Most fasting advocates advise drinking much water while fasting. This is done on the theory that water aids in eliminating toxins from the body. Levanzin expresses this theory as follows: "as a rule, it is certainly advisable to do a good deal of water drinking during a fast--since this serves to flush out the whole system and wash through the accumulated impurities." He also states that water "carries along with it many impurities from the blood."
Both Carrington and Macfadden advocate drinking more water than thirst calls for while fasting. Mr. Carrington advocates drinking water as a means of relieving morbid sensations in the stomach, that may arise during the early part of a fast. Water-drinking for this purpose is the use of water as a palliative and not to serve any need of the body. Water taken in excess of need must be thrown out speedily lest the excess result in harm, and it does not occasion any increase in the elimination of toxins.
This is a mistake that the early Hygienists--Graham, Jennings, Trall, Alcott, etc.--did not make. They frowned upon much water drinking. The fact is that there is neither need for so much water, nor benefit from taking it. Drinking water as a mere matter of routine is not advisable. One may rely upon the instinct of thirst to tell him when he should drink and how much. Drink when thirsty. Do not drink when not thirsty.
Prof. Levanzin seems to have been a bit confused on this matter of water-drinking during a fast. He says that generally the faster desires "very limited quantities of water." He tells us that in 1911 he fasted five days without taking any water; that he suffered no discomfort, and that he busied himself with his usual occupations throughout this period. He also tells us that during his experimental fast undergone in Carnegie Institute he was compelled to take a quart of water a day, which was too much for him. In spite of all this he advocates much water drinking by fasters.
Dewey, on the other hand, took a decided stand against water in the absence of thirst. Thirst, he said, should be the only guide to the amount of water to drink. He insisted on drinking only as much water as demanded by thirst and was convinced that much water drinking, except when indicated by thirst, is definitely harmful. During the first fourteen days of his second fast (taken in New York City) Tanner took no water and suffered no inconvenience. He became stronger when he took water and won a race with a young reporter who refused to believe that one could maintain one's strength while not eating. He tells us that after taking the water he "ran upstairs like a boy."
Fasting animals take but little water and some of them none at all. For example, the Alaskan fur-seal bull takes no water throughout the whole of his four or five months fast. Hibernating and estivating animals do not drink water during their period of dormancy. It is the rule that sick animals (this is especially true of the acutely sick and seriously wounded animals) will not drink much water. I have repeatedly seen sick animals take no water at all for days at a time, or take but a few sips once or twice a day. For the most part, they refuse to drink large amounts of water.
Thirst is seldom great during a fast. I have watched fasters go for two and three days at a time and take no water, simply because there was no demand for water, and they have not suffered as a consequence. Others take but little water; sometimes not more than half a glass a day. Then, there are those who drink much water. In some of these there may be thirst; in others it appears to be nothing more than a result of a desire to get something into the stomach. Others drink because they have been taught that they must. In occasional fasters, there will arise a great thirst that may last a day or two or three days, during which time they will drink so much water that their tissues become water-logged and they gain in weight as a result. The thirst subsides and they do not drink so much thereafter. Large quantities of water should be taken when thirst calls for much water, as it sometimes does; otherwise, there should be no effort made to take large amounts of water. Excesses of water are simply eliminated without increasing the elimination of waste--perhaps, on the contrary, with an actual decreased elimination of waste.
A frequent development while fasting is a dislike for water. This is particularly true if the water is "hard." "Hard water" that, while one is eating, tastes pleasant enough, is rejected by the sharpened sense of taste. In such cases we find the use of distilled water, to be satisfactory.
The loss of weight when no water is taken is about three times as rapid as when water is taken--the loss averaging about three pounds a day instead of the usual pound a day. This is especially helpful in dropsical cases and greatly shortens the duration of the fast in fat individuals who are fasting merely for reduction of weight. Tanner found that he lost but one and a half pounds a day while abstaining from water. He took water after the fourteenth day and lost a little less than half a pound a day.
Writing in This Week's Magazine, which is a Sunday supplement of the New York Tribune, under the title They Never Have to Drink, Roy Chapman Andrews, Director of the American Museum of Natural History, tells us that "many desert animals, particularly rodents," never drink after they are weaned. He mentions the "desert-living mice, rats, hares, and ground squirrels," that "not only do not drink but few, if any, perspire." He tells of installing a group of live desert pocket mice in the museum that "live among the vast dunes of nearly white gypsum in New Mexico" and tells of these, that they were "fed a diet of thoroughly dried seeds. They thrived on this unappetizing food and would never touch water." Each time liquid was offered they filled the dishes with sand. He adds: "In the Gobi Desert we found that even the wild ass rarely, if ever, drinks. On one vast stretch of the Gobi where there was no water for hundreds of miles, except for a few deep Mongol wells, there were literally thousands of wild ass and gazelle."
He recounts some experiences of the Central Asiatic Expedition, while at Wolf Camp in the middle of the Gobi Desert. A Mongol brought in a young gazelle which they nursed on a bottle for a time, after which it was adopted by a she-goat. He tells us that "When old Nanny finally weaned Skippy (the gazelle), he lived on camel sage and the leaves of thorny bushes scattered in clumps over the desert. I was particularly interested to see whether Skippy would drink water. During the six months he was with us he never touched a drop. He would sniff at the pan from which the goat was drinking and then turn away without even moistening his lips." Then, as if he might have been thinking of the creed of the physicians and dairymen, that we are never to be weaned, he adds: "We never offered him milk after he was weaned but I feel sure that no liquid would have tempted him."
Mr. Andrews thinks that "this is one of the marvellous adaptations of nature." He adds: "The ability to exist without water appears to be peculiar to rodents and other herbivorous mammals. As far as I know, all flesh eaters must drink."
It is, of course, true that all animals must have water. These desert animals obtain large quantities of carbohydrates from their vegetable fare and when these are broken down in the process of digestion, they yield enough water to supply their bodily needs, and, in the case of the nursing mammal, to supply enough extra water for milk production.
While man dissipates considerable water in sweating, he certainly does not have any need for the large quantities of water advised in many quarters for both fasters and those who are eating. Nor does the consumption of large quantities of water produce all the beneficial effects commonly claimed for the practice. Certainly nothing is to be gained from forced drinking or the practice of routine drinking. The taking of water for which there is no physiological demand, as expressed in thirst, is of no value. The practice may prove decidedly harmful.
Prof. Carlson says that "an adult man fasting can live fifteen to twenty days without water. If food is taken, death from water deprivation comes quicker. If there is body fever or great external heat leading to sweating, death from water deprivation is hastened. Foods require water for elimination of waste products."
It is not definitely known how long a fasting man may live without water. A few criminals have died in a few days to seventeen days when they denied themselves both food and water. But there were emotional and nervous factors in all such cases that hastened death.
Our aim is not, of course, to determine how long a patient can go without water. The aim is to provide for the patient the best possible conditions under which to carry forward the healing processes and to complete these in as short a time as possible. The death of a woman from dehydration in New York state in the early part of 1950 at the end of a thirty days fast, as a consequence of having gone for the whole period without water, is not only a lesson about the need for water, but also a warning to those who attempt a long fast without proper supervision. Had this woman been under experienced expert supervision, she would not have been permitted to make this grave mistake.
When food is not taken the need for water is lessened and there is a corresponding lessening of thirst. Although it is asserted by many fasting advocates that drinking large quantities of water, despite lack of desire for it, increases elimination, I have seen no proof of this, while, my own experience fails to substantiate the assertion.