Examples of adaptations
A living creature, such as a human being, can be thought of as
a large, intricate machine, comprised of many "mini-machines"
each of which is itself an adaptation. For example, our tongue is
clearly an adaptation, in that it is an intricate machine, designed
by nature, to assist our survival prospects.
Actually, the tongue is not a single entity, but is itself composed
of many distinct parts, each of which is a component of the fabulous
"tongue-machine." Each part a taste bud, for example is
an important component of the overall design. Our ability to taste
sweet things, for example, was part of natureís design in order
to encourage our ancestors to eat ripe fruit and other sweet-tasting
foods. Our ability to taste bitter things is part of natureís way
of discouraging our consumption of substances that might be poisonous.
Working together, the many "mini-machines" within our
taste preference system (which includes the tongue and our sense
of smell) assist in guiding our behavior toward survival-successful
We are built of literally thousands of these mini-machines adaptations
which are the mechanisms that aid our survival or reproduction.
This idea is not new to health professionals, as they clearly recognize
that our eyes, ears, heart, and lungs are part of the overall "survival
machine" our body.
However, few health professionals recognize that in addition to
observable parts, adaptations also come in an altogether different
form. Adaptations do not have to be physical structures, such as
eyes or ears. They also can be in the form of behavioral tendencies
coded into our nervous systems, as part of our natural design. Such
behavioral adaptations are every bit as crucial to our survival
as are our eyes, heart, and lungs.
Consider your behavioral inclination toward a pesky mosquito drilling
into your skin. Probably, you slap at the pest. Slapping at mosquitoes
is an example of a behavioral adaptation. It is an exquisitely coordinated
movement of muscles and sensory feedback, made possible by our natural
design. Nature punishes us with unpleasant feelings if we canít
or wonít slap at the mosquito, and rewards us with a small feeling
of relief when we do. This is not a learned, or taught, tendency.
It is a genetically-mediated feature of the circuitry in our brains.
All children, the world over, slap at mosquitoes automatically a
telltale sign of a naturally designed behavioral tendency. In other
words, slapping at mosquitoes is an "adaptation."
Many behavioral characteristics and bodily responses are components
of our natural design. Coughing, sneezing, vomiting, fever, and
inflammation while they may not be pleasant are adaptations. They
are sophisticated responses of the body, designed into our nature,
in order to assist our health and healing. The artificial suppression
of such adaptive mechanisms, such as suppressing a cough or a fever
with medication or other means, is almost always a step away from
It is now well known that fever, inflammation, coughing, and vomiting
are health-promoting adaptations that require judicious management.
Among better-educated health professionals, it is understood that
artificial suppression of these adaptive responses may provide pain
relief but at the potential compromise of overall health. The wise
professional will attempt to understand what is causing these adaptations
to be activated, and to remove such causes rather than merely attempting
to suppress symptoms. But while fever, inflammation, and other symptoms
are finally becoming recognized as adaptive processes, the importance
of the loss of appetite, characteristic of many disease processes,
is largely unappreciated.
A multi-faceted adaptation
As Herbert Shelton noted in his long out-of-print 1928 book Human
Life: Its Philosophy and Laws, "Fasting has its origins in
the dim uncertainties of the long forgotten past when the first
wounded animal found that it had no desire for food." In other
words, fasting is an ancient adaptation. It is also a multi-faceted
one, because it involves both physical and psychological adaptations.
Few health professionals are aware of the many, truly astonishing,
physical adaptations that result from water-only fasting. Most believe
that water-only fasting is simply "starving," and that
little or no benefits result from such an experience.
In reality, water-only fasting is dynamic, complex, and involves
many health-promoting processes. For example, studies have indicated
that immune function is significantly enhanced during water-only
fasting, an effect that few would suspect. There is also an enhanced
mobilization and elimination of toxic products, including poisons
such as PCP, dioxins, pesticide residues, and other pollutants.
