Alan, your roots in the hygiene movement and with the NHA run deep. How did you learn about hygiene? What prompted your interest in fasting?
When I was about 16 years old I came across some books by Herbert Shelton and read those books and was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Gerald Benesh, one of the original founders of the NHA. My experience with him led me to believe that this would be a good career path to pursue.
Give me a time frame for this.
I was 16 years old. 26 years ago.
Did you suffer a health crisis yourself?
No, I never had any kinds of health concerns at all.
When was your first conference?
Shortly thereafter. I don't remember which year that was but I think I was 17 years old. I remember hearing Dr. Alec Burton speak. I went up to him afterwards and told him I wanted to do an internship with him. He kind of laughed and brushed me off a little bit but said that when I finished chiropractic college to come back and talk to him then. Never said another thing to him until I finished chiropractic college. The year I was graduating I met him at another conference and reminded him of his commitment. Shortly thereafter I was in Australia.
Was that something you did immediately after your graduation from chiropractic college?
Yes, as soon as I got out of Western State I went to Australia and spent a little over a year with Alec and Nejla at their Arcadia Health Center.
When did you start your fasting clinic?
As soon as I came back in November 1984 we began accepting patients at the TrueNorth Health Center in Penngrove, and we have been operating there continuously since then.
I know it wasn't originally called the TrueNorth Health Center. Why the change in name?
We are currently in the process of bringing our outpatient inpatient facility back together in a new facility, and we wanted to have a name that would encompass both of them. Like a compass, our mission is to try to point people in the direction of health. Thus, TrueNorth. Also in order to comply with some of the many complicated legal requirements of an integrated practice where medical doctors and chiropractors work together we had to form a corporation that would legally use the name.
Is there a concept behind your fasting clinic?
Yes, the concept is that health results from healthful living. Not everybody is always able to apply healthful living habits adequately or efficiently enough in order to allow problems to resolve. We believe that fasting is a great facilitator in allowing the body to heal itself.
How many have you fasted since 1984?
We have had 5,000 people complete our residential health education program and we have worked with approximately 10,000 patients altogether.
Is there a longest fast you have ever supervised?
We rarely fast people longer than 40 days, but there have been a few that have gone longer than that. The typical patient in our facility fasts from two to five weeks.
Does fasting play a constructive role in most conditions that you see?
It plays a constructive role in most conditions that we accept for care because we don't accept people if we don't expect that they are going to have a good outcome. So for the types of conditions that we see, fasting is in my mind the most efficient intervention available to us. That is why we use it. And the conditions that respond best to fasting are the conditions that have dietary excess as their root. So when you see conditions that are caused by excess in general, for example high blood pressure and its associated heart attacks and strokes and cardiovascular involvement, diabetes and many of the autoimmune type diseases that are aggravated by dietary excess, these diseases respond exceptionally well to fasting. Those are the conditions we tend to focus on.
Do we know how fasting works?
There are a number of mechanisms by which fasting works and we are learning more everyday. There are at least eight mechanisms of fasting that we believe are active. They include things like detoxification, that is the mobilization and the elimination of accumulated both normal metabolic and abnormal toxic products. That is certainly one. The effect on insulin resistant syndrome certainly seems to be profound. We believe that fasting affects enzymatic functions that allow the body to mobilize fat and fuel stores efficiently. Obviously fasting has an impact on weight loss, although that may not be our primary focus. It certainly is an effect of fasting. Naturesis, where the body selectively eliminates salt, and the consequence is excess fluid follows the salt. Fasting appears to help resolve gut leakage, a condition where partially digested proteins can “leak” into the bloodstream stimulating a cascade of unwanted immunological consequences. Perhaps most importantly, fasting effects taste neuroadaptation. After fasting, good food tastes good and patient diet compliance improves dramatically. The fact is that fasting has a more profound effect on many of these mechanisms than anything else that we know about.
Is it safe?
Fasting, when it is conducted in an appropriate environment with professional supervision, is both safe and effective in allowing the body to try to heal itself.
