Fasting Might Save Your Life

Recently I went on a 14-day health retreat in California.  The following is what that was about, why I went and what I learned.  Thinking an additional perspective might be useful, following the report I’ve provided a brief summary of how my thinking about fasting and health has changed since I was much younger.

From August 17th to 31st of this year (2021) I stayed at the Santa Rosa, CA TrueNorth Health Center. Operating for over 35 years, it focuses on fasting and eating healthy foods with no salt, oil, or sugar to improve health. The center is staffed by medical doctors, interns, and other health practitioners, including chiropractic specialists and, nutritionists. The facility hosts between 50 and 75 patients at any given time.

Fasting is something I’ve practiced on my own, off and on, since my late twenties.  My longest fast was twenty days, but more typically, it was 5-7.  Recently, four days was the maximum. In my 30s and 40s, my goal was to improve health, to gain control of my life, and reduce stress.  Losing a bunch of weight was a significant side benefit.

After two open-heart surgeries (in 2016 and 2018) and faced with taking Eliquis (apixaban), Losartan (or something like it), and Amoxicillin for the rest of my life, I wanted to take another look at fasting.  Given my issues, it made no sense to try this on my own.  A medically supervised fast would, I hoped, help answers two questions:

  1. Is it safe for me to continue fasting on my own given I take Eliquis (apixaban) every day? If yes, for how long?
  2. Given a careful analysis of regular labs and my vitals during a water-only fast, what is going on in my body?

I chose the TrueNorth Health Center. The staff is deeply experienced with people coming to them with a variety of maladies such as heart disease, diabetes, COPD, brain injuries, and more. They do vigorous blood and urine testing and monitor patients vital signs closely. They’ve published highly respected and compelling research studies on fasting and its impact on health.

After my fourteen days there, the result was not what I wanted to hear. However, I feel confident about the new knowledge I have.  Given the lack of extensive studies of Eliquis and fasting, my future water-only fasts must now be limited to no more than 48 hours.  My body enters ketosis on the second day of fasting and by the third, ketones begin to spike in my blood, which could make Eliquis/apixaban unstable and, perhaps, fail to do what it is supposed to do to protect the artificial parts I have in my heart. There’s not a lot known about Eliquis and ketosis interactions, but I have good reason to be cautious.  I have firsthand experience fasting when on Warfarin, which I did, and it led to disastrous results. I lost 7 pints of blood, almost died, and spent a week in the hospital.  Consequently, not that Eliquis has replaced Warfarin in my prescription tray; I did not want to be my own, unmonitored lab rat.

Although eliminating any of my meds was not one of my objectives, my TrueNorth doctor decided to discontinue my blood pressure drug, Losartan (25mg 2X day), on the fourth day.  If my BP readings stay consistent with those recorded at the center, I may no longer need to take this medication — a very big deal.  So, in short, this visit was a huge win for me and I can’t be more pleased.

My Health Quest

Today I believe we all need to take control of our health.  While I have nothing but the greatest respect for medical doctors, after all, they’ve saved my life on several occasions, there is some misalignment in the way they are trained, incented, and operate.  To oversimplify, they are remarkably good at figuring out what is wrong and prescribing a solution: medication, surgery, or some other intervention.  They do not focus on figuring out and addressing the root causes of problems and working with you to resolve those underlying issues. It’s not their job.  We as patients must take responsibility for our health.  It is OUR JOB, and no one will care as much as we do.  But often, we prefer to turn that responsibility over to “the experts,” and welcome short and easy fixes in the form of a prescription to make the pain or issue go away. The results are horrible, with a US population struggling with obesity, leading to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, joint failures, and much more.

My discovery of fasting as a potential lifesaver was similar to Henry S. Tanner in the 1800s. Tanner was a doctor in Duluth, Minnesota, who’d struggled for years with rheumatism.  He also suffered from asthma, which chronically disrupted his sleep. When awake, he was in near-constant pain.  His medical training told him humans could only live for ten days without food.  Not believing in suicide, he determined to simply starve himself to death, saying later: “I had found a shortcut and had made up my mind to rest from physical suffering in the arms of death.” But something else happened. On the fifth day of his fast, he was able to sleep peacefully.  By the eleventh day, he reported feeling “as well as in my youthful days.”  Fully expecting to be nearly dead, he asked a fellow physician, Dr. Moyer, to examine him. Moyer exclaimed, “You ought to be at death’s door, but you look better than I’ve ever seen you.”  He continued his fast for 31 more days. After his fast, Tanner had no symptoms of asthma, rheumatism, or chronic pain and lived to ninety years of age. (Note: I’ve validated this story in a variety of ways, including reading about it New York Times stories from the 1800s.)

Over the past ten years, I’ve watched about at least fifty video documentaries about food and its impact on our health, from 2004s Super Size Me in 2014s That Sugar Film.  Perhaps most impactful was the 55 minute 2012 documentary film Science of Fasting, summarizing the idea of fasting in medical settings.   I’ve also read at least two dozen books on the topic along with reports of scientific studies of the impact of fasting and diet on health.  Links to those after the videos.

VIDEOS

Here are a few trailers for documentary movies and Interviews with doctors which you may find interesting if you wish to know more about fasting in modern times:

Alan Goldhamer is the director of the TrueNorth Health Center where I went. Here is an interview where he outlines some of his experiences in conducting tens of thousands of water-only fasts over the 35-year history of his Center (2021).
Here is the documentary I mentioned above and the one that started it all for me (2011)
Another pretty good summary (2018)
This one, Food Matters, attempts to bring in every angle on fasting you can imagine (2018)

BOOKS

Perhaps the most useful book about fasting is the one authored by Douglas Lisle and Alan Goldhamer called The Pleasure Trap. It does a highly effective job of explaining how the triumvirate of evolutionary human needs — avoiding danger, eating the highest calorie foods, and procreating — trick us into today’s unhealthy lifestyle. Our bodies evolved to support a feast and famine existence and were never designed for 3 meals a day plus snacks.  As a result, conditions which kill us today or ruin our lives like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis — did not exist a thousand years ago.  I highly recommend this book.

One of the most renowned books on the topic is Cornell’s Professor T. Colin Campbell’s book, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health. It was first published in 2005, but it’s been revised and updated several times.  It’s been translated into German, Polish, Slovenian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Romanian, Swedish, and Urdu. It’s a bit scholarly, but what do you expect, he’s a big brain guy from Cornell University, for God’s sake.

The first book I ever read on fasting which gave me a blueprint for my first fasts was by Paul Bragg called The Miracle of Fasting.  It came out in 1972 but has been updated and is now co-authored with Patricia Bragg.

Since these pioneers, many highly respected doctors and research institutions have started to recognize and support the incredible impact fasting can have in fighting heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, cancer, infections, aging issues like dementia, as well as stimulating stem cell-based regeneration of new white blood cells and much more.  Here is a summary of one study showing some of this.

This is not boring stuff.  It’s eye-opening.  There are many paths to good health.  Maybe you’ll find one for yourself among these sources.

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