‘The Oldest Cure in the World’ Review: No First Helpings

From The Wall Street Journal:

The American diet—heavy on processed foods, light on nutrients—helps explain why life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than in any other developed country. The bill came due during the pandemic: Obese people with Covid had markedly higher rates of hospitalization and death. In fairness, Americans seem to want to slim down—dieting is a multi-billion-dollar industry. But more than half of the people who lose weight gain it all back in two years. Can anything be done about this state of affairs?

Stepping into the breach is Steve Hendricks with “The Oldest Cure in the World,” an illuminating exploration of the rich and varied history—and myriad health benefits—of fasting. Mr. Hendricks reminds us that fasting is a longstanding practice in the major world religions, as a means of penance and purification. Beyond godly matters, he notes that hunger strikes have been a familiar mode of protest—Gandhi famously held them to protest British rule in India.

Mr. Hendricks is a firm believer in the value of fasting, but his concern is the body more than the soul. He tells the story of a woman whose follicular lymphoma disappeared in 2014 after an extended fast at a medical facility in Santa Rosa, Calif. The reason, according to one of the doctors, was that her fasting reduced the levels of a hormone linked to her cancer.

Mr. Hendricks sees fasting as a way of combating a range of ailments. (“Surgery without a scalpel” was how some doctors once described the practice.) He cites studies showing fasting to be effective against arthritis, hypertension and fibromyalgia, among other afflictions. The medical logic in these cases is that fasting reduces inflammation—the source of multiple maladies—while promoting insulin sensitivity, stimulating DNA repair and generating antioxidants that neutralize a harmful molecule known as reactive oxygen species. Mr. Hendricks argues that fasting leads to better outcomes from chemotherapy, too—by causing healthy cells to go dormant and avoid the treatment’s toxic chemicals.

And, yes, fasting triggers weight loss. The fasting Mr. Hendricks has in mind is periodic, its frequency and duration varying from person to person. He stresses that, if losing weight and staying healthy is the goal, the diet to return to after a fast should be plant-based. He cites Alan Goldhamer, a physician and fasting pioneer, who asserts that humans evolved to eat simple plants, not the processed foods and animal products that are a staple of the American diet.

. . . .

He struggled with what is said to be the hardest part of an extended fast: from the second day to the fourth. A dynamic biological process unfolds during this period, with glycogen, amino acids and glucose interacting with the liver and the brain. The body eventually starts producing highly acidic compounds known as ketone bodies, and they counter the hormone that causes hunger. Once the body reaches this state, known as ketosis, things get easier. According to Mr. Hendricks, “willpower plays only a bit part in prolonged fasting, and hunger none at all after the first day or two. . . . If I had had to resist hunger’s blare every day I fasted, I’d have given up before the first week was out.”

A theme running through “The Oldest Cure in the World” is the author’s exasperation with the American approach to practicing medicine. Few physicians, he notes, are knowledgeable about fasting, despite the benefits it provides. He favorably profiles two researchers—Valter Longo and Satchin Panda, at the University of Southern California and the Salk Institute, respectively—who have conducted ground-breaking studies on the value of restrictive food consumption.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

4 thoughts on “‘The Oldest Cure in the World’ Review: No First Helpings”

  1. Another cure all, with wonderful studies to back it. Go on Amazon, and you can find tens, probably hundreds, of wonderful but different (and often contradictory) books promoting ways to be healthy, lose weight, and be more fit, each backed by lots of anecdotes, science, and studies.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if fasting, used appropriately, helps some people. But other people, when they haven’t eaten for a while and their blood sugar levels dip, get very b*tchy and irrational.

    I’m doubtful about fasting and long term weight loss – it wouldn’t surprise me if the body adjusted its metabolism to burn fewer calories (think about survival in lean times). And the bit about “humans evolved to eat simple plants”, well, our physiology (teeth, stomach, etc) is quite different from animals that primarily eat simple plants.

    • When it comes to food, humans didn’t “evolve to eat” anything.
      We are opportunistic omnivores.
      Fad diets (and fasting is just another fad) come and go and humans keep on eating whatever they can afford. Mostly we’re hardwired to *prefer* high energy foods (sugars and fats) but biologically the body doesn’t care where the calories come from. Biochemistry doesn’t read fad diet books.

      As for fasting specifically, there is a reason why not eating in a timely fashion hurts. The body doesn’t like it. And if the body doesn’t like it, it is bad for you. That much is evolution.

      To see just how bad, go search online for “famine 2022”. Starting with Somalia.

      Or look here:


      • This is easy to test

        Get 500 pounds of jelly beans. Lots of calories. Eat nothing but jelly beans. See if the body cares.

        Someone can write a book: Jelly Beans For Life.

        • The body won’t but the teeth will.

          If you hunt around you’ll probably find a Jelly Bean diet.
          After all, they’re high energy, gluten free, cholesterol free, vegetarian, Halal, and Kosher.


          Fad diets are all tbe same: buzzword loaded sales jobs.

          (Mind you, come the apocalyse, a jelly bean diet will keep you alive longer than a forced fasting diet.

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