In Samrities, Puranas, Upnishads, Vedas ans Shastras and recent Yogic texts, the science and art of fasting has been widely acclaimed as a fourfold method of purification, i.e. at physical, mental, emotional and spiritual planes, and further more it also acts as an aid to develop contact with the inner being (self or inner consciousness). Considering the facts that our ancients devised systems with the primary goal to enable man to transcend his consciousness into the higher realms, and also that their theories were based on the sole fact that the man should act in tune with the law of nature, the system of fasting as propounded by the Ancients, is also claimed to induce coordination and synchronisation of man’s biological rhythms very much in line with the cycles of nature. One of nature’s most obvious and fundamental rhythm is observed in the two phases in the moon’s monthly cycle of light and darkness, each phase consisting of 15 days: (i) Waxing of moon-light fortnight “Shukalpaksh”, and (ii) Waning of moon-dark fortnight “Krishanpaksh”. Scientifically it is well established that the tides of the ocean rise during full moon and ebb during the dark moon. Considering the human body consisting of 90% of water alone, the phases of the moon are likely to affect the man’s biological rhythms. According to ancient texts, the system of fasting is based on the different stages of the monthly cycle of the moon’s waxing and waning which in turn is claimed to affect women in particular through their monthly cycle of menstruation, and that’s why probably, the fasting is practised more frequently and extensively by women. Table-LVTI-I gives a glimpse of specificity of the specific day of fasting and the motive/ pretext or belief behind each fasting day, as described in Ancient Shastras.
The sole motive thus behind the fast, however, seems to be to rise above the influence of the five senses. Fasting, perhaps has been systematically advocated in the scriptures, simply as a tool to align the physical and subtle bodies to enable attain a sustained equilibrium in every aspect of life in an individual. Put more concretely, the various systems of fasting seem to have been formulated to enable people to experience the real essence of life. The scientific investigations done in the recent past have also corroborated that fasting tends to make mind calm settled and more serene. In ancient literature, the system of fasting, or “Vrat” has been held with high esteem for inducing predominance of qualities of “Sattvik Tatva” (Sattvik elements) in mind, because satvik mind is claimed to be predominantly more receptive. In Tapovanshant paras, fasting has been referred to as “Param Tapa” or “Supreme Austerity”.
FASTING—ASTONISHING OBSERVATIONS BY FAMOUS PEOPLE :
- Benedict – a scientist, observed that fasting improved visual acuity, mental sharpness and reaction time.
- Benjamin Franklin fasted regularly throughout his life-time and lived lively till the end of his life.
- Dr. Herbert M. Shelton – Clinician, reported the case of an elderly man who, after years of impotence, fasted for 31 days and regained virility.
- Pythagoras – Mathematician, found that fasting sharpened the mind so brilliantly, that he forced all his students to fast before undertaking examination.
- Mark Twain – American Writer, combated any illness that befell him, by fasting alone.
- Mahatma Gandhi – Father of the Indian Nation, undertook fast many times during his life time and narrated that fasting acts as an aid to .purify “Self1 and found it a very useful tool for those who are interested in heightening the clarity of thought, vision, memory and action.
SEVEN CAUSATIVE STRESS FACTORS FOR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM :
- Rapid pace of modem life hurry, worry and curry.
- Iregular meal times and tongue pal-atability.
- Toxic addictives in food.
- Lack of exercise and outdoor living.
- Over-eating and over-work.
- Frantic activities giving rise to increased physical and mental tensions and over-stimulation and excitment or dejection.
- Polluted air, polluted environment and faulty aspects of living.
SIXTEEN SPECULATIVE REASONS FOR UNDERTAKING FAST :
- To reduce body weight effectively to reshape the body figure.
- To provide physiological rest to different organ-systems of the body e.g. digestive, glandular, circulatory, respiratory, musculo-skeletal and nervous sytems etc.
- To rid the physical body of accumulated waste metabolic products, i.e. to cleanse the body of toxic products due to faulty metabolism, resultant of food/beverage, preservatives, addictives, and environment pollutants including D.D.T.
- To help operate and restore body’s defence mechanisms (Immune- System) effectively.
- To prevent disease and maintain body-mind-consciousness complex in a positive state of wellness.
- To reset/restore the overburdened digestive system at optimum functional level.
- To improve assimilation of end products of digestion.
- To replenish the lost vitality of body-mind-consciousness complex.
- To help prevent aging and other degenerative processes and increase logevity.
- To re-vitalise and rejuvenate the ‘psyche’.
- To enhance the cellular-repair and general wear and tear of body tissnes.
- To normalise the functioning of secretary, digestive and endocrine glands, viz. liver, pancreas, thyroid, adrenals pituitary and so forth.
