Non-Pharmacological Treatment of Asthma: Fasting Method

How Russians learned to treat asthma with fasting and what’s that got to do with stress

It is often believed that fasting is just a method that helps lose weight and get in shape by giving up calories. This idea about the effect of fasting on the body is not only simplified, but also wrong. It seems that it may be suitable for explaining the possibility of getting rid of excess weight but is completely unsuitable for the understanding of other processes caused in the body by giving up food.

Russian doctors, who in the 1970s learned how to treat asthma, hypertension, neurosis, schizophrenia and some other diseases by the fasting therapy, looked at it in a different way. They considered fasting as a factor of mild prolonged stress for the body. In a general sense, stress is a defense response to adverse environmental changes. According to the outstanding Canadian physiologist Hans Selier (1907 -1982), stress – assumed that it does not cause overexertion of the body – is the most important process of its adaptation and training. Stress can increase resistance and activate defense mechanisms.

In primitive man stress was mainly caused by external factors: hunger, cold, attack of animals. During evolution, the organism learned how to produce the defense response that it needed to face the external environment. Today, as in primitive times, the body responds to stimuli with a mobilization reaction. Endocrine function is activated, hormones are released into the blood, and the body receives a resource for fighting or escaping. A special place among such “shake-up” factors of the body is the deprivation of food. According to the outstanding representatives of the Russian school of fasting (V. Gurvich, S. Osinin), the therapeutic effect of this method is generated in a significant degree by the mild long-term stress it has on the body. During this process, the hormonal activity of all glands of internal secretion, including the thyroid and genital glands in both women and men, is intensified, which leads to a noticeable change in hormone levels. Thanks to this, the impaired functions of organs and systems of the organism are restored. This view on therapeutic fasting explains why it is effective in hormonal-dependent conditions such as diabetes, asthma, polyarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (Bechterew disease).

Another mechanism of fasting is the cleansing of the body of toxins. The concept of “toxins” involves the final products of metabolism, including metabolites of drugs, endotoxins, antigenic and other “deposits” in various organs of the human body, having direct contact with the external environment or directly related to the purifying function of circulating blood (lungs, gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidneys). When starving, the body cleansing occurs owing to the switch to internal nutrition: in the absence of external nutrition, the body will start using, in addition to fat tissue, the unneeded substances accumulated over time. Such a deep cleansing of the body at the cellular level is another mechanism of the therapeutic action of fasting (O. Buchinger, Yu. Nikolaev).

The founder of the scientific approach to the study of therapeutic fasting in Russia was the prominent Soviet psychiatrist Yuri Nikolaev. In the 1950s, he successfully used this method in a clinical setting to treat patients with lingering neuroses and schizophrenia, and then, together with his followers, began trying to adopt it in patients with somatic diseases. The positive results he obtained prompted the Ministry of Health of the USSR in the 1970s to begin extensive scientific research on the therapeutic properties of fasting. Among all treatable diseases, Soviet doctors paid special attention to bronchial asthma. The problem of finding a cure for asthma, not related to drugs, has always been relevant, because from the very beginning of the use of drug therapy pulmonologists were aware of its serious deficiencies. These deficiencies were particularly evident in asthma patients with comorbidities: diabetes, hypertension, skin and gastrointestinal lesions with allergic reactions. In such cases, the situation requires the prescription of many drugs at the same time, which is difficult or impossible, as asthma often develops hypersensitivity to many medications.

In 1984, two prominent Soviet pulmonologists, Alexey Kokosov and Sergey Osinin, who had been using therapeutic fasting in their work for 10 years, published the book Razgruzochno-dieticheskaya terapiya bol’nyh bronhial’noj astmoj (Diet-fasting therapy in bronchial asthma patients). This book was based on the authors’ own experience and the experience of their colleagues working in the pulmonology departments of clinics in different cities of the country. The second edition of this book was published in 2004. The publication describes in detail the indications and contraindications to fasting method and its variants, specifying treatment tactics depending on the severity of asthma and the presence of comorbidities. Possible complications and ways to prevent them, as well as prevention of recurrence of the disease are described.

The fasting method used by the authors of the book is mainly responding to the “classic” protocol< developed by Yuri Nikolaev and consists of 10-24-day water-only fasting. The book contains one of the most comprehensive descriptions of this protocol among the ones found in literature. Therefore, it can be useful for anyone interested in using of fasting method not only for asthma patients, but also for patients with other somatic and mental illnesses. The book was translated into English in 2020.

About the authors

Kokosov A.N. (1930-2016) – Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor, author of over 300 scientific works, including 16 monographs. 24 doctoral and 42 master’s theses were completed and defended under his supervision. Member of the editorial board of the Pulmonology journal. Member of the Board of the All-Russian Scientific Society of Pulmonologists, member of the Board of the Society of Physicians of St.Petersburg, Head of the Pulmonological Section of this society. Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RAE).

Osinin S.G. (1946-2017) – Doctor of Medical Sciences, Pulmonologist. In 1977 he defended his Ph.D. thesis on Clinical and functional assessment of the results of treatment of patients with infectious-allergic bronchial asthma in different variants of its clinical course. In 1993 he defended his doctoral dissertation on Clinical and pathogenetic substantiation of the method of unloading and dietary therapy of bronchial asthma and assessment of treatment results. In 1987-1988 he was the chief pulmonologist of the city of Leningrad. The main areas of activity: pulmonology, asthma treatment, therapeutic fasting. Author of over 100 publications.

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