fewer pulsations each day than it was doing before the fast.
This represents a decrease of twenty-five per cent of the work of the heart. The saving in work is seen not merely in the reduction of the number of pulsations, but also in the vigor or force of the pulsations. It all sums up to a real vacation--a rest--for the heart. During this rest the heart repairs its damaged structures and replenishes its tissues.
As shown elsewhere, the heart muscle loses only three per cent by the time death occurs from starvation. As in other essential tissues the loss of this small per cent occurs after the exhaustion of the body's nutritive reserves--that is, during the starvation period. This ability of the body to nourish the heart during a prolonged fast is a sure guarantee against damage to the heart resulting from the fast.
Reviewing the chief historical cases of fasting with reference to the pulse beat, Benedict shows that in some cases the pulse remained "normal," and in others it rose or fell. As a result of his review of these cases and of his own series of short experimental fasts, he arrived at no definite conclusions. Carrington says: "That the heart is invariably strengthened and invigorated by fasting is true beyond a doubt. * * * I take the stand that fasting is the greatest of all strengtheners of weak hearts--being, in fact, its only rational, physiological cure." He attributes the benefits that accrue to the heart while fasting to increased rest, a purer blood stream and absence of stimulation.
The recovery of the heart from serious impairment during a fast ( I have had complete and permanent recoveries in what were thought to be incurable organic heart affections), proves that the added rest the fast affords the heart and the general renovation of the body, enable it to repair itself.
Dr. Eales says: "Instead of the heart growing weak during a fast it grows stronger every hour as the load it has been carrying is lessened." High blood pressure is invariably lowered and this removes a heavy load from the heart.
On the 15th day of his fast, friends of Dr. Eales brought him the news account of the sudden death of a man in Washington, D. C., while on a fast. The papers attributed the death to the fast, and friends of Dr. Bales warned him of heart failure. Dr. Bales replied to their warnings: "This man's death was not caused by the fast, in fact the fast lengthened his life, for if he had not been fasting he would undoubtedly have died a week or more earlier. He probably resorted to the fast to save his life, but it was too late; his light was too nearly burned out when he started. How many times do we hear of dying after a full meal, when making an after-dinner speech or sitting in their chairs and expiring! That, of course, is regular, but to die when the heart is resting and doing less work than when one is eating, when it is simply worn and run down from overwork, is always attributed to fasting, if the person is fasting at the time of death."
Of the many thousands who die yearly of heart trouble, probably not more than three or four are fasting at the time of their death. In my own practice one death from "heart failure" has occurred during a fast. The patient had been greatly overweight for years, with high blood pressure, nervous troubles, glaucoma, and gave a history of diabetes. Quite naturally the failure of her heart was attributed to the fast and the fact that people in her condition die every day from "heart failure" who have not been fasting, but feeding, escapes notice. Wm. J. Bryan, who never fasted, ate a hearty meal, went to bed for an afternoon nap and never woke up. These things occur daily.
The woman was many pounds overweight at death and there could be no suggestion of starvation in this case. There were ample food reserves left in her body for another forty to fifty days of fasting.
I attribute the collapse of the heart in the above case to fear. That fear was present was manifest. That the woman had the suggestion of starvation and death dinned into her ears every day of her fast and had the suggestion intensified after the heart became affected is certain. Sudden deaths from fear, shock, etc., are not unknown nor even uncommon.
"How many times," asks Dr. Eales, in discussing the effects of fear in the fast, "have we heard of sad news producing prostration or a fit of sickness; a mother's milk becoming poison during a fit of anger causing sickness to her nursing babe, and in some instances even death?"
Again he says: "I find that so long as the mind is free from worry and fear there is not a particle of danger. It is only when the subconscious mind has suggestions of weakness and fear that the body or any of its organs become weak."