In order that we may understand much that takes place within the fasting organism, it is necessary that we have an understanding of the process of autolysis, which, although very common in nature, has been all but overlooked by physiologists generally. We have previously mentioned the fact that the vital or functioning tissues of the fasting organism are nourished off the food reserves stored in the body. These reserves are stored as rather complex substances, such as sugar (glycogen), fat, protein, etc., and are no more fitted for entrance into the bloodstream and use by the cells than are the fats, proteins and carbohydrates of another animal, or another food. Before they can be taken up by the circulation and assimilated by the cells, they must first be digested.

   Let us begin with a familiar example of the digestion and absorption of a part of a living organism by the organism itself. In the process of becoming a frog the tadpole grows four legs. After these are fully formed, he no longer has use for the tail that served so well in the tadpole stage, so he proceeds to get rid of it, not by shedding it as is popularly supposed, but by absorbing it. The tail is made up of muscle, fat, nerves, skin, etc. To absorb these structures, they are digested in the same way that fat and muscle are digested in the digestive tract. By the action of the appropriate enzymes the proteins and fats are broken down into their constituent amino and fatty acids. Only thus are they fit to re-enter the circulation. Only as fatty acids and amino acids can they be re-used with which to nourish other structures of the body of the frog.

   During the period when the tail of the ex-tadpole is being absorbed, the young frog does not eat. Indeed, it ceases to eat when the forelegs come into view. Fasting may be essential to the absorption of the tail, at least it hastens the process, for it compels the utilization of the tail as food with which to nourish the vital tissues of the fasting frog.

   We may liken this process to that of the eating of its skin by the toad. Toads molt several times yearly. They swallow their molted skin after they emerge from it. To make use of the molted skin, the toad must first digest it. Its proteins and fats must be reduced to simple acceptable compounds, such as amino acids and fatty acids. This is done in this instance in the stomach and intestine of the toad. But in the case of the fasting frog digesting its tail, the work is done within the tail itself.

   The word autolysis (a-tol-i-sis) is derived from the Greek and means, literally, self-loosing. It is used in physiology to designate the process of digestion or disintegration of tissue by ferments (enzymes) generated in the cells themselves. It is a process of self-digestion--intra-cellular digestion.

   A number of autolytic (a-to-lit-ik) enzymes are known and are included under the general terms, oxidases and peroxidases. Physiologists know that proteolytic (protein digesting) enzymes are formed within many, if not in all living tissues. Apparently every tissue turns out its own enzyme, which, probably, under all ordinary circumstances of life, is employed in the regular processes of metabolism. Under other conditions the enzymes may be employed to digest the substances of the cells themselves. In their Textbook of Physiology (1946 edition) Zoethout and Tuttle mention that under certain experimental conditions the unrestrained activities of the enzymes normally present in the liver (proteases, lipases, carbohydrases) digest the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats of the liver. In normal life this digestion of the liver does not occur. These various intra-cellular enzymes play a conspicuous part in the metabolism of food substances; that is, in the normal or regular function of nutrition or metabolism.

   A few familiar examples of autolysis will prepare the reader to understand its use in "disease." The phenomena of fasting supply many examples of the control the body exercises over its autolytic processes. For example, tissues are lost in the inverse order of their usefulness--fat and morbid growths first, and then the other tissues. These tissues (fatty tissue, bone marrow, etc.) and food substances (glycogen) are not fit to enter the blood stream before they are acted upon by enzymes. Indeed, human fat, or human muscle, is no more fitted to enter the circulation without first being digested, than is fat or muscle from the cow or sheep. Glycogen (animal starch), stored in the liver, must be converted into a simple sugar before it can be released into the blood stream. This conversion is accomplished by enzymic action.

   The manner in which an abscess "points" on the surface of the body and drains its septic contents on the outside is well known to every one of my readers. What is not generally known, is that this "pointing" on the surface is possible only because the flesh between the abscess and the surface is digested by enzymes; that is, it is auto-lyzed and removed.