The evolutionary reasons for this benefit are uncertain. Probably,
in the dim uncertainties of the long-forgotten past, life-threatening
infections and exposure to naturally-occurring environmental toxins
were serious threats to the survival of our ancestors. These threats
may have resulted in the development of health-promoting adaptations
one of which was water-only fasting.
In addition to many documented physical adaptations associated
with water-only fasting, there is also an obvious psychological
one as well. Often when we are ill, we lose our appetite. Like many
other animals, we donít feel much like eating when we get sick and
this is hardly an accident. It is clearly a component of our natural
design the psychological component of the fasting "machine."
Like our tongues, the fasting process is multi-faceted a "packet"
of adaptations all working together. The natural adaptation of water-
only fasting starts with a desire to refrain from eating, and results
in many health-promoting automated processes. Few health professionals
ever have considered that the lack of appetite that accompanies
illness is actually a component of such a complex adaptive mechanism.
As a result, honoring this adaptive tendency is rarely encouraged.
In fact, it is often actively discouraged.
An understandable error
When an unwell animal fasts, it is quietly fighting for its life.
The lack of appetite is a component of a finely coordinated strategy
of the body to restore health as quickly as possible. Rest is an
additional and integral component of this strategy. Not only do
sick animals often fast, they also rest while doing so. Fasting
and resting help to assist the healing process. However, once an
animal begins to recover, two marked behavioral changes occur. First,
the animal becomes more active. Second, the hunger drive returns,
and the animal begins to seek food and eat. Activity and eating
are the visible signs of a creature returning to health.
It is hardly surprising, then, that humans have confused the connection
between eating and the regaining of health. Observing that increased
appetite and health go hand-in-hand after illness, many people have
mistakenly assumed that an increase in food intake causes the regaining
of health. In reality, they have it backwards. It is the increase
in health that results in the reappearance of hunger! Sadly, this
connection has been missed by most health professionals. This is
not surprising, as other adaptations also have been misconstrued
and mismanaged throughout history including fever, inflammation,
and vomiting. The natural desire to refrain from eating when ill
is simply another example of a misunderstood adaptation.
A voluntary adaptation
If the natural desire for water-only fasting when ill were to become
better respected, this would be a positive step. Instead of being
force-fed chicken soup, people with a condition resulting in the
need to fast would be managed quite differently. However, water-only
fasting is an unusual adaptation in that it does not require the
loss of appetite associated with acute illness. Fasting also can
be undertaken voluntarily.
Unlike other health-promoting adaptations such as fever or inflammation
a water-only fasting process can be started with merely a behavioral
decision. As such, it is possible to invoke this multi-faceted healing
process without the loss of desire for food. As you might imagine,
few health professionals have ever considered this possibility and
rarely have the slightest clue about the positive effects of such
a strategy. Unless one suspected that fasting was a complex, multi-faceted
healing adaptation, one would never choose to fast without a crisis
involving a naturally-reduced hunger drive. However, this ancient
mechanism, designed by nature to assist healing processes during
crises, also works well when we are not in a crisis.
It is now recognized that, in the industrialized world, most diseases
are due to dietary excesses especially of animal products and processed
foods (such as oils and refined sugar). It turns out that voluntary,
water-only fasting is often magnificent in its ability to assist
the body in healing from the consequences of these excesses.
Fasting results in weight loss, elimination of excess cholesterol,
triglycerides, and uric acid, as well as accumulated environmental
toxins. Often, growths and tumors associated with dietary excesses,
such as fibroids and cysts, are reabsorbed. Inflammatory conditions,
such as arthritis, colitis, asthma, and hepatitis, often are greatly
improved or resolved. Many enzymatic functions of the liver and
other organs, including the insulin-resistance characteristic of
diabetes, can rapidly normalize. For most adult-onset diabetes patients,
medications become unnecessary.
