Inedia

Inedia

Inedia is the alleged ability to live without food, which has been dismissed by the scientific community. Breatharianism is a related concept, in which believers claim food and possibly water are not necessary, and that humans can be sustained solely by prana (the vital life force in Hinduism), or according to some, by the energy in sunlight. The terms breatharianism or inedia may also refer to this philosophy practiced as a lifestyle in place of the usual diet. While it is often seen as an esoteric practice performed by eastern ascetics, recently some groups such as the Breatharian Institute of America have promoted the practice as an option for anybody, once the proper techniques for accessing it are made known (after paying a fee of 25,000,000 USD, in the case of the Breatharian Institute of America).

The word 'inedia' simply means 'fasting' in Latin, and was first used to describe a fast-based lifestyle within Catholic tradition, which holds that certain saints were able to survive for extended periods of time without food or drink beyond the Eucharist.

Mainstream scientific theories about nutrition and generally accepted common sense both indicate that a person who follows this practice even in the short term would die of starvation or dehydration. Breatharians have seldom submitted themselves to medical testing, and currently there is no evidence to support their claims. In a handful of documented cases, individuals attempting breatharian fasting have died. Prominent skeptic James Randi has this to say about Breatharianism:

There are some claims that are far too implausible to warrant any serious examination, such as the "Breatharian" claims in which the applicant states that he can survive without food or water. Science conclusively tells us all we need to know about such matters, and the James Randi Educational Foundation feels no obligation to engage applicants in such delusions.

Jasmuheen

Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve) was probably the most famous advocate of Breatharianism during the 1990s. She claimed "I can go for months and months without having anything at all other than a cup of tea. My body runs on a different kind of nourishment. Several interviewers found her house full of food, but she claimed the food was for her husband. In 1999, she volunteered to be monitored closely by the Australian television program 60 Minutes for one week without eating to demonstrate her methods. Greve claimed that she failed because on the first day of the test she had been confined in a hotel room near a busy road, saying that the stress and pollution kept her from getting the nutrients she needed from the air. “I asked for fresh air. Seventy percent of my nutrients come from fresh air. I couldn’t even breathe,” she said. On the third day the test moved to a mountainside retreat where she could get plenty of fresh air and live happily. After Greve had fasted for four days, Dr. Beres Wenck, president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association, urged her to stop the test.

According to the doctor, Greve’s pupils were dilated, her speech was slow, she was "quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%." Towards the end of the test, she said, "Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risks if she goes any further are kidney failure. 60 Minutes would be culpable if they encouraged her to continue. She should stop now." The test was stopped. Dr. Wink said, "Unfortunately there are a few people who may believe what she says, and I'm sure it's only a few, but I think it's quite irresponsible for somebody to be trying to encourage others to do something that is so detrimental to their health. She challenged the results of the program, saying, "Look, 6,000 people have done this around the world without any problem. Though she claims thousands of followers, mostly in Germany, there is no evidence that any have lived for long periods of time without any food at all.

Jasmuheen was awarded the Bent Spoon Award by Australian Skeptics in 2000 ("presented to the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle"). She also won the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature for Living on Light. Jasmuheen claims that their beliefs are based on the writings and "more recent channelled material" of the Count of St Germain. She claims that her DNA has expanded from 2 to 12 strands, to "absorb more hydrogen". When offered $30,000 to prove her claim with a blood test, she said that she didn't understand the relevance.

Deaths

The well-publicized deaths of 49-year-old Australian-born Scotland resident Verity Linn, 31-year-old Munich kindergarten teacher Timo Degen, and 53-year-old Melbourne resident Lani Marcia Roslyn Morris, while attempting to enter the Breatharian "diet," have drawn further criticism of the idea. Jim Vadim Pesnak, 63, and his wife Eugenia, 60, went to jail for three years on charges of manslaughter for their involvement in the death of Morris. Verity Lynn, the Scottish woman who inadvertently killed herself by choosing the Breatharian "diet" was a nominee for the 1999 Darwin Awards. She "took to the highlands", the article says, "with only a tent and her grit and determination." She died of hypothermia and dehydration, aggravated by lack of food. Jasmuheen claimed that her death was brought on by a psycho-spiritual problem, rather than a physiological one.