What about the common complaint we hear that I can't take the time away from work or life to fast? How do you respond to that?
That is a real problem. If you can't take the time away hopefully you will be so diligent in applying a health promoting diet and lifestyle that the need for fasting can be deferred, delayed or eliminated.
Does everyone who comes to the TrueNorth Health Center fast?
No, for many patients fasting is neither appropriate nor necessarily even indicated. So many patients that come to the center would go through a juice diet, modified feeding or just a standard health promoting dietary program.
Can you tell me of some of the notable people who have fasted or stayed with you at your clinic?
No, I can't.
One of the unique things that I know you have provided over the years at your center are internship experiences for physicians. Why is that so important? Can anyone fast people?
In order for a doctor to be able to successfully and safely fast people they need to have some experience. It is not a routine part of most doctors' training. And as a consequence, you need to be able to see people from beginning through the end to understand the various modifications in terms of laboratory interpretation, the ability to take a history and do a physical exam appropriate to fasting, and also to be able to overcome some of our natural bias we have against healing crisis – that is the body's attempt to generate acute responses in resolving chronic problems. And so that takes doctors about six months of training where they live at the center, and they integrate with our staff, and really develop the confidence as well as the skills to effectively and safely supervise patients who are fasting.
What was so significant about your hypertension study that was recently published and referred to in Health Science?
The study “Medically Supervised Water-only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension” was the first study that's been done using these methods that has been published in an indexed scientific journal. That is, indexed in Index Medicus, which means that any researcher looking for information on fasting, high blood pressure, etc., would be able to find it and would come across this study. It is the first study that has been in a peer reviewed journal that meets scientific criteria. The consequence is we've had 2,000 doctors who have contacted our website at healthpromoting.com in order to download the article and discuss with us the ramifications of this study.
How many patients did you study?
This study involved 174 consecutive patients with hypertension and the results demonstrated that in Stage 3 hypertension, that is patients with diastolic blood pressures of 180 or greater, the average drop was over 60 points which is the largest affect size ever demonstrated in the scientific literature in treating high blood pressure. This number of people studied was much larger than needed to reach statistical significance. A group attempting to reproduce this study would require several million dollars of funding.
What obstacles did you face in having it published?
There is always a tremendous amount of work involved in the publishing of a paper, especially a paper which has as its conclusion that the leading cause of morbidity and mortality is high blood pressure. It is also the leading contributing cause of reasons why people visit doctors and the leading reason for prescription medication. The most effective treatment is to do nothing, except fasting. That's a very difficult-to-swallow conclusion.
Do you think that is a very threatening conclusion to conventional medicine?
I think what is most threatening to conventional medicine right now is the idea that people are starting to wake up to the fact that the religion of modern medicine is actually a false religion and that people are becoming more aware that the focus needs to be on health and health promotion rather than on disease management. This is a good example where health promotion is more effective than disease management in people who are serious about getting healthy.
Do you think that's why fasting is on trial in California?
I think fasting is on trial in California for a number of reasons. One, I believe that the medical board still believes that chiropractors are rabid dogs who shouldn't have physical contact with patients. And they certainly don't want to see medical doctors and chiropractors working together in a cooperative fashion. I think that any kind of alternative therapy, regardless of what form, constitutes a potential threat. I think that fasting violates our basic tendency to want to do something – to take things from the outside rather than allow things to heal from the inside. I believe the powers recognize that this is a legitimate threat. Not so much fasting, but this whole alternative approach to care and that's why you see studies suggesting that there are more visits to alternative health practitioners in the United States last year than there were to conventional medical doctors. Substantial percentages of the economic resources are being diverted to alternative care and I think that in the case of our study, it certainly pressed a wrong nerve, and particularly when it was compounded by us signing a contract with California's largest labor union.
Tell me about the contract with California’s largest labor union.