Hypertension, the leading cause of doctor visits and of prescription
medication use in America, is almost always rapidly resolved during
supervised water-only fasting. In over 250 cases of hypertension
seen at the Center for Conservative Therapy over the past 16 years,
almost all were able to achieve a blood pressure level after fasting
that eliminated the need for medication. Our ongoing research is
beginning to provide explanations for these spectacular results.
Fasting also assists in an extremely important normalizing process
a process we call taste neuroadaptation. Many modern foods are not
the normal foods of our species they are foods that have been altered
to create unnaturally intense taste responses. As a result, most
of our modern foods are high in processed sugar, fat, and salt.
Our taste buds adapt to these abnormal-but-appealing foodstuffs,
making the consumption of whole natural foods less palatable by
comparison. Water-only fasting helps to rapidly re-sensitize the
palate, so that healthful foods can be fully enjoyed again. Of the
many benefits of water-only fasting, this is, for many people, one
of the most important.
Proper supervision vital
Supervision is an important component of a water-only fasting experience.
During a fast, many powerful adaptive processes are put into motion
some with potentially unpleasant and/or disturbing characteristics.
Clinical experience and laboratory data often are needed to distinguish
between a positive healing process being generated by the body,
and a possible physiological compromise. For this reason, it is
recommended that fasting only be undertaken under the supervision
of a physician with appropriate training.
Hygienic physicians certified in fasting supervision by the International
Association of Hygienic Physicians must hold a valid license as
a primary care physician (M.D., D.C., D.O., or N.D.) and complete
a six-month residency in fasting supervision at an approved facility.
With appropriate training, a supervising physician can help ensure
a safe and effective fasting experience.
Fasting, as defined by Hygienic physicians, is the complete abstinence
from all substances except pure water in an environment of complete
rest. The "complete rest" component of fasting is important
because even moderate activity can double caloric usage and reduce
the effectiveness of the fast. Clinical research has indicated that
the detoxification process, as well as other important healing processes
made possible by fasting, may be significantly compromised by excess
activity. Resting is a critical component in ensuring that a fast
is both a safe and effective experience.
The lost adaptation
At the Center for Conservative Therapy, we like to describe water-only
fasting as "the lost adaptation." While creatures all
over the Earth routinely make use of this powerful healing strategy,
they often must do so because they are so ill that they cannot successfully
obtain food. Modern humans, in contrast, are rarely faced with this
situation. Today, no matter how sick we get even if we are lying
in a hospital bed food is brought by others up to our very mouths.
And it is usually highly-stimulating food. The idea of fasting,
even if we are inclined to do so, is strongly resisted. Well-meaning
(but misguided) friends, relatives, and health professionals urge
us to eat so we can "get better."
Similarly, when we are not acutely ill, the idea of water-only
fasting seems absurd. It goes against our ancient, natural programming,
which encourages us to make sure we get plenty to eat now because
in our natural, ancestral environment there might not have been
any food available again soon. Most people fear that if they fast
for a few days, dire things will occur, or they believe that the
average person can fast only a few days, perhaps a week. The concept
of fasting for a week or two or longer for health benefits seems
ridiculous to them. It also seems ridiculous to the typical health
professional unless he or she understands that fasting is an adaptation.
It is amazing that such a powerful and useful adaptation is virtually
unknown as amazing as if we collectively decided to refrain from
slapping mosquitoes. An adaptation that facilitated the survival
prospects of a great many of our ancestors has been very nearly
But times are changing. With the publication of Dr. Joel Fuhrmanís
recent book, Fasting and Eating for Health, a modern and
thorough review of the benefits of fasting has been articulated.
And at the Center for Conservative Therapy in California, our nine
staff doctors (with assistance from Cornell University scientists)
have worked together to generate and publish scientifically credible
research that documents the benefits of fasting.
It is our hope that our efforts will result in a greater awareness
and appreciation of this remarkable process. The utility of fasting
may then be widely "found" both by health professionals
and by the patients who will ultimately reap the benefits.
To send an email to Dr. Goldhamer, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can visit his website at www.healthpromoting.com.