- To help accelerate and regenerate body’s own tissues.
- To exhilerate the regeneration of new body cells to replace the aged and dying To promote overall health, well-being and state of positive wellness at physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spritual planes.
- To restore the reserves of nervous energy and nervous system to its natural harmonious state of functioning.
PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF FASTING :
Although many scientists and researchers working in different laboratories all over the globe have carried out research studies with the primary objectives to determine the underlying mechanism of action by which the fasting therapy rehabilitates and re-corrects the abnormal and unbalanced psychophysiological systems, yet how does the act of fasting tend to normalise the functioning of different organs and systems of the body and mind thereby rendering restoration of health, so efficiently and effectively as has been widely acclaimed in the ancient treatises, still constitutes a moot question for modern investigators? Many scientists, Kasamatsu and Hirai, 1966, Banquet, 1973; Suzuki, etal, 1976, and YamaMotoetal 1979, have made an attempt to investigate the effects of fasting (i) on changes in functioning of nervous system as measured electroence phalographically (EEG) through recording of brain waves and rhythms and (ii) on changes in functioning of various endocrine glands by way of determining the changes in levels of different hormonal secretions. The findings of these studies have suggested that the act of fasting tends to modulate and equilibriate the functioning of both the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system at the baseline level without any disruptive influence.
Fasting — Slowing-DOWN of brain waves :
Suzuki et al in 1976, studied changes in the brain waves from 262 fasting patients and observed a slowing and synchronisation of “alpha waves” together with an increased incidence of “theta-waves”. These observations are suggestive of a more relaxed and introspective state of inner awareness, which is less concerned with the superficial and transitory patterns of thought that characterise the normal waking stage. Similarly brain-wave alterations were recorded in Zen-Meditators by Kasamatsu and Hirai (1966) separately and by Anand, Chinna and Singh (1961), in Indian Yogis, and by Banquet (1973) in subjects practising intensive meditation. These findings suggest that fasting and meditation exert more or less similar psychophysiological influences on the brain and nervous system.
The significant slowing of brain-waves suggests that fasting induces a transient slowing down of the Central Nervous System functioning mechanisms. It mayalso seem plausible that fasting might induce changes in the functioning of autonomic nerves and endocrine glands. An over-active autonomic nervous system, which constantly relays abnormal mental and psychic stresses into the physiological systems, produces many psychosomatic symptoms and diseased states. Through fasting and meditation, these stresses may possibly be removed, allowing thereby the mechanisms responsible for controlling blood-pressure, respiration, cardiac activity, gastro-intestinal secretion and motility etc. to revert spontaneously to a more natural level of functioning. This conclusion is further corroborated by a Japanese study of 380 fasting patients where the peak frequency of EEG decreased significantly at the end of 5th to 6th day of fasting period. In addition, the overload of fast-beta waves (indicative of both mental as well as physical stress), observed in the pre-fasting period decreased during the fasting period and did not re-appear again in the same fashion after the recovery phase. Though, the details of the experimental procedures are however, not mentioned, yet the emergence of fast-beta waves in the pre-fasting period are, however, suggestive of anxiety, tension, neuroticism, psychoticism and irritation. Their dissappearance on EEG, may thus be an objective indication that fasting either partially particularly or even totally tends to set at ease the manifestation of stressful symptoms. This study however, needs further evaluation in terms of the number of days of fasting involved, standardization of fasting method adopted, and follow-up of the recovery phase after fasting at timed intervals.
Fasting – Endocrine functions
Disordered function of the various endocrine glands, with their secretions of abnormal and ill-timed pouring of varied quantities of hormones into the blood stream is considered to be another potent cause of physiological disruption. Besides, this, the abnormal and arrthymic blood concentrations of gonadal, pituitary, adrenal and thyroid hormones, are now recognised to be a major determinant of unhealthy, emotional and psychological states profoundly affecting mental health and sense of well-being.
Endocrinologists now-a-days are able to assess the functions of the hypothala-mus-pituitary – adrenal axis of glands by measuring the levels of hormone by-products found in the urine and the blood. During fasting, a decline in the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary- adrenal exis has been reported (Toheku, 1979). In this study, after the initial burst of secretions, a stable or refractory resistance period has been observed during which the capacity of the glands to respond to any incoming stimuli is severely depressed. These findings also suggest that the refractory period, so obtained after fasting, may provide a period of rest and rehabilitation for the long overburdened physiological and metabolic processes, allowing them to regain the optimal level of basic function.
The details of this experimental study particularly in terms of (i) which of the types of hormones have been studied and (ii) what were the experimental details of pre, during and post-fasting periods, have not been made available to the author. These aspects of the study, therefore, need further scientific evaluation before any conclusive comments could be made.
