In many quarters there exists a strange prejudice against the employment of the fast in what are called "nervous diseases." It is customary to recommend a "full diet" in both nervous and mental diseases. This plan of care is far from satisfactory, but it is persisted in with a slavish adherence that would do justice to a better cause.
This practice grows, in great measure, out of the tendency to set the brain and nervous system apart from the remainder of the body and to think of it as not physical. There is the classification of diseases into "mental" and "physical" which grows out of this effort to think of the brain and nervous system as separate and distinct from the organism as a whole. But a moment's reflection should be sufficient to reveal the error of this view.
The human body is one vastly complex organism, the many parts of which are intimately connected and correlated in their functions and Interdependencies. It is essential that we fully grasp the intricate interrelations of all parts of the organism before we can make any real progress in the science and art of caring for the well and the sick. The organs of the body are not isolated isonomies.
Due to the close unity of the body it is utterly impossible for any one part of the body to become impaired without involving the whole organism in the consequences and impossible for any part to be impaired (except by violence) so long as it receives adequate support from it physiological partners. Parts of the body become impaired only after there is more or less general impairment. Organs do not become "diseased" independently of the rest of the organism.
In what way do "nervous" diseases differ from "physical" diseases? The nerves are also physical. They are parts of the body. They are not so completely removed from the physical, as popular expressions seem to imply. They are neither etheral, nor mental, nor spiritual in essence, and they do not call for non-physical means of care. They are organs and should be looked at from the organic point of view. Basically, nerve fibers are not greatly different from muscle fibers. Nerves are supplied with blood, they must have oxygen, food, and water; they are capable of being cut and torn by violence, or poisoned by toxins of various kinds.
The brain and nervous system are subject to the same laws of organization as is the rest of the body, are subject to the same nutritive requirements and are subject to poisoning, as well as are the muscles and glands. The nervous tissue may become inflamed, it may undergo atrophy. Its condition, strength, power and functioning ability depend wholly upon the composition, purity and quality of the blood with which it is supplied.
Another reason that we tend to think of and treat the nerves and brain as though they are separate and distinct from the general organism is the almost universal error of the medical profession, an error in which they have fully indocrinated the lay public, of trying to treat one part of the body without reference to all other parts--an error that has given rise to all the evils of specialism. A full recognition of the unity of the body should cause this error to be rejected.
The effects of over-eating upon nervous diseases are readily apparent to all who will take the trouble to observe them. Likewise, the benefits that flow from fasting in nervous and mental diseases have only to be observed to be appreciated. "The extreme rapid and invariably successful results at once prove the correctness of the contention," says Carrington.
It is usual for an increased nervous irritability to manifest when the mental and nervous patient is not fed, hence the advice to "feed him up." But this stuffing treatment only serves to smother symptoms, not to remove their causes. It is significant that when food is withheld for a few days, the nervous storm that ensues upon discontinuance of food, subsides and the patient progresses healthward.
The remarkable manner in which attention, memory, association and the ability to reason with more than ordinary brilliance are acutened during a fast indicates as nothing else can, the benefits the brain derives from a period of physiological rest. Recoveries from insanity while fasting are equally dramatic evidence of this benefit.
Macfadden and Carrington relate the case of a man who had a paralyzed throat who fasted for ten days when "signs of life" appeared in the throat. He found he could again swallow and within a few days, the full power of his throat was restored. "Though in some cases," they say, "through the influence of fasting the blind have literally been made to see, the lame to walk, I feel that this case was perhaps one of the most remarkable of all with which I have come in contact."
Fasting and prayer were prominent among the remedies employed by the ancients in epilepsy. Dr. Rabagliati says that the best remedy for epilepsy "consists of a careful restriction of the diet. * * * I have for many years now advised restriction of the diet in epilepsy to two meals daily, and sometimes to one; and in acute cases have recommended further and great restriction to a pint or a pint and a half of milk daily for a considerable period of time. * * * Fasting, in fact, seems to be of very great efficacy in the treatment of epilepsy."
The length of the fast in any condition will have to be determined by each individual case. In most cases, except tuberculosis, there can be no sound objection to a fast to completion, although this will seldom be necessary, and many patients will not want to fast so long, unless they must. The case should be carefully watched and the judgement of the experienced practitioner followed.