This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Strictly defined, fasting is abstinence from all food and drink (except water) for a limited period of time to maintain or improve health, or treat a specific illness. Juice fasting, a popular variation, is abstinence from all food and drink except water, vegetable juices, and fruit juices. A modified fast includes small amounts of solid food, usually raw fruits as well as raw and steamed vegetables. Some advocates of fasting include other modifications as well, such as vegetable broth, herbal teas, and nutritional supplements. Most of the research into the therapeutic value of fasting has explored the water-only method.
A short fast, lasting from one to three days, can generally be tolerated by most people. An extended fast (more than three days) should be supervised by a doctor, preferably one trained in fasting therapy.
Fasting has been known since ancient times. In fact, there are references to it in the Bible, the Koran, and ancient Chinese and Greek medical texts. Historically, people have fasted as part of religious rituals, as a way of expressing grief, and as part of political protests. Fasting to benefit health is a relatively new practice and is generally undertaken only in prosperous Western societies.
One of the first doctors in the United States to advocate fasting was Isaac Jennings, M.D. (1788-1874) of Fairfield, Connecticut. Jennings rejected the therapeutic use of drugs to treat specific ailments and instead developed a treatment program that included periodic fasting, a vegetarian diet, pure water, sunshine, clean air, exercise, and rest. His program, which came to be known as the Natural Hygiene system, is still practiced today, and doctors who follow it usually specialize in overseeing therapeutic fasts.
Perhaps the best-known modern proponent and practitioner of therapeutic fasting was Herbert M. Shelton (1895-1985), a chiropractor and naturopath who developed a strict (water only) fasting protocol in the late 1920s. In 1928, Shelton founded his own health school and in 1948 he helped to establish the American Natural Hygiene Society to further promote fasting and a holistic lifestyle to a lay public. In 1978, he formed a professional branch, today known as the International Association of Hygienic Physicians (IAHP). The organization publishes research on fasting and provides certification in fasting therapy to physicians in the fields of medicine, osteopathy, chiropractic, and naturopathy.