MECHANICS OF FASTING
The extraordinary effectiveness of fasting in (i) rejuvenating and revitalising the body; (ii) providing physiological rest to various overtaxed organ-systems of the body, and (iii) maintaining the body towards the positive state of wellness is possibly depicted in its mechanics explained hereinbelow:
(1) “Fasting is likely to bum and digest i.e., metabolise its own tissues. The process of decomposition begins with those toxic substances and those tissues which are diseased, damaged or of no metabolic value. This physiological process of self-dissolving or self-digesting its own normal fatty and muscular tissues is known as “autolysis”. Metabolism, in fact, is the process by which food particles absorbed through the stomach and intestine are converted into complex molecular substances which form the cells and tissues in the body. During the process, energy is released to continue to maintain the functioning of the body. The food not used either as energy or as new cellular material is stored both in the liver — in the form of glycogen, as a ready source of energy, for overall body use and in the muscles—in the form of fats and proteins for quick muscular activity.
Normally the vital functions of the body are fuelled mainly by glucose, but during fasting, the vital functions of the body are performed, in the beginning, by using its principal store-house of glycogen, by converting it into glucose when needed. Additionally, both the proteins of muscles and the fatty tissues stored in fat depots provide the essential ingredients for further conversion into glucose. Fasting researchers have observed that after utilization of reserves of stored material, the breakdown of non-essential tissues occurs at a much more rapid rate in comparison to those tissues which are vital to its maintenance. Laboratory investigations have demonstrated that during a protracted fast for 24 days, the skeletal muscles, lose 42% of their weight whereas an essential organ like the eyes loses only about 3%. It has also been demonstrated that during a fast the less essential tissues provide nourishment to more essential tissues. Table-LVII-II gives the details of percentage loss of weight of various tissues following a 24 days fast in a mammalian body.
(2) Cahill, (1967, 1970) while working on consumption of fuels as well as fat and nitrogen metabolism during fasting discovered that body adapts to fasting in several ways mentioned below :
(i) By lessening the body’s need for calories, mainly brought about by way of two factors (a) slowing down of basal metabolic rate, and (b) losing metabolically active tissues.
(ii) By controlling the loss of proteins. This may be interpreted as that fasting helps losing tissues which normally demand calories by way of nutrients,
(iii) Muscular cells cut down the release of analine, whereas liver reduces synthesis of glucose and virtually all of this glucose is directed to the brain as the later requires four times as much glucose as compared to other vital organs, (iv) Cahill, discovered that during fasting the body adapted itself by utilizing the increased ke-tone bodies—the resultant product of breakdown of fatty tissues, as a substitute source of energy in place of glucose. This process spares body proteins. Krebs, further demonstrated that the brain has the necessary enzymes for utilizing ketones, as a source of energy. However, this complex mechanism, probably, is an emergency procedure, as a life saving measure. This emergency measure, however, does not prevent breakdown of muscle-tissue protein during prolonged fasting, (v) Pasters demonstrate less thirst which is primarily due to an attempt to conserve as much protein as possible, as a result the excretion of nitrogen in the form of urea (the chief waste product of urine), is stopped, which means that less water is needed to flush urea out of the system, (vi) It has also been demonstrated that on every fast, the secretions from adrenals atop the kidneys, begin to synthesize even more glucose from amino-acids than does the liver.
57.7 FASTING – APPLIED ASPECTS :
Therapeutic response to fasting has been used for a wide range^ of disorders which include (i) obesity, (ii) diabetes, (iii) high blood pressure, (iv) ulcers, (v) arthritis, (vi) skin disorders, (vii) tumours, (viii) asthma, and other broncho pulmonary disorders, (ix) goitre, Jxl varicose veins, (xi) heart troubles (xii) neuro asthenia (chronic nervous exhaustion), (xiii) mental disorders like anxiety neurosis, depression, schizophrenia etc.
Although fasting is claimed to provide a high degree of recovery or improvement in the above mentioned bodily and mental disorders, it is, however, not the only method to provide remedy to these and other serious diseases as has been vouched for by fasting ^specialists, as a uniquely efficient and innocuous form of therapy. Table-LVII-III gives the statistics of various human disorders treated with fasting and their response to treatment. The results in Table LVIWII suggest that fasting acts as a potent tool for providing relief/remedy and even reversal and halting of various ills of modern times. In the light of it being an efficient tool for treating patients presenting a wide range of bodily disorders, it is worth introducing fasting on an experimental trial to evaluate scientifically in a more systematic manner, its efficacy by standardizing the methods and procedures of fasting, its effects on body changes and its potential applicational value in combating illnesses as this area of research has hithertofore remained unexplained and unexplored in India.