Their growth was stunted; they were badly proportioned; their coats were sparing and lacked gloss; they were nervous and apt to bite; they lived unhappily together, and by the 60th day began to kill and eat the weaker ones amongst them.
The experiment continued for 187 days - around 16 years in human terms. The 'British' rats showed a tendency to diseases of the lungs and gastrointestinal disease, while those on the 'Sikh' diet were free of such problems. McCarrison noted that when he kept rats on either the deficient Madrasi diet, an even worse Travancore diet or a Sikh diet, for 700 days (50 human years) many animals died, and peptic ulcers developed in 29 per cent of the Travancore-diet group, in 11 per cent of the Madrasidiet group and in none of the Sikh-diet group. This is precisely the pattern of ill-health seen in humans living on the same diets. 'Here again, we see that a disease common in certain parts of a country can be produced in rats by feeding them on the faulty diets in common use by the people of these parts.'
McCarrison has proved similar dietary connections in numerous other disease patterns found in humans, including skin diseases (ulcers, abscesses, dermatitis); diseases of the eye (cornea! ulceration, conjunctivitis, cataracts); diseases of the ear (otitis media); diseases of the nose (rhinitis, sinusitis); diseases of the lungs and respiratory passages (adenoids, pneumonia, pleurisy); diseases of the alimentary tract (dental disease, gastric ulcer, cancer of the stomach, duodenal ulcer, enteritis, colitis); diseases of the urinary tract (pyonephrosis, pyelitis, renal stones, nephritis, cystitis); diseases of the reproductive system (endometritis, premature birth, uterine hemorrhage, testicular disease); diseases of the blood (anaemia, pernicious anaemia); diseases of the Iymph glands (cysts and abscesses); diseases of the endocrine glands (goitre, adrenal hypertrophy, atrophy of the thymus, hemorrhagic pancreatitis); diseases of the heart (cardiac atrophy, cardiac hypertrophy, myocarditis, pericarditis); diseases of the nervous system (polyneuritis, beri-beri, degenerative lesions); diseases of the bone (crooked spine); general diseases (malnutrition oedema, scurvy). 'All these conditions had a common causation: faulty nutrition with or without infection.'
McCarrison's heroic studies, whatever may be thought of the suffering of the animals involved, have provided a basis for understanding a relationship between nutrition and health and can help us to see the relevance of Weindruch and Walford's research more clearly. There is a direct correlation between diet and disease, and the restricted patterns of eating which this research has looked into (in contrast to what might commonly be eaten in industrialized societies) are seen to have clear benefits to offer in terms of reduced levels of disease. But, what effect on everyday ability to function does a restricted diet have in humans?
Do Kuratsune's dietary experiment on himself and his wife
Interesting results emerged when Professor Masanore Kuratsune, former Head of the Medical Department of the University of Kyushu in Japan, decided to see what would happen if he followed a restricted dietary intake similar to that provided to concentration camp inmates, using the same food content, sometimes cooked and sometimes raw.
He and his young breast-feeding wife continued with their activities and normal lives during the length of the three periods of restricted feeding involved (120 days, 32 days and 81 days). The quantities of food consumed daily were between 22 and 30 grams of protein, 7.5 to 8.5 grams of fat, and 164 to 207 grams of carbohydrate. This amounted in total to between 729 and 826 calories daily (whereas the recommended minimum would be 2,150 calories for their body size).
In camp conditions there was often a rapid onset of ill-health, with infection and anemia common, while nothing of the sort occurred during these three periods of restricted diet, apart from when the intake of food was switched from raw to cooked food. The diet of fresh and raw food (consisting entirely of whole grain rice (soaked not cooked) plus shredded greens and fruit, with no animal protein at all) kept the couple healthy and active, with the wife finding her milk supply increased rather than decreased. But, when the experiment switched to cooked food (same ingredients) they both developed symptoms of hunger, oedema and weakness, which vanished when the eating of raw food was reintroduced.
This personal study was recounted in a 1967 monograph written by Dr Ralph Bircher of Zurich, and entitled Way to Positive Health and Vitality published by Bircher-Benner Verlag, Switzerland.
Raw food diet applied to rheumatoid arthritis at London Hospital
Dr Ralph Bircher also outlines the application of a raw diet, restricted in calories, to people with chronic disease, citing the dozen classic cases documented on film, in which the dietary approach developed by his father Dr Max Bircher-Benner was used at the Royal Free Hospital in London just before the Second World War.
One of these cases is outstanding in its demonstration of just what can happen when dietary restriction is applied to a serious crippling degenerative disease like rheumatoid arthritis. This involved a 55-year-old woman who had been afflicted with this condition for over two years and who was bed-ridden, unable even to sit up, and quite unable to stand, walk or use her arms or hands. She was dependent upon two people for all her needs.
