Danger of Fasting:
Sad Side of Fasting
By Dr. Ben
while ago, we had a fellow with chronic asthma come to fast at our
clinic. He ended up staying with us for a week, an experience that
made me decide to write this article to discuss the sad side of
fasting and the pursuit of dietary purity.
Upon taking a full history and giving this fellow - I'll call him
John - a full physical evaluation, I learned that he had fasted
several times before over the past decade.
John's first water-only fast more than ten years ago lasted for
around 50 days because the doctor supervising his fast felt that
successful treatment for his asthma required intensive detoxification
and a prolonged period of pure rest.
Although he experienced some improvement with his asthma, it was
bad enough by the following year for the doctor to recommend that
he fast again, this time for a month.
This pattern of feeling better for a short period during and after
each fast, only to have his asthma return and "require" another
long fast became a routine pattern for him for more than ten years.
Through it all, John faithfully followed his doctor's advice to
stick to a 100 percent raw, vegan diet. It was clear that John and
the doctor believed that it was only a matter of time before fasting
and a raw, vegan diet would completely cure his asthma.
After understanding John's medical history and completing a comprehensive
physical evaluation, I told him that I believed he was severely
malnourished. His teeth were visibly rotting, his hair was noticeably
thin and brittle, his nails were covered with cracks and deep ridges,
and he was extremely gaunt. I told John that I believed he was deficient
in vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin
A, zinc, iron, DHA and EPA, and finally,
healthy protein and fat.
John was not happy with my assessment. In fact, he became pretty
darn angry. Who was I to question what his previous doctor had prescribed
for him for ten years? I was in my eighth year of practice while
the other doctor had been supervising fasts for more than 50 years.
How could I be arrogant enough to question the other doctor's approach?
John scolded me for giving medical advice that I had "probably read
in a book" and reprimanded me for not having more respect for older,
more experienced doctors.
why are you here and not fasting with the other doctor?" I asked,
genuinely confused about why he had chosen to travel from the States
to Canada to fast when the other doctor was in the States, available
to supervise another long fast for John.
"He charges too much and does way too much blood work," was John's
That's when I realized that what John wanted was for me to treat
him in the exact same way that the other doctor did, minus the blood
work, and at half the cost.
I told John that I felt that a long water fast was not in his best
interest, and gave him some recommendations on whole food choices
that would provide him with the nutrients that I felt he was deficient
in. I also gave him several recommendations aimed at improving the
strength of his immune system, which I felt should have been the
primary focus in trying to help him recover from asthma.
John was unable to let go of his obsession with doing long water-only
fasts and sticking to a strict, raw vegan diet. His rigid adherence
to a 100 percent raw vegan diet was particularly amazing for me
to observe given that he was eating huge amounts of raw tahini (ground
sesame seeds) because he was constantly hungry and craving dietary
fat. It just didn't occur to him that he may have been eating containers
of tahini on a regular basis because his body was in need of nutrients
that he wasn't getting enough of, particularly healthy fat and protein.
You should know that he was eating tons of romaine lettuce, avocado,
celery, broccoli, and other nutritious vegetables that informed
vegans know to eat lots of.
Sadly, John is not alone in being obsessed with water fasting and
dietary purity. During the past three years alone, I can think of
at least a dozen people who have come through our clinic who have
had very similar health histories and health problems.
Although I realize adults can make their own choices, I really believe
that part of the blame in cases like John's must be placed on practitioners
and gurus who lead people down such a path.
The big problem that I have with such practitioners and gurus is
that they seem to be much more interested in fitting people into
their programs and philosophies than they are in carefully considering
how each individual responds to specific food and lifestyle choices.
Somewhere along the line, the mission seems to become more important
than caring for each individual.
I don't have a problem with a person choosing to be a strict vegan.
I was a strict vegan for almost five years until I finally came
to the realization that it wasn't working for me. If you are feeling
strong and healthy on a strict vegan diet, even a strict, raw
vegan diet, I'm happy for you. What I find troublesome is how some
people become so focused on promoting the benefits of a strict vegan
diet that they lose sight of how they and those they provide guidance
to are really doing with their health. I don't care to spend my
energy on debating why a strict vegan diet is or isn't the healthiest
diet on earth. I prefer to spend my energy on trying to figure out
how each person who comes to me for guidance can experience his
or her best health.
Over the past several months, I have received dozens of e-mails
from supporters of a strict vegan diet about a book called The
China Study. Written by respected scientist, T. Colin Campbell
and his son, Thomas Campbell, this book is being referred to by
some people as conclusive evidence that any amount of dietary animal
protein increases one's risk of cancer and other degenerative health
I had a chance to spend around two weeks with T. Colin Campbell,
his son, and his wife during my time in northern California in early
2000. I found their family to be super kind and gentle. Still, I
cannot cite The China Study as conclusive evidence that any
amount of animal protein is bad for human health.
As far as I know, this study did not take into account critical
factors that determine the suitability of animal products for human
consumption and health. How does human health respond to eating
wild or organic, naturally raised animal products vs. factory farmed
animal products? What effect do different cooking temperatures,
cooking methods, and oils have on animal foods with respect to human
health? Without searching for and considering the answers to these
questions, how can we make such a bold conclusion that eating any
amount of animal protein causes disease?
Personally, I have no doubt that eating factory farmed animal products
is harmful to human health. I do believe, however, that for most
people, regularly eating small amounts of clean animal foods like
organic eggs and organic butter is necessary to be as healthy as
possible. But please remember, what I believe shouldn't matter so
much to you. What matters is how you feel. Please don't ever let
anyone or any program become a more important guide for your health
than what your own body tells you.
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