REST AND RECUPERATION
With slight differences the physiology of digestion in all mammals is markedly similar. In disease the lower mammalia abstain from food until hunger returns, when health is rapidly recovered. To this they are impelled by instinct, by animal sagacity, a faculty implanted by nature in the whole of animate creation. The fasts which animals instinctively undergo in disease are phenomena which cannot help but be constantly observed, but which are not in general intelligently perceived. A common expression in reference to illness in the horse embodies the phrase, "off his feed," and this negation on the part of the animal confirms the existence an instinctive sense that impels it to fast when its physical well-being is overturned. And this natural spontaneous impulse is not confined to mammals, for birds, reptiles, in fact the whole animal kingdom, abstain from food when ailing. A python in captivity has been known to fast for thirteen months, with great loss in weight, it is true, but with eventual recuperation and recovery. And cats and canines often prolong abstention to skeleton condition, after which strength and vitality progressively increase until normal is again attained. Instances such as these may be multiplied indefinitely.
While not occasioned by the invasion of disease, it is interesting to note in this connection that condition of lethargy undergone by certain animals during the winter months, known as hibernation, a condition in which the functions of the body are in great measure suspended. How a warm-blooded animal used to the most stirring activities during eight or nine months of the year can retire to a den, and from an ordinary sleep, which it is at first, pass into a condition of torpor in which all the organs that have to do with digestion, assimilation, and waste, excepting the lungs, suspend their functions and remain quiescent for a period of several months, is more or less a sealed book to science.
In man and the non-hibernating animals the action of the body functions are continuous awake or asleep, but in the bear, the marmot, the prairie dog, during the hibernating period, the functions of digestion, assimilation, and elimination are suspended until the animal awakens in the spring.
A bear, if sufficiently fat, begins to fast some weeks before he retires to winter quarters; but, if there has been lack of food, or, if the animal is old, with poor teeth, it will eat to the very day of entering its den, and this last meal will be found in the stomach when the revival from winter sleep takes place.
The average bear at the beginning of hibernation is covered with a layer of fat that varies from two to six inches in thickness, and, if the animal is killed at this time and the fat removed from the carcass, the latter is found plump and full-fleshed. But, killed after some months in the den, a heavier layer of fat is discovered, with a diminution in lean flesh, which by this time has become lax and flabby in texture. The carcass, then stripped of its fat, will be noticeably smaller than that of a bear of similar size killed in the fall or in the early winter.
There is then evidently a continual process of change from nitrogenous to carbonaceous tissue proceeding while the winter sleep of the hibernating animal endures; and, in this transmutation of muscle into fat, lies perhaps the secret of the torpor in which the bear is wrapped. For, when a bear first goes into his den, his sleep is natural, and he is easily aroused. But, left undisturbed, sleep develops into stupor; respiration and circulation are the only evidences of life, and they are both retarded in action. Carbon resulting from the change of protein into fat within the system, is retained in the blood, because all of the organs of elimination, excepting the lungs, are without function; and respiration is so slow that there is continuously an excess of carbonic acid gas in the blood stream, and a consequent condition of toxication, of torpor.
At times during hibernation the female bear will bring her young into the world, and then milk is elaborated in amount sufficient to maintain the cubs. The birth of young and the physiological chemistry of continued milk production in the fasting, torpor-ridden bear have particular interest here, analogous as these phenomena are to the related cases in the text of pregnant women proceeding to confinement, but fasting for weeks the while.
A hibernating bear never soils his den with urine or ordure, for no waste is formed, consequently none is voided. But, after the period of winter sleep is over, the animal feeds ravenously upon young clover and grass, and extreme purging results, with succeeding rapid reduction of the fatty tissue formed as described while coma lasted.
A certain degree of cold is necessary before a bear can hibernate, but, in so far as may be ascertained, body temperature remains at standard during the experience. That is, the animal is warm to the touch, although it is in a state of constant shivering. Analogy is again evident between this condition and what is termed herein "fasters' chilliness."
Omitting from consideration mental conditions, such as fear and worry, which of necessity react upon the physical body, and setting aside severe and more or less continuous physical suffering, the average human being cannot die from lack of food for several months. This statement of fact is verified constantly in the employment of fasting as a therapeutic measure, and it has recently been brought to public attention and conclusively substantiated in instances to which reference is now made.
It would appear that the medical profession in whole or in greater part has been egregiously in ignorance of the resources of the human body when for any cause it is denied nourishment. The various encyclopedias, notably Britannica, until revisions were made in 1921, carried articles on inanition and fasting, which asserted over medical signature that from ten to fourteen days marked the extreme limit to which the human body would endure in the absence of food. In other words, starvation and death would occur were nourishment denied for approximately the period of time named. While doubt may have existed in the minds of the more advanced among the medical fraternity, revision of these articles was definitely occasioned only by the comparatively recent "hunger strike" of Terence McSwiney, former Lord Mayor of Cork, Ireland, and of several of his political colleagues.
The charge upon which Lord Mayor McSwiney was convicted, and for which he was sentenced to two years in Brixton prison, England, was that of sedition against British government. He began to serve his sentence in August, 1920, and upon his incarceration, in protest against what he considered an unjust trial and conviction, he refused to eat. In spite of constant persuasion and attempts at forced feeding, McSwiney's fasting continued until October 25th, 1920, a period of seventy-four days, when his death occurred. McSwiney was quite cognizant of the details of the method of fasting for the cure of disease, and in so far as was possible in prison surroundings, he made use of the hygienic accessories that are described herein. His familiarity with the writings of the author of this text accounted for the knowledge that permitted him to continue his fast without succumbing for two and one-half months. McSwiney might, and, in the opinion of the writer, would have lived longer had it not been that, in the latter days of his life, he became too weak to prevent efforts on the part of the jail physician to force food upon him, and, when he lapsed into unconsciousness because of strength overstrained and nerves tensed beyond limit through resistance, strychnine was injected into his veins as a heart stimulant, and he died.
Of McSwiney's political colleagues, also imprisoned and also on "hunger strike," one died after sixty-eight days of fasting, while the others all endured until McSwiney's death and after. It is reported that one of these men continued his fast for the extremely lengthy period of ninety days. And it is to be noted that, with the exception of that seditionist who succumbed at the end of sixty-eight days, all of the others, who fasted much longer than McSwiney himself, resumed feeding and rapidly recuperated to a condition of body ultimately superior to that which was theirs before they undertook their "hunger strike."
Earlier in the text cases were cited that underwent abstinence from food for periods ranging from eleven to seventy-five days. And it is to be remembered that these cases resorted to the method because they were ill, and that some of them were in an extreme state of emaciation to begin with. Yet, although no food was ingested, life was supported, functional processes were restored, and recovery resulted.
In one instance, a patient of the writer during a period of 140 days fasted absolutely 118 days. This case was bedridden, and had been so for years; the body was emaciated, and chronic functional disease and confinement to bed had caused progressive wasting of the muscles. Yet, as a consequence of the bodily purification resulting from abstinence from food, not only was great relief experienced, but recovery, save in minor degree, the aftermath of muscular non-use, occurred.
If, then, the body can exist without
food for an extended time, and, if in illness the stomach instinctively
objects, as it does, to ingestion, it is reasonable to infer that food
not desired is not at this time necessary for bodily maintenance; and,
once accepted as true, this inference is abundantly justified. The results
of a practical and scientific application of the method of systemic
purification defined herein are such as to lead to the conclusion that,
in the absence of serious structural defects in vital organs, abstinence
from food, accompanied by its natural health-restoring and health-preserving
accessories, is the unfailing remedy for relief from functional ills.
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