Fasting is the act of not eating food or drinking liquid other than water for varying lengths of time. Fasting, not to be confused with starvation, has been used for thousands of years and is used as medical treatment for many conditions, both physical and psychological. Fasting can be a useful method to prevent disease and improve overall health. Hippocrates, Paracelsus and Ayurvedic medicine attested to the medical benefits of fasting. Fasting is also a common spiritual or religious tradition. Fasting is an accepted naturopathic treatment for many illnesses and chronic conditions (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2014). For the purpose of this review I will be concentrating on fasting as a method of disease prevention.
The texts evaluated are The True Science of Living, by Dr E H Dewey (1894), McFadden’s Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise, by B MacFadden and F Oswald (1903), and Fasting for the Cure of Disease, by Dr L B Hazzard (1912). I selected the first texts because it is written as a series of lectures based on original investigation into the topic of fasting. The two (2) later texts were chosen because they heavily reference Dr E H Dewey as well as Dr Isaac Jenning who authored Medical Reform (1847).
The True Science of Living (Dewey 1894) is a series of lectures which begin with the Author’s background as a surgeon in the Army. Dr E H Dewey earned his medical degree from the University of Michigan. His interest in the topic of fasting began whilst conducting post mortems. The physiological relationship between food and the human body is explained in medical terms. Illustrative cases of his own and other physician’s patients are used as empirical evidence. The lectures include the evolution of disease and cure, and a discussion on insanity and germ theory of disease. Lecture XXVII is specifically for his fellow physicians. The texts described how to begin a fast but it lacks in explaining any precautions that should be taken or any possible side effects of fasting. The eighteen (18) page introduction to the text is written by Reverend George Pentecost and is his personal account of his own fasting experience. He describes how he no longer suffers headaches, his weight loss and the improvement in his complexion, clarity of his eyes and his increased mental alertness. There is a fair amount of religious jargon but that is to be expected when you consider his profession.
Fasting, Hydropathy & Exercise (MacFadden and Oswald 1903) is an empirical study based on Dr E H Dewey’s findings (1894). Within the fasting section, there are five (5) chapters which discuss physiological data, a plan for fasting, restrictions, protracted fasts and a first-hand account of a seven (7) day fast by one of the authors. They theorise about fasting in the animal kingdom and how nature assists us when we are ill by reducing our appetite. The True Science of Living (Dewey 1894) is heavily referenced and directly quoted throughout the text. There are also historical references such as the forty (40) day fast of Buddha Shakyamuni approximately 500 BC. The text is written with less medical jargon than The True Science of Living (Dewey 1894) and is more of a manual on how to live a healthful life with the aid of fasting, hydropathy and exercise. The final chapter covers detailed treatment plans for specific conditions. The treatments are of a holistic nature and I would consider them to be of sound advice even today.
Fasting for the Cure of Disease (Hazzard 1912) also heavily references The True Science of Living (Dewey 1894). Dr E H Dewey is acknowledged in the preface as her mentor. Dr L Hazzard acknowledges that her theories are not original but her research has been conducted through medical autopsies. Dr L Hazzard also references the Doctrines of Unity in the Cause and Cure of Disease which covers the investigation of thousands of cases over a period of sixteen (16) years. Experiments carried out by Professor Irving Fisher of Yale University are also used in Dr L Hazzard’s research. She claims to connect the origin of disease with the immediate cause of death whilst being free from the effects of drugs. Dr Hazzard includes a glossary of medical and technical terms to assist the reader who is not a physician. I found the text sufficiently detailed in the why, how and when of fasting as a medical treatment and prevention of disease. Dr L Hazzard took Dr E H Dewey’s findings and researched them in greater detail in a medical and scientific manner.
The three (3) texts reviewed are all original texts that draw the same conclusions on fasting as a suitable medical treatment plan and preventative measure against disease. They are comprehensive in the knowledge of the human body and the theory of fasting. There are some differences in the way the authors suggest one should conduct a fast. Dr E H Dewey (1894) recommends fasting for extended periods, greater than three (3) days at a time. Dr L Hazzard (1912) approaches the fast on an individual basis, whereby one size does not fit all. McFadden and Oswald (1903) suggest reducing our overall intake of food to one meal per day for the long term as a way of preventing disease. I found the texts to be thorough in their findings and believe they contain information that the reader can use today to improve their overall well-being.
Dewey, E 1895, the True Science of Living: The New Gospel of Health, the Henry Bill Publishing Company, London.
Encyclopaedia Britannica 2014, Fasting (religious practice), viewed 17 Sep 2014, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/202347/fasting
Hazzard, L 1912, Fasting for the cure of disease, the Physical Culture Publishing Company, New York.
Jennings, I 1847, Medical Reform, Fitch & Jennings, Ohio.
MacFadden, B and Oswald, F 1903, MacFadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise, Bernarr MacFadden, London.