Jasmuheen has denied any involvement with the three deaths and claims she cannot be held responsible for the actions of her followers. In reference to the death of Lani Morris, she said that perhaps Morris was "not coming from a place of integrity and did not have the right motivation".

Hira Ratan Manek

Hira Ratan Manek (born September 12, 1937) claims that since June 18th, 1995, he has lived exclusively on water, and occasional tea, coffee, and buttermilk. He says sunlight is the key to his health, citing the Jainist Tirthankara Mahavira, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Native Americans as his inspiration.

According to his website, three extended periods of his fasting have been observed under control of scientific and medical teams: the first lasting 211 days in 1995-96 in Calicut, India, under the direction of Dr C. K. Ramachandran. During that period he is reported to have lost 41 kg.

The second study lasted 411 days in 2000-2001 in Ahmedabad, India, under the direction of a 21 member team of medical doctors and scientists led by Dr Sudhir Shah and Dr K. K. Shah, a past President of the Indian Medical Association and current Chairman of the Jainist Doctors' Federation The latter group aims to "Promote scientific research and medical education based on principles of Jainism. Dr K. K. Shah said "Fasting is a method of curing the meditation of mind and body which has been proved by great jain monks, sanyasis and munis of ancient times. There is a need to propagate these methods during this age of increasing diseases of the body and mind due to overconsumptions and increasing with fasting would help maintain perfection.". Dr Sudhir Shah was also involved in the study of Prahlad Jani.

The paper published by Dr Sudhir Shah makes it clear that dozens of people had access to Hira Ratan Manek during the study and he went on at least one excursion: "Most surprisingly, he had himself climbed the famous Shatrunjay mountain (Palitana hill) on 4.4.01, on 401st day of his legendary fasting along with 500 fellowmen without anybody’s help, within 1.5 Hrs. only". The paper reports that the subject lost 19 kg of weight during the study period. Neither the experiment, as described in the paper, nor the paper itself have been validated by any well-known Western scientific or medical journal.

The third study lasted 130 days in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. George C. Brainard. Dr Sudhir Shah, who led the previous study, acted as an advisor and consultant to the USA team.

However, Dr. Andrew Newberg said that Hira stayed at the University of Pennsylvania only for brain scans on studies of meditation, not his ability to fast indefinitely. Newberg denied ever undertaking the 130-day study.

Prahlad Jani

Prahlad Jani, a sadhu, spent ten days under strict observation by physicians in Ahmedabad, India, in 2003. The study was led by Dr Sudhir Shah, the same doctor who led the study of Hira Ratan Manek. Reportedly, during the observation, he was given only 100 millilitres of water a day to use as mouthwash, which was collected and measured after he used it, to make sure he hadn't consumed any. Throughout the observation, he passed no urine or stool, but doctors say urine appeared to form in the bladder, only to be reabsorbed. However, despite Jani's claim to have gone without food for decades, Jani was not engaged in strenuous exercise during the ten-day trial, and longer trials were not recorded under similarly strict observation. Further, his weight did drop slightly during the 10 days, casting some doubt on his claim to go indefinitely without food. Jani claims a goddess sustains him through amrit that filters down through a hole in his palate. The Indian Rationalists label him a "village fraud".

Religious traditions of inedia

Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism also has traditions of inedia, in which saints, as well as Jesus, are claimed to have been able to go for months or years without any food (or with no food but Communion). Such saints include:

Hinduism

Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi details two alleged historical examples of Breatharianism, Giri Bala and Therese Neumann.

See also

References

External links

Case studies

Proponent sites

Criticism

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