   The absorption of the bone-ring support established about the ends of a fracture is made possible by the autolytic disintegration of the bone-ring. The re-arrangement of materials in pieces of planaria and the dissolution of the pharynx in the piece containing this, to form a new one to fit the new size, as described elsewhere, is made possible by autolysis.


   The plant kingdom teems with examples of autolysis, but a few familiar examples will suffice for our present purpose. All bulbs, of which the onion will serve as an example, maintain within themselves a new plant surrounded by sufficient food to tide it over during a period of rest, during which period it does not take up food from the soil and air. Indeed, it may be taken out of the ground and stored for long periods. The onion may begin to grow in the bin or bag in which it is stored. It sends up stems and soon almost the whole of the bulb of the onion is transformed into green blades. The bulb gradually becomes soft, and finally, there is left a mere shell, as the growing plant digests and utilizes the substance of the onion. Beets, turnips and many other tubers will grow in the same manner. By autolytic digestion of the substances in the tuber, material is provided for growth and, even while out of the ground, these plants will put forth stems and leaves and grow.

   Who has not seen the housewife put a sweet potato in a jar of water and hang it up and watch it grow. It sends out stems which grow to great lengths and puts out many green leaves. Such a potato plant will continue to grow so long as there remains any of the food that was stored as sweet potato. The so-called Irish potato will also put forth stems and leaves and these will grow, drawing upon the substances stored in the potato as their sole source of food. If there is light, the leaves and stems of the potato will be green; if they are kept in the dark, the stems and leaves will be white. If there is a crack several feet away through which a little light enters, these stems will grow in the direction of the source of light and will grow several feet long, if the light is that far away. By autolysis the stored food substances in the tubers are broken up and made usable by the young plant.

   The early growth of all plants from seed involves digestion of food stored in the seed. Seed, like the eggs of animals, are chiefly storehouses of food. The actual living part of the seed is almost microscopic in size.

   A rose cutting or a fig cutting placed in the soil and watered, will put forth roots and leaves and grow. Both the leaves and the roots are grown from materials within the cutting. Cut a begonia leaf into small pieces and properly tend these and each piece will grow into a new begonia plant. The substances of the fragment of the leaf are used out of which to build a new plant. These are instances of the autolysis, redistribution and reorganization of materials contained within the part.


   At the very commencement of life autolysis is an essential process. The embryonic development of animals in eggs involves digestion of the food stored in the eggs. Eggs, however large or small, contain a living germ that is microscopic in size which is the only living part of the egg. The remainder of the egg consists of stored food material out of which the evolving animal constructs its organs and parts. This food substance is no more suited to the use of the evolving embryo than it is suited to the use of the adult animal. Before it can be used in making tissue, it must be digested. This digestion is achieved by enzymes produced by the embryo.

   The fasting salamander, the tail of which has been cut off, grows a new tail. It draws upon its general food stores for materials out of which to construct the new tail. These materials must first be broken down (digested) by the process of autolysis and then transferred to the growing tail. Here we watch a process that is somewhat the reverse of that seen in the frog that is absorbing its tail. Here materials are taken from the body and used in producing a tail; there materials are taken from the tail and used with which to nourish the body.

   The enormous growth of the gonads of fasting salmon is accomplished by transferring materials from the body of the salmon to the testicles. Autolysis is necessarily the first step in this transfer of materials.

   The body is not only able to build tissue, it can also destroy tissue. It can not only digest and utilize the tissues of other organisms, it can digest and use its own tissue.


   The period of pupal sleep in the life of insects is a period of great and complex organizational changes, resulting in a new and radically different insect. The larvæ of insects devote their whole attention to growing and molting. They eat enormous quantities of food and grow large and fat. The silk worm, for example, during its thirty-day period of growth, increases its weight fifteen thousand times. At the end of its larval stage the silkworm spins for itself a cocoon by which it protects itself in the pupa stage. There emerges from the cocoon, not a worm but a silkfly. The caterpillar of the butterfly changes to a chrysalis. The outer covering of the chrysalis is a hardened shell, usually brown in color. There emerges from this, not a worm, but a butterfly. Whereas, the worm-like larva enters the cocoon or chrysalis, it emerges an adult butterfly or moth, totally changed, both in internal and external structures, with different functions to perform and a different life to lead.

