Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
Picture yourself as a Stone Age human living about 100,000 years ago. If you had to start looking for today's food after waking up this morning you might be pretty hungry by sunset if the weather was rotten or you were too sick to get out of the cave. Those very early hunter-gatherers were probably used to going a day or two, perhaps longer, with little or nothing to eat. Because they didn't farm and they had no way to store food, every day was food shopping day.
Humans can get along pretty well for short periods without food as long as water is available. Most of us have enough carbohydrate in the form of glycogen stored in our liver and muscles to provide energy for about half a day. About three-quarters of us are carrying around a few weeks' supply of calories in the form of fat.
The line between fasting and starvation is fuzzy — and so is your thinking when you go without food for even a day. Some people experience euphoria, a sense of well-being that progresses to hallucinations with a prolonged fast. It's likely that prehistoric shamans knew of this and it might explain the visions experienced by mystics for thousands of years.
Fasting is not the same as a detoxification diet. The latter usually involves food deprivation for only a day or two followed by gradual addition of juices and (usually) vegetarian fare for days or weeks. A healthy person can tolerate this pretty well and it's not too different from what someone who has major surgery goes through for a few days following an operation.
Prolonged fasting and severe diet restriction are not healthy and they are sometimes deadly, contrary to some promoters' claims of rejuvenation, immune restoration and cures for various conditions.
Fasting in order to lose weight is a fool's errand. Experience shows that it doesn't work. Fatigue, irritability and confusion cause most persons to end the ordeal.
There is a further price to pay with fasting. It's logical to think that when the glycogen stores are used up the body will turn to burning fat in order to produce energy from all those calories. Instead, it starts converting protein in muscle and other organs into glucose, or blood sugar. Only after some valuable protein has been sacrificed in this way does fat begin to melt away.
Some persons should never fast. Children, pregnant women and those who are already undernourished need a wholesome diet every day. Some individuals with heart disease might experience abnormal heart rhythms with a prolonged fast.
If you're concerned about the build-up of environmental toxins you can counter some of them with a diet that is high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. When you avoid processed foods such as hot dogs and cold cuts you'll eliminate a host of others.
Don't put yourself back in the Stone Age. It's not worth it.
Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at email@example.com.