In the early 1900”s Naturopathic doctors used cleansing diets and fasting as one of their primary tools for helping people to heal. This approach has recently regained popularity and for this reason I think it is important to understand how the experts in their field understood and used cleansing diets and fasting to promote healing and what their understanding was of the process. Both Dr. Bernard Jensen , D.C. and Herbert Shelton, D.C, N.D , Ph.D., with his Hygienic System were primary users of cleansing diets and fasting for healing and had vast experience over years in helping people to regain health using these techniques.
In order to understand the purpose of cleansing diets and fasting you first have to grasp the TOXICITY THEORY OF DISEASE.
This is a very popular way of understanding disease in the field of natural medicine. A toxin is defined as any chemical present in the body that it cannot use in its biochemical and physiological processes of life. By definition these unusable chemicals must be eliminated from the cells and tissues in order that they maintain optimal vitality and functional. There are several sources of toxins —— they may be the end products or waste products of normal metabolism (such as CO2 eliminated by the lungs or uric acid eliminated via the kidneys), they may enter the body through air and water pollution, they may be one of the 8,000 + synthetic chemicals in our foods and in the general environment (insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, hormones, smog, industrial waste, etc.), auto or self-intoxication resulting from intestinal putrefaction following poor or inefficient digestion and absorption as well as a disturbed intestinal biome (gut flora or gastrointestinal microorganism colony), synthetic chemicals in the home (arising from cleaning agents, bug and hair sprays, perfumes, room deodorizers, deodorants, etc.) and cigarette smoke, to name a few.
The body rids itself of toxins through several channels of elimination:
Liver — intestines
Kidneys — bladder
Each of these channels of elimination are constantly working at their maximum level to insure sufficient cleansing on the cellular level. When there are too many toxins entering the body for these channels of elimination to keep up with toxicity begin to build up. While stronger tissues are able to throw them off the inherently weak areas gradually take on a larger and larger toxic load. The toxins gradually accumulate, reducing the general health and disease resistance of the tissues involved. Toxic tissues cannot function optimally and are always more susceptible to both acute and chronic disease. Over time the cells in these toxic tissues are not only unable to function optimally but old cells are not replaced by new cells at the normal rate. The replacement of old worn out cells with new cells is what keeps us young. Any factors which inhibit or slow this replacement process serve to increase one’s rate of aging. Maintaining a low level of toxicity in one’s body is very important to health as well as to disease prevention. The toxic input must be reduced as much as possible. This is accomplished by becoming aware of the many sources of toxins and living so as to reduce our exposure and ingestion of toxins as much as possible. Obviously, in our modern world we will only be able to minimize our toxic input to varying degrees —— many sources cannot be avoided.
Maximizing the elimination function of the organs mentioned above is also helpful. All elimination functions are increased with exercise, especially those of the lungs, skin, lymphatic and circulatory systems. Liver and intestinal cleansing is aided by eating an organic diet which promotes healthy bowel function and regularity as well as one that promotes a healthy internal micro biome (more on this later). Eat a diet high in fiber from whole, unprocessed organic vegetable and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Processed foods are low in fiber and reduce intestinal and peristaltic action and often contain numerous chemicals which only add to the overall toxic load. The work of the kidneys is reduced by maintaining a low protein diet as the end products of protein metabolism must be eliminated via the kidneys. Skin elimination is stimulated by daily skin brushing of one’s entire body with a natural bristle brush.
Exercise which promotes sweating also promotes skin elimination as do saunas and hot tubs. The lymphatic and circulatory systems are stimulated by regular, vigorous exercise of all kinds and massage. Mucus membranes are helped in their cleansing work by identifying and avoiding foods in the diet which cause excessive mucus production.
Okay, so the toxicity theory of disease blames all unhealth and disease on a build up of toxins in the body. My experience and understanding of disease has lead me to the conclusion that this is only partially true and/or true to a certain degree and in certain individuals and certain times. Nevertheless it is an incredibly useful model for much of natural healing and very useful in guiding us toward a healthier life style, a healthier diet and the use of diet in maintaining and regaining health. Cleansing diets and fasting are an important component in this model.
CLEANSING DIETS AND FASTING are the best way to eliminate toxins that have built up in the system and to give your organs of elimination a rest from the daily grind of digestion, elimination and cleansing. Abstinence from all food, drinking only water, is called a fast. Taking in any food other than water is a cleansing diet of some form but is not a fast.
By using only water there is no energy expended in the process of digestion, assimilation, distribution or elimination. This conserved energy can be used for other purposes. Under a fast hunger disappears on the third to fifth day. At this point the body, no longer having to deal with the normal processes of digestion, assimilation and distribution begins to devote it’s entire energy and focus to elimination and cellular renewal. Fasting is the most natural of all natural treatments. It allows our body to rejuvenate and regenerate. Dr. Bernard Jensen ran a health ranch at which people came to fast under his supervision for decades.
He states the following: “In my own experience I have seen growths reduced to nothing under a fast. Organs purge themselves of waste material that is indescribably offensive. I have seen ulcers clear up in just a matter of days. Sores stopped running that had been draining for years.” Fasting (also known as physiological rest) is a strictly natural method of healing and is one of the oldest in the world. During a fast the processes of elimination reach their maximum point of efficiency. Nature always favors the most vital organs, therefore fat disappears first during a fast, then other tissues in the inverse order of their usefulness and importance to the organism. During a fast the diseased and unhealthy tissues are broken
down and absorbed rapidly.
Dr. Herbert Shelton lists the following benefits of fasting:
It gives the organism a rest
It stops the intake of foods that decompose in the intestines and further poison the body
It gives the organs of elimination a chance to catch up
It permits the absorption of exudates, effusions, deposits , etc. and hastens the breaking down and absorption of diseased tissue
It permits the conservation of energy
Fasting gives the organism an opportunity to purify and heal itself, to eliminate toxins and restore healthy function
Fasting should be avoided in extreme emaciation, weakness or degeneration —— in these cases one to three day fasts or cleansing diets would be acceptable. No fasting in cases of inactive kidneys as they would not be able to keep up with the increased requirements of elimination during a fast. Mild exercise is recommended during the fast but not vigorous exercise. During
fasting one should be exposed to abundant and clean fresh air and be kept warm. It is perfectly safe for most people to fast from 3 days to 2 weeks with no adverse affects. In my 30’s I undertook a water fast for 10 days, during with I felt somewhat weak and puny but after which I felt absolutely fantastic for a good three years. I was amazed at the improved quality of my health and wellbeing (Wendy Weir).
It is extremely important to prepare the body for the fast by easing into it with three days of eating fruits and vegetables (steamed or raw) only. This will eliminate all putrefactive elements from the intestines and reduce additional toxicity coming from the intestinal track during the fast. Likewise, it is important to break the fast correctly eating small quantities of fruits and vegetables, drinking vegetable broth, fruit and vegetable juices, gradually adding whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Over several days a normal diet should be reinstated. Dairy products and animal products and flesh foods
should be the last things added back into one’s diet after a fast.
CLEANSING DIETS are another way to accomplish some of the benefits of fasting without the extremity and difficulty of going on a water fast. A cleansing diet consists of drinking only juices (all need to be diluted 50/50 with water) and or eating only fruits and vegetables (all organic!) for a period of time. One can very safely undertake such a cleansing diet for up to a month. See the blog on this website for a recipe for a recommended cleansing diet.