How long do you think a human can live without any food? A week? A month? A year? The answer to all three is yes, depending on the person.
I’m being serious when I say it is possible to live without food for a year – water is needed, some vitamins are needed, but food is not. I know this because a few years ago, a 435 lb man did just that, until he ended up weight 180lbs. Then, he maintained that weight.
He wasn’t the first person to do a long fast, and he will not be the last. But the remarkable thing about fasting, or starving yourself, is that it may actually be good for you and really bad for cancer. At least breast cancer.
First, let me say that I got this idea from the latest issue of Harper’s (unless you are a digital subscriber, you will not be able to read the article). A piece entitled “Starving Your Way to Vigor” essentially made the assertion that not eating was good for you in various degrees, and that medical science has been down right lethargic in studying or adopting any of the findings of the remarkable studies it has done.
The author not only documents his own fast – a nearly 3 week ordeal that left him cranky, but otherwise not actually hungry and a lot thinner – but also those of various other men and mice.
Besides weight loss, which seems to be much easier to keep off once you know that the best diet is to just not to eat, fasting has been found to help with seizures, protecting the body from the side effects of chemotherapy, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and so forth. Most of the studies have been anecdotal – a man fasts and documents the changes to his body – or small-scale studies that resulted in promising but largely-ignored findings. (Please note, I am referring to a controlled, limited fast, not an eating disorder like anorexia.)
For instance, mice that were not fasted and then injected with 3 times the amount of chemotherapy were sick as dogs, while the majority of fasted mice showed no adverse reaction to the drugs. When those experiments were recreated with fasting and non-fasting mice and a particularly vile form of breast cancer, the mice that fasted remained healthy while their full friends died. The theory behind this is that while fasting, a body’s cells shut down their intake systems – they will not allow chemo or cancer to take hold in the body. Cancer has no such switch, as its apetite is voracious and insatiable. The idea would be simple: Starve the human, thus closing off the access to healthy cells, and let the chemo attack the cancer cells full force.
That, my friends, seems like a brilliant idea that might in fact work for other types of cancer as well. However, this research has not gone further. Why? Well, fasting is free, so why would a pharmaceutical company benefit from it? It wouldn’t, but it would benefit from round after round of toxic chemicals in your body. Such is capitalism.
However, there is at least one medically-implemented fasting treatment, the one for seizures in children. Children are fasted, and in that time, their seizures disappear. When they are reintroduced to food, they eat a high-fat diet, and eventually a normal one. This treatment has an astonishingly high success rate, and it was only made popular because a director was desperately looking for any way to help his son, and has shared his success with others.
I find it particularly interesting that doctors seem appalled at the idea of not eating while they nit-pick our diets. Like I pointed out last week, it appears that according to “experts” all over the internet, every piece of food out there has some negative consequence for our body. Whether it be too much fat, or too much acid, or too much sugar, every piece of food is suspect. For instance, tomatoes cause inflammation. They seem so delicious and innocent, and yet, they are certainly not perfect.
I also pointed out that starvation was our reality for a long time as a species. That is why we were so thin – we literally didn’t have enough to eat. Today, the thought of going without food horrifies the Western mind, but what we eat terrorizes our bodies.
Maybe our bodies aren’t rejecting the type of food we are eating, but rather the amount. Studies have shown that fewer calories mean longer life. They also mean better health. Most people would not extrapolate this to mean that we should stop eating completely, but maybe that is what we should be doing at least from time to time. We should certainly be eating less in general.
Maybe we should all fast once a month, or once a week, or for a week if you’ve got a lot of fat stores for your body to live off of. For instance, I wouldn’t recommend that Gwynyth Paltrow fast for a week, she might disappear. But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might be able to survive for a month without food and not break a sweat.
I would like to add that I am deeply skeptical of most convenient “cures” for anything. This is why fasting seems so alluring – almost no one is touting it as an answer. Fasting is no-cost. Fasting doesn’t require drugs, or prescriptions, or doctor visits (although I would consult with a fast-friendly doctor if undertaking a long-term fast, or at least a fasting website).
People report fasting for weeks, and returning to food without issue. They report having more energy, being more clear headed, and returning to a level of health they hadn’t seen since college. Perhaps fasting is a way to tell our bodies – hey, you need to start cleaning this mess up. Our bodies know, intrinsically, deep-down, what it means to starve, and they know what to do when that happens.
As far as science is concerned, our bodies go into lock down repair mode. They access deep stores of powerful energy to fuel our brains. They ravage fat cells to fuel our bodies. It seems like something we should study, in depth, to see how fasting can truly touch the state of disease in our world. Especially if those breast cancer studies on mice are true – if fasting makes chemo easier to handle, and kills cancer more quickly, while increasing our chance of survival, and it costs us nothing, why not?