   It is during the stage of pupal sleep that the entire organism of the insect undergoes a complete and radical metamorphosis, there is a tearing down of old structures, a re-shuffling of materials, the creation and re-aggregation of parts, so that what emerges from the pupa, when the transformation is complete, is an organism so unlike either the pupa or the larva that it may easily be mistaken for a totally new and distinct species.

   It is interesting to note that during the pupal stage of insect life no food is taken. During this period of outward quiescence, all of the material stored up by the gluttonous larva is used out of which to construct a totally new and different organism. By autolysis old structures are torn down, stored materials are digested and prepared for new use, the materials are shifted from one part of the organism to another. All of this marvellous process of metamorphosis takes place while the animal is fasting. Here is a striking example of the constructive work that the organism may carry on while abstaining from food. But it should be understood that materials could not be shifted from one part of the body to another and no-longer-needed structures could not be torn down and the materials of which they are composed could not be used out of which to construct new structures, except they they are first digested. Autolysis is as essential at this stage of the


   The severely wounded animal refuses to eat, yet its wound heals. Great quantities of blood are sent to the site of the wound. This represents a great quantity of food taken to the part. The blood is the distributing agent in all higher forms of life. The fasting animal draws upon its reserves of food materials out of which to repair its torn, cut or broken tissues. These are first autolyzed and then carried to the part of the body where they are needed. The body can not only distribute its nutritive supplies; it can also re-distribute them. It possesses the ability to shift its chemicals and fasting supplies many examples of this. Autolysis makes re-distribution possible.

   The ability to re-distribute substances and supplies is common to all forms of life. This ability is an ever-present protection against injury, except under the most prolonged deprivation. The digestion and re-organization of parts seen in worms and other animals, when deprived of food, the digestion and re-distribution of reserves, surpluses and non-vital tissues, as seen in all animals, when forced to go without food, constitute, for the writer, some of the most marvellous phenomena in the whole realm of biology.


   Autolysis is a rigidly controlled process; it is no blind, undirected bull-in-a-china-shop affair. Not only throughout the fasting period, but also throughout the starvation process, as well, the body exercises control over autolysis. The most rigid economy is exercised throughout both periods in the digestion and utilization, not of the vital and most vital tissues, but of the dispensable and expendable tissues. In a later chapter we shall study the control of the autolytic process during fasting. Here I wish to call attention to the fact that in starvation there is no indiscriminate wasting of the body, but rather the same safeguarding of the more vital tissues and a slow sacrifice of the less vital tissues that is seen in the fasting period.

   When the frog fasts during the time it is consuming its tail, only the tail disappears. Never does one of the legs of the frog undergo autolytic disintegration. No needed structure is digested and absorbed. If planaria, or flat worms, are cut into small pieces and placed where they can absorb nourishment, each piece will grow into a small worm. If they cannot get nourishment, they cannot grow. Each piece, therefore, completely re-arranges its materials and becomes a perfect, but very minute worm. The piece that contains the pharynx, finding this too large for its diminished size, will dissolve it and make a new one that fits its new size. We have here a process similar to the metamorphosis of insects that goes on in the pupal stage. Here is manifest the ability to tear down a part and shift its constituent materials. The same thing is seen in the softening and absorption of the bone-ring support around a point of fracture. Only part of the bone-ring is digested, the remainder is retained to reinforce the weakened structure.

   Zoethout and Tuttle point out that autolysis is a controlled process and mention the following examples of carefully controlled autolysis that normally occur at certain periods of life: "atrophy of the mammary glands at the close of lactation, of the uterus after parturition, the general atrophy of old age, and the resolution (dissolution) of the exudate formed in the lungs during pneumonia." The atrophy of the thymus gland at puberty should also be included in this list.

   These authors offer other examples of controlled autolysis, saying: "During starvation some organs (heart and brain) are absolutely necessary and their activity cannot be dispensed with; hence they must be supplied with proteins. These proteins are obtained from the skeletal muscles, which must be looked upon not only as organs of contraction but also as storehouses for proteins. The proteins of the muscles and other organs are digested by the intracellular proteases (enzymes) into soluble proteins, amino acids, which are then carried by the blood stream to the vital organs. Another striking illustration of the transfer of protein from one organ to another is seen in the tremendous development, in the spawning and fasting salmon, of the ovaries at the expense of the muscles, which lose as much as 30 per cent of their weight."