For two weeks she consumed nothing but raw food, salads and fruit, following which she was allowed a liffle lightly cooked vegetable food as well as the raw food. For six weeks there was no change apart from the development of even more severe pains, and finally a high temperature. This was seen as the turning point, following which improvement was seen month by month until after five months she was walking with sticks. By ten months she was pain-free and had regained most of her mobility. One year after beginning the programmed she was fully mobile. Ten years later, still following a 75 per cent raw food diet she was digging her garden and growing her own food.
Some dietitians argue that the diet outlined was deficient, unlike the isonutrient diets of Drs Weindruch and Walford. Dr Bircher would disagree, saying that the high enzyme content of raw food compensates for an apparent lack of protein or other nutrients. The fact is that many people have survived in excellent health for many years on just such a diet.
Where does fasting fit into all this?
Later in this book, after evaluating the life extension effects of animal studies, I suggest strategies which mimic these experiments and which you can put into daily practice. For now, the purpose of this chapter is to highlight a different aspect of the potential which this knowledge offers us, the use of fasting and dietary modification as a means of health promotion, rather than with the aim of life extension.
Fasting is not starvation
During starvation (once fatty tissue has been used up) the body draws on its own essential protein reserves for fuel, whereas in fasting it is the non-essential fat and protein stores which are used for this purpose. Clearly, if fasting continues for too long a period, starvation will take over, but no such risk exists when fasting is used according to certain strict guidelines which I will explain.
One definition of fasting is of a period during which no solid food is taken and when (ideally) water only is consumed. Fasting in the treatment of chronic disease has been used for centuries, and research into its effectiveness has been carried out for at least 100 years. 1 A number of university studies have been conducted which show quite clearly just what happens to the various body
systems when humans and animals fast.2,3 In some of these strictly controlled studies prolonged fasting (months in some cases) was shown to produce no harmful effects, only benefits. Some of the diseases which have been found to improve with fasting are listed at the end of this chapter.
What happens to the body on a fast?
The body's basic metabolic rate (BMR), which is an index of the rate at which the body burns fuel to create energy, is seen to slowly reduce, by around one per cent daily until it stabilizes at 75 per cent of its normal rate.4 In animal studies a number of ways have been found to slow BMR, induding dietary (calorie) restriction and the cooling of core temperature (such as occurs during hibernation)5 and indeed one of the major markers of animals and humans whose potential life spans are extended by use of reduced calorie intake is a slowing down of the rate at which they 'burn' oxygen; in other words their BMR slows down. The effect of fasting, in slowing BMR, is therefore one way in which it promotes longevity. Just how this is achieved is of some importance for it brings into play a degree of adaptation in which energy is conserved, making the process more 'thrifty'. Weindrudh and Walford have shown that longevity is directly linked to efficient energy consumption ('thrifty' as opposed to 'burner' animals and people).
When fasting begins, the first source of energy which is tapped is the stored glucose in the liver (glucose is vital for brain function and red blood cells). When its own stores are used up, and whatever remaining food in the digestive tract has been used as an energy source, the body begins to synthesize more glucose, taken as stored glycogen from muscle tissues. After about 24 hours these sources will be depleted, and free amino acids and protein, and later fat stores (triglycerides), from various nonessential sites will be turned into energy by the liver and the kidneys.
A combination of a lower requirement for energy and careful use of what fuels are available (including some recycling, for example of red blood cells) allows fasting to continue for many weeks before any vital tissues become threatened (unless at the starting point the faster is already emaciated or malnourished). The longer the fast continues the more efficient the body function in reducing its dependence on glucose and the more efficiently it uses fatty tissues for its reduced energy requirements.6
Changes seen on a fast
A wide array of biochemical changes occur during fasting, some of them unpredictable, being dependent on your state of health at the outset. Many, however, are predictable, including hormonal changes of particular significance to longevity.7 Except in very overweight people, one of the key changes seen is an increase in the production by the pituitary gland of Growth Hormone (GH), of which much more will be heard in our continued exploration of life extension mechanics.
From the viewpoint of enhanced health there are the many beneficial changes which take place in immune function during fasting.8 Most of these improvements, notably affecting immune function, carry on into the period after the fast. This is perhaps the most important aspect of fasting for better health.
What fasting can achieve
Among the conditions successfully dealt with by fasting alone are the following: diabetes,9 gangrene,9epilepsy,10,11obesity (although this condition requires counselling and lifestyle modification for continued benefit),12heart disease,13,14,15pancreatitis,16poisoning with toxic chemicals (dramatic benefits with seven to ten day fasts),17autoimmune disease such as glomerulonephritis, 18 rheumatoid arthritis,19,20,21 (a 1984 study in the US22 showed remarkable improvement after seven-day fasts), food allergy,23 psoriasis, varicose ulcers, bronchial asthma, schizophrenia and many more (references to these are given by Salloum and Burton, reference 6 below).