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The First Medically Documented Water-fast: From suicidal to scientific discovery

"The human body has hitherto been regarded as only capable of existing from eight to ten days when all supplies have been cut off." British Medical Journal 1880 (1)

In 1877, a physician by the name of Henry Tanner had decided to end his life. Plagued with asthma, chronically disrupting his sleep, and rheumatism, Dr. Tanner spent his days in constant agony. He articulated his anguish, "I had found a shortcut and had made up my mind to rest from physical suffering in the arms of death"(2). Not believing in suicide, however, he decided that the only other way to die would be to starve himself; he had been taught that humans could not live past 10 days without food.

What happened next was remarkable. Notwithstanding some minor uncomfortable symptoms, Dr. Tanner noticed that by his fifth day, he could sleep peacefully again. By the eleventh day, expecting Dr. Tanner to be near death, a fellow physician examined him but noted his excellent health. Other physicians also checked in on him and the British Medical Journal published an account of his fast stating "...his being able to live during the first fourteen days without water or food is extraordinary...".1 And although some physicians were in such disbelief that they claimed he was a fraud, an additional 31 days of water fasting resulted in complete resolution of his asthma, rheumatism, and chronic pain.

Dr. Tanner had made an astounding discovery. As it turned out, "doing nothing" was more effective than doing anything else when it came to his own health. And as it turned out, Dr. Tanner had stumbled upon an ancient adaptation of many animals, including humans - the tendency to fast in response to acute illness. When we become acutely ill, our need for sleep and rest increases. Appetite is reduced and eliminated for a period of time, often days. We are designed to fast as a healing tool, and Dr. Tanner was lucky enough to observe and document his experience.

Today, there has been much more detailed investigation into the clinical effects of water-only fasting(3): High blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, auto-immune disease, even lymphoma to name a few. We are slowly finding out that despite the clutches of illness that plague the developed world, maybe, just maybe, water-fasting is the hidden secret to regaining our health and conquering disease.

1. British Medical Journal July 31, 1880 P.171 Dr. Tanner's Fast

2. Forty Days without Food: A biography of Henry Tanner, MD, Robert Alexander Gunn, 1880

3. The Pleasure Trap Douglas J. Lisle, PhD & Alan Goldhamer, DC

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