   Neither the ovaries, nor the heart, nor the brain can live, grow and function on a diet of amino acids. They need minerals, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. Fasting salmon lose more than weight of muscle; they also lose fat and glycogen. There is a great accumulation of phosphorus in the gonads of fasting salmon.

   It is interesting to note that this control of autolysis extends also to pathological tissues, such as tumors, deposits, effusions, etc. and is not confined to the normal tissues of the body. Examples of this will be given later.

   The fact that autolysis is a rigidly controlled and not a haphazard process, is our guarantee that the vital tissues of the body will not be sacrificed during even prolonged abstinence from food. It guarantees us that only the non-vital tissues will be digested and their constituents carried throughout the body to nourish the vital tissues.

   Three important facts stand out clearly in what has gone before:

   1. By reason of its possession of intracellular enzymes the body is capable of digesting its own proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

   2. It is fully capable of controlling the self-digesting process and rigidly limits it to the non-essential and less essential tissues. Even in starvation, when vital tissues are destroyed, there is rigid control of the process and the tissues continue to be drawn upon according to their relative importance.

   3. The body is capable of utilizing the end-products of autolytic disintegration of its own tissues to nourish its most vital and most essential parts.


   Trall asserted that all abnormal growths possess a lower grade of vitality than normal growths, hence are easier to destroy. I think it may be equally true that they do not command the support of the organism as do normal growths, as they are lacking in nerve and blood supply. This lack of support makes them the ready victims of the autolytic processes of the body. It is generally held by men with wide experience with the fast that abnormal tissues are broken down and eliminated more rapidly than normal tissue during periods of abstinence. Physiologists have studied the process of autolysis, although they have suggested no practical use that may be made of it save that of employing it to reduce weight. It now remains for physiologists to learn that by means of rigidly controlled autolysis, the body is able to digest tumors and utilize the proteins and other food elements contained in them to nourish its vital tissues. Why have they not investigated this vitally important subject? The facts have been before the world for more than a hundred years.

   More than a hundred years ago Sylvester Graham wrote: "It is a general law of the vital economy, that when, by any means, the general function of decomposition exceeds that of composition or nutrition, the decomposing absorbents always first lay hold of and remove those substances which are of least use to the economy; and hence, all morbid accumulations, such as wens, tumors, abscesses, etc., are rapidly diminished and often wholly removed under severe and protracted abstinence or fasting."--Science of Life, pp. 194-195.

   The process of autolysis may be put to great practical use and may be made to serve in getting rid of tumors and other growths. To fully understand this, it is necessary for the reader to know that tumors are made up of flesh and blood and bone. There are many names for the different kinds of tumors, but the names all indicate the kind of tissue of which the tumor is composed. For example, an osteoma is made up of bone tissue; a myoma is composed of muscular tissue; a neuroma is constituted of nerve tissue; a lipoma consists of fatty tissue; a fibroma is composed of fibrous tissues; an epithelioma is composed of epithelial tissue, etc. Growths of this nature are known, technically, as neoplasms (new growth) to distinguish them from mere swellings or enlargements. A large lump in the breast may be nothing more than an enlarged lymphatic gland, or an enlarged mammary gland. Such an enlarged gland may be very painful, but it is no neoplasm.

   Tumors being composed of tissues, the same kinds of tissues as the other structures of the body, are susceptible of autolytic disintegration, the same as normal tissue, and do, as a matter of experience, undergo dissolution and absorption under a variety of circumstances, but especially during a fast. The reader who can understand how fasting reduces the amount of fat on the body and how it reduces the size of the muscles, can also understand how it will reduce the size of a tumor, or cause it to disappear altogether. He needs, then, only to realize that the process of disintegrating (autolyzing) the tumor takes place much more rapidly than it does in the normal tissues.