The International Union of Operating Engineers signed a contract making fasting at TrueNorth Health Center a fully covered medical benefit for any of its members who have high blood pressure or diabetes and I think that certainly is going to be perceived by some as a threat. This contract came about as a result of a patient of mine having a particular interest in seeing this type of care being made available to his union brothers and sisters. Also with the publication of the study which suggested to those in power at the union that they may be able to save money by helping their members get healthy rather than managing their diseases.
So do you think you are targeted in part because you and the physicians associated with your facility are becoming successful?
I believe they think that we are a cancer that could spread through the system and could encourage other doctors to reach out and provide alternative care associated with alternative health practitioners; and that this could really spread. They want to do whatever they can to slow or delay or stop the spread of alternative care.
What's at stake for the NHA and its member hygienists if we fail in this litigation?
Right now it has been suggested that recommending fasting itself is a gross violation of the standard of medical practice perhaps rising to the level of criminal negligence. We are currently being defended by a number of attorneys including criminal attorneys, civil attorneys, and licensing attorneys because we are being attacked on multiple fronts. If we were to fail, I think the desire on the part of our adversaries would be that we would agree not to recommend fasting and I'm sure that if we did much of this would go away. But if we were to do that and doctors were to lose the right to recommend fasting as a viable option, I think that it would be the end of this style of practice that many of our members desire.
As California goes in this litigation, so goes the nation?
Clearly, I think the failure of us to succeed in this litigation would have a stifling affect on the country on any doctor's willingness to stick his or her neck out and recommend fasting.
What has this litigation cost you to date?
Well, a lot. To date there has been in excess of $100,000 expended in defending this case on all fronts, and we have not even had an appearance before a judge.
Do you anticipate this litigation continuing for some time?
We are hopeful that we have some trial dates set and we have some hearing dates coming up in the next couple of months. We are hopeful that the truth will prevail and they will choose to withdraw their complaints and allow us to continue to practice. If not, we will be forced to go to civil court in response to defending this action and that's probably going to be a drawn out and exceptionally expensive process.
Do you feel that the NHA members have the most to lose in this litigation?
I think it's all on the line here. If we succeed in this we can continue ahead with our union contracts and research we are doing with them. We are doing a prospective study that looks at the cost of care outcomes, not just the clinical outcomes. Once we demonstrate that this style of care is cost effective, I believe we will see it spread far and wide. As a matter of fact, we have already been contacted by some other unions interested in making this kind of care available to their members. Also as a consequence of the publication study, I've been hired by Western States Chiropractic College to conduct continuing education seminars to doctors in the field as well. I just returned from Western States teaching a class on fasting at the school. I've also been added to the faculty at Bastyr University where this will be our fourth year in teaching a 22 hour, two unit course on clinical fasting to the naturopathic physicians at Bastyr. I just finished my first presentation at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Also, Parker College Chiropractic in Texas has adopted our materials and has incorporated a section on fasting into their program on internal medicine and diagnosis. So we've now seen these principles of fasting become integrated into the required coursework and the continuing education coursework of the alternative practitioners around the country. That is very important. The publication of our research will, I think, make fasting more likely to become a covered benefit for other unions and health plans alike. Not to mention the fact that we are in the process now of building a new state-of-the-art, world-class, research-based facility that will focus on training doctors to supervise and conduct fasting as well as doing fasting research. That's been a long time coming and it's going to be part of an integrated campus with Kisco Corporation which is going to offer senior housing and assisted living. In fact one great area of research will be our ability to offer our TrueNorth Health Kitchen food as a food option for the people living in the senior housing and assisted living facilities because we can do some great research to show what happens when people live healthfully rather than consume the conventional diet.
So the future's never been so bright and never been so at risk?
We are at a crossroads. If we can survive this next medical challenge, then there is nothing that is going to stop us. I think that actually our adversaries are correct that if they don't stop us right now I don't think they are going to be able to. The fact is that this approach to healthcare is so much more efficient and effective than what's being currently made available to most people, I don't think once people become aware of it they will allow it to be stifled.
The ANHS, now the National Health Association, has gone to bat for Dr. Shelton, and others in the past and I'm confident that they'll go to bat again. The best of luck.
This interview appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of Health Science magazine.