In a recent major clinical trial conducted in Japan, fasting therapy proved 87% effective in curing or ameliorating a wide variety of psychosomatic and mental diseases. The study, conducted by Haruyosi Yamamoto, Jinichi Suzuki and Yuichi Yamauchi of the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, Nagamachi Branch Hospital, Tohoku University School of Medicine, Sendai, Japan, involved 380 patients who underwent a complete fast for 10 days.*1
Throughout the fasting period, patients lived in an ashram-like atmosphere conducive to self-analysis and relaxation, and free from the usual distractions of daily life. Patients were accommodated in private rooms, but newspapers, radio and television were prohibited, as well as all non-medical visitors. In this way experimenters preserved the optimal conditions for mental introspection, enhanced self-awareness and physical purification which enabled the patients to successfully recognize and come to grips with their problems without outside distractions or interference.
During the course of therapy, patients were encouraged to drink a minimum of 1,000 mls. (10 glasses) of water per day to maintain tissue hydration and to promote internal cleansing and elimination of wastes from the body tissues. In addition, 500 mls. of 5% pentose solution, containing various vitamins and small amounts of essential amino acids, was administered intravenously every day. This provides the body with a minimal level of nutrition, without activating the digestive process. It thus allows the self-purificatory fasting process to proceed unimpeded for the 10 day period, without placing excessive demands on patients unfamiliar with fasting prior to the experiment.
Return to normal diet was strictly supervised over 5 days after the conclusion of the 10 day fasting period, to ensure that metabolic and physiological re-adaption to a normal diet and lifestyle occurred without mishap. The return to normal diet followed the order of fluid diet, soft diet, then ordinary Japanese style diet.
In order to fully evaluate the therapeutic mechanism and determine the clinical indications for fasting, a full range of investigations was carried out before, during and after the therapy. These included serial estimation of body weight, amount of drinking water consumed, urine output, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, ketone body levels in blood and urine, liver function, serum protein and lipid levels, electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram.
In order to encourage relaxation and to enhance introspection and self-analysis, a method of meditative reflection known in Japanese as naikan was practised on various occasions. This practice is similar to the process of antar mouna, where one learns to objectively witness the flow of thoughts, feelings and experiences without identifying with them.
In addition, patients learned the practice of yoga nidra, which has been introduced into medical circles as the system of autogenic relaxation training. This enabled the patients to relax the body, mind and emotions deeply and systematically at various times throughout the day, entering the state of yoga nidra (psychic sleep) according to their needs and inclinations.
The 380 patients involved were suffering from a wide variety of psychosomatic diseases and mental disorders at the outset of the experiment. Most had undergone prior medical treatment for several months or years for management of their symptoms. At the time of discharge, their clinical conditions were reassessed. This revealed an outstanding overall efficacy rate of 87% for fasting therapy. Researchers reported a 24% rating of 'excellent', signifying the disappearance of all symptoms or cure of the disease, a 63% rating of "good' and a 13% rating of 'ineffective'.
In order to assess the long term outcome and prognosis of the patients, the researchers followed up 331 (87%) who continued to answer questionnaires after they returned to their home situations. The follow up period ranged from 6 months to 9 years, with an average of 4 years and 1 month. The overall results at discharge and long term follow up are summarized in the table below.
|At discharge||Long term follow up|
|Excellent||90 cases (24%)||74 cases (22%)|
|Good||241 cases (63%)||214 cases (65%)|
|Ineffective||49 cases (13%)||43 cases (13%)|
|Total||380 cases (100%)||331 cases (100%)|
Clinical results for psychosomatic diseases at discharge revealed an improvement rate of 92% in 69 cases with irritable colon, dropping to 84% at long term follow up. Improvement rates were consistently high: 93% dropping to 84% in 28 cases of neuro-circulatory asthenia; 92% rising to 95% in 23 cases suffering from diabetes mellitus; 100% dropping to 86% in 15 cases of obesity; 93% dropping to 92% in 14 cases of hypertension; 82% remaining stable at long term follow up, in 11 cases of headache; 90% dropping to 89% in 10 cases of hyperventilation syndrome; and 67% rising to 78% in 9 cases of bronchial asthma.
With regard to psychological and mental disease, fasting therapy had an efficacy rate of 90% in 69 cases of depression, dropping to 87% at long term follow up; 88% rising to 91% in 117 cases of conversion hysteria; 87% rising to 89% in 84 cases of anxiety neurosis; and 78% rising to 83% in 51 cases of hypochondria.
These are outstanding results, especially when the long term figures are considered. They reveal that 69% of cases maintained a long term remission of symptoms, amounting to cure of their conditions, whereas only 10% showed a recurrence of symptoms of their previous disorder. The efficacy rate including 'excellent' and 'good' for prognostic results did not fall as time since discharge increased, as would be expected if fasting were merely bestowing a transient relief of symptoms for the experimental period. In fact, the prognostic rate actually rose over the course of the next 2 years. This remarkable result suggests that fasting therapy in some cases takes its effect over an extended period of time. Furthermore, 69% of cases indicated continuing remission of symptoms when long term results were compared with clinical results at the time of discharge. This finding also supports the idea that fasting therapy produces its full effect over a long period of time.
Comparison of the clinical results in terms of sex and age revealed that females obtained a slightly higher efficacy rate (89%) than males (85%) and that younger patients gained more desirable results.
Several earlier clinical experiments on fasting conducted by other research groups have obtained similarly outstanding results. Suzuki et al., in 1976,*2 used an almost identical fasting procedure in a study of 262 patients with similarly diverse psychosomatic symptomatology. The results of that study confirm those of the Tohoku group, with an overall efficacy rate of 87%, including a 24% rating of 'excellent', a 63% rating of 'good' and a 13% rating of 'ineffective'. Kushima et al. (1961)*3 and Hasegawa (1961)*4 observed the disappearance of somatic and mental symptoms when they applied fasting therapy to gynaecological patients suffering from neurosis, autonomic nerve dystonia, etc. Their results show an efficacy rate of 90%. It is most encouraging that medical research is beginning to recognize the value of fasting. In conjunction with other forms of yoga therapy, fasting has been shown to be more effective in curing a vast array of psychosomatic and mental conditions than most conventional measures. Fasting offers a true alternative to the traditional symptomatic treatments which are all too often dangerous, suppressive and expensive. The prospects and possibilities of fasting and yogic therapy in treating diseases is certain to be the subject of many more experimental studies, and as a result, a new era of medical practice, oriented towards patient cure in the fullest sense, may be just around the corner.
*1. H. Yamamoto, J. Suzuki and Y. Yamauchi, Psycho-physiological study on fasting therapy', Proc. 12th Eur. Conf. Psychosom. Res., Psychother. Psychosom., 32:229-240, 1979.
*2. J. Suzuki, Y. Yamauchi, M. Horikawa and S. Yamagata, 'Fasting therapy for psychosomatic diseases with special reference to its indication and therapeutic mechanism, Tohoku J. Exp. Med., 118:245-259, I976.
*3. K. Kushima, K. Kamio and N. Hasegawa, 'Psychosomatic diseases in women', Tohoku J. Exp. Med-, 74:130-136, 1961.
*4. N. Hasegawa, 'Study of hunger therapy on psychosomatic disease', Sanfujinka no Zissai (Jap.), 10:995-1008,1961.