   In his Notes On Tumors, a work for students of pathology, Francis Carter Wood says: "In a very small proportion of human malignant tumors spontaneous disappearance for longer or shorter periods has been noted. The greater number of such disappearances has followed incomplete surgical removal of the tumor; they have occurred next in order of frequency during some acute febrile process, and less frequently in connection with some profound alteration of the metabolic processes of the organism, such as extreme cachexia, artificial menopause, or the puerperium."

   No more profound change in metabolism is possible than that produced by fasting and the change is of a character best suited to bring about the autolysis of a tumor, malignant or otherwise.

   The conditions Dr. Wood mentions as causing spontaneous disappearance of tumors are, for the most part, "accidents" and are not within the range of voluntary control. Fasting, on the other hand, may be instituted and carried out under control and at any time desired. It is the rule that operations are followed by increased growth in the tumor. Spontaneous disappearance following incomplete removal is rare. The same may be said for extreme cachexia and artificial menopause. In fevers we have rapid autolysis in many tissues of the body and much reparative work going on, but we cannot develop a fever at will. Pregnancy and childbirth occasion many profound changes in the body, but they are certainly not to be recommended to sick women as cures for their tumors. Even if this were desirable, it would be a hit-or-miss process. The effects of fasting are certain. There is nothing hit-or-miss about the process. It works always in the same general direction.

   Fever is a curative process and does help to remove the cause of the tumor. None of Dr. Wood's other causes of spontaneous disappearance assist in removing the cause of tumors. Fasting does assist greatly in the removal of such cause.

   During a fast the accumulations of superfluous tissues are overhauled and analyzed; the available component parts are turned over to the department of nutrition to be utilized in nourishing the essential tissues; the refuse is thoroughly and permanently removed.

   Due to a variety of circumstances, some known, others unknown, the rate of absorption of tumors in fasting individuals varies. The general condition of the patient, the amount of surplus contained in is body, the kind of tumor, the hardness or softness of the tumor, the location of the tumor and the age of the patient are all known to influence the rate of tumor absorption. Let me cite two extreme cases to show the wide range of variation in this respect.

   A woman, under forty, had a uterine fibroid about the size of an average grapefruit. It was completely absorbed in twenty-eight days of total abstinence from all food but water. This was an unusually rapid rate of absorption. Another case is that of a similar tumor in a woman of about the same age. In this case the growth was about the size of a goose egg. One fast of twenty-one days reduced the tumor to the size of an English walnut. The fast was broken due to the return of hunger. Another fast a few weeks subsequent, of seventeen days, was required to complete the absorption of the tumor. This was an unusually slow rate of tumor-absorption.

   Tumor-like lumps in female breasts ranging from the size of a pea to that of a goose egg will disappear in from three days to as many weeks. Here is a remarkable case of this kind that will prove both interesting and instructive to the reader. A young lady, age 21, had a large, hard lump--a little smaller than a billiard ball--in her right breast. For four months it had caused her considerable pain. Finally she consulted a physician who diagnosed the condition, cancer, and urged immediate removal. She went to another, and another and still another physician, and each made the same diagnosis and each urged immediate removal. Instead of resorting to surgery the young lady resorted to fasting and in exactly three days without food, the "cancer" and all its attendant pain were gone. There has been no recurrence after twenty-three years and I think that we are justified in considering the condition remedied.

   Hundreds of such occurrences under fasting have convinced me that many "tumors" and "cancers" are removed by surgeons that are not tumors or cancers. They cause me to be very skeptical of the statistics issued to show that early operation prevents or cures cancer.

   Let me cite a comparatively recent instance from my own practice. A manufacturer brought his wife to me from Los Angeles. A growth in one of her breasts had caused her to consult two or three physicians in that city. Each of them had insisted upon the immediate removal of her breast. I placed her upon a fast which was continued for thirty days. At the end of the fast, the tumor, which was about the size of an English walnut at its beginning, had been reduced to the size of a pea. In less than a month on a vegetable and fruit diet this small remainder disappeared.

