Treating Disease with Fasting

Man lives on one quarter of what he eats, on the other three quarters, his doctor lives.”  – Inscription on a 5000 year old Egyption pyramid

Hippocrates Oath 1st  principle of "First Do No Harm" is a call to Fasting Therapy

Hippocrates Oath 1st principle of “First Do No Harm” is a call to Fasting Therapy

One of  the great Greek physicians’ Hippocrates most sited quotes is “let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. It is what he said immediately following that pivotal statement though that I’ll take up in this weeks post.

Hippocrates full statement was “let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food, but to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness“.

Hipprocrates believed that fasting assisted the body in healing itself, and so prescribed fasting during the critical periods of disease. In modern times, the likes of Paul Bragg, (“The Miracle of Fasting” ) and Dr Joel Fuhrman (“Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease“) have done much to bring fasting back into the medical treatment domain.

In honouring the Hippocrates oath, being to “First do no harm” Fuhrman writes that “recognising the most important foundation of healing the sick, even today, is the remarkable recuperative power inherent in the human body. This power of self repair is most evidently witnessed when fasting.”

Fuhrman has successfully used fasting to treat patients with a vast array of problems, from headaches, to hypoglycemia, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, colitis, psoriasis, lupus, and uterine fibroids.

Rangi Fredricks in her extensively researched book, Fasting – An Exceptional Human Experience sites enormous quantities of scientific studies demonstrating fasting being used to treat diseases ranging from arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, epilepsy, gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension and obesity.

Looking at some of the research into these common modern day diseases, makes a compelling case for the medicinal value of fasting.

Fasting and Diabetes 

In 1919, before insulin was discovered physician Fredrick Allen began using fasting to prolong the lives of his type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetic patients (a fatal disease at the time). Allen recommended a strict fasting regimen which became known as “The Allen Plan” (or Diabetic Diet) which was largely based on drastic calorie reduction (particularly carbohydrate). Interestingly, it’s now known that (water) fasting is not permissible for Type 1 Diabetes as they can not break down the ketones that are produced during fasting and use them as fuel. In these patients, the ketones build up in the body and create highly acidic, damaging conditions. Therapeutic fasting has however been found via numerous studies to improve the health in people with type II diabetes.

In 1984, Scandinavian researches found that treat obese type II diabetes patients with fasting and calorie restriction (200 calories per day) led to the normalization of blood glucose and disappearance of urinary glucose.  In more recent years, a fascinating documentary Raw for 30 Days was filmed at Dr Gabriel Cousens‘ Healing Retreat Center in Arizona. Dr Cousens has written extensively on the therapeutic fasting and calorie restriction and applied these principles in treating a group of diabetics in the “Raw for 30 days” study with extraordinary results.

Fasting and treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders

Fasting gives the digestive tract a break from processing food, allowing it time to rest. Various studies have demonstrated that drugs to treat GI disorders such as gastric ulcers or acute pancreatitis were more effective when taken in conjunction with patients fasting. A 2006 Japanese study investigated fasting as a treatment for patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who had not responded to drug therapy. Fasting therapy was shown to significantly improve 7 out of the 10 symptoms assessed. By comparison, the control therapy significantly improved only 3 out of the 10 symptoms assessed. According to Dr Joel Fuhrman, other GI conditions which also respond well to therapeutic fasting are inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Fasting and Cancer

Scientist have known since 2007 that intermittent, water only fasting can help patients withstand higher doses of chemotherapy by reducing the side effects and protecting normal cells against much of the damage caused the drug.  A 2008  study at the University of California found that eating every other day decreased cell proliferation rates, an effect known to reduce the development of cancers. Another study published in “Cancer Research” in 2010 involving rats injected with cancer, found that those who had fasting imposed upon them, had their IGF-1 levels reduced, which is an effect known to prolong life. Additionally, when the mice received chemotherapy, none of the normal diet rats survived, whereas 60% of fasted rats survived.  A group of researchers in 2012 also found that fasting had the potential to be at least as effective as fasting for treating some types of cancers. Their results were published in the journal Science Translational Medicineconcluding that cycles of 2 to 4 days of fasting were as effective as chemotherapy agents in delaying progression of certain tumors.

An explanation for how fasting may assist in cancer therapy was put forward by Valter Longo in explaining his research studies, ” A way to beat cancer cells may not be to try to find drugs that kill them specifically but to confuse them by generating extreme environments, such as fasting that only normal cells can quickly respond to.”  This was after they observed that when normal cells were deprived of nutrients, they entered a dormant state similar to hibernation, whereas the cancer cells attempted to continue to grow and divide. In their deprived (fasted) state however, damaging free radicals were formed which ended up killing the cancer cells.

Finally, repeated studies have shown that fasting has an immunostimulating effect, which may be part of why it can be so effective in helping to treat certain types of cancer. Specifically, during fasting, blood pictures reveal an increased number of white blood cells that occur as serum fats are lowered and the thinner blood permits an increased oxygenation of tissues.

The above is just a small cross section of the mountains of modern day scientific research that is demonstrating the value of therapeutic fasting in treatment of disease. There are a number of other conditions, particularly auto-immune disease where fasting therapy is having dramatic results. I’ll save writing on that to perhaps another post.

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Aaron Travers is author of “The Boda Fast – a three step plan to lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality”.  Aaron writes at and shares his ideas and experiences on health and wellbeing from his personal life and through working with clients clinically and those doing his “supported fasting” programs.  Every Friday he sends out his newsletter, click below to subscribe.

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Bragg, Paul: The Miracle of Fasting

Cousens, Gabriel: M.D Spiritual Nutrition

Fuhrman, Joel M.D:  Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease

Fredricks, Rangi PhD Fasting – An Exceptional Human Experience

PubMed: Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report

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