   Subsequently the woman gave birth to two children at about two year intervals. She nursed each child for two years during which nursing periods the formerly tumurous breast functioned well. The health and vigor of the boys presented unequivocal evidence of the quality of the mother's milk. Was this not better than removal of the breast? Was this an exceptional case? By no means. I see them regularly. Such cases are seen daily in institutions in various parts of the world where fasting is employed.

   . The removal of tumors by autolysis has several advantages over their surgical removal. Surgery is always dangerous; autolysis is a physiological process and carries no danger. Surgery always lowers vitality and thus adds to the metabolic perversion that is back of the tumor. Fasting, by which autolysis of tumors is accelerated, normalizes nutrition and permits the elimination of accumulated toxins, thus helping to remove the cause of the tumor. After surgical removal tumors tend to recur. After their autolytic removal, there is little tendency to recurrence. Tumors often recur in malignant form after their operative removal. The tendency to malignancy is removal by fasting.

   John W. Armstrong (England) says: "I have seen lumps in female breasts treated to fast, some of them after diagnosis by 'experts,' the bulk after self-diagnosis and to disappear, on water only, in from four to twenty days."

   Bernarr Macfadden says: "My experience of fasting has shown me beyond all possible doubt that a foreign growth of any kind can be absorbed into the circulation by simply compelling the body to use every unnecessary element contained within it for food. When a foreign growth has become hardened, sometimes one long fast will not accomplish the result, but where they are soft, the fast will usually cause them to be absorbed."

   A small tumorous growth which had existed for more than twenty years was absorbed during Mr. Pearson's longest fast and did not return thereafter. Dr. Hazzard records the recovery, during a fifty-five days' fast, of a case diagnosed by physicians as cancer of the stomach. Tilden, Weger, Rabagliati and many others record many such cases.

   I have seen repeated instances of the absorption of tumors in my own patients. I had one complete recovery in the case of a uterine cancer during a thirty days' fast. I have seen numerous small tumors completely absorbed and large ones greatly reduced in size.

   In Europe and America, literally thousands of tumors have been autolyzed during the past fifty years, and the effectiveness of the method is beyond doubt. I can give no definite information about bone tumors and nerve tumors; but, since these are subject to the same laws of nutrition as all other tumors, I am disposed to think that they may be autolyzed as effectively as other tumors.

   In my own experience I have seen numerous fibroid tumors of the uterus and breast, lipomas in various parts of the body, a few epitheliomas, a whole group of myomas and a number of tumors that were apparently early cancer autolyzed and absorbed while the patient fasted. I have seen many warts disappear during fasting and I have seen many warts on which the fasting process seemed to have no effect. I have never seen a mole affected by the fasting process. I have seen a number of cysts completely destroyed by fasting and others that were merely reduced in size. It will be recalled that Graham mentions having seen cysts (wens) absorbed during fasting.

   It is certain that the autolyzing process has its limitations. For example, a tumor that has been permitted to grow to enormous size cannot be autolyzed in one fast. Indeed, many of them are so large that several long fasts during the course of two years or more, with a rigid feeding schedule between fasts, would be required to break them down and absorb them, if, indeed, it could be done. There was a school in Chicago some years ago that taught that "the normal tissue may be consumed before the morbid tissues are used up," in fasting. While this school did not confine this statement to tumors, there are few conditions in which this can be a fact, and in large tumors it may be so. Aside from large tumors, it is hardly probable that this is so in any recoverable cases. Only in rare instances, where the amount of morbid tissue is very great, and these are probably all irremediable, can this occur.

   In general, good tissue is not used up as fast as bad and the tumor will "starve" before the body. Except where it is very large, we may be sure that in all cases, hunger will return before any damage is done to the vital tissues. In more than one case of cancer, where opiates had been used to relieve pain, I have seen three or four days' fasting bring relief.

   One other limitation must be noted; namely, tumors that are so situated that they dam-up the lymph stream will continue to grow (feeding upon the excess of lymph behind them) despite fasting.

   In cases where complete absorption is not obtained, the tumor is sufficiently reduced in size not to constitute a menace. Thereafter proper living will prevent added growth. Indeed, we have seen a number of cases where a further decrease in size followed right living subsequent to fasting.