In India, more specifically among the followers of a religion called Santana Dharma (popularly known as Hinduism), wives fast a day every year for the increase in lifespan of her husband. This custom is referred as ‘Karva-Chauth’. In this blog post, I would make an attempt to list out the scientific reasons behind this custom i.e. how does fasting by wife increase the life expectancy of her husband?
Foundations of Santana Dharma are deeply rooted in the advance scientific culture that once existed in ancient India. However, due to decline of science in India, several customs of Santana Dharma have become blind beliefs. Also, over the years, several customs have gone through unscientific modifications resulting in ambiguity. Nevertheless, there still remains several customs that reflect the rich scientific understanding of ancient Indians. Let us now, understand the scientific explanation for Karva-Chauth custom.
Fasting for a limited duration (~12 hours) has scientifically proven to have positive results on both adult men and women. Various publications on this can be found in the literature. Following are the core advantages highlighted by several researchers
- 1. Fasting results in biological process called ‘autolysis’, which is breaking down of fat stored in the body in order to produce energy. Autolysis leads to higher detoxification, a normal body process of eliminating or neutralizing toxins through body organs such as kidneys, liver, skins, etc. In layman terms, detoxification is equivalent to body cleaning.
- 2. It is proven that, during fasting, healing process occurs faster within the body due to higher efficiency in protein synthesis resulting in healthier cells, tissues and organs. (This is also proven in several animals. When animals get wounded, they stop consuming food to increase the rate of healing.)
Note: Prolonged fasting for more than 24 hours can be harmful to health. In above paragraph, fasting refers to ‘not consuming any food for duration of approx. 12 hours.
Now, that explains why fasting can be helpful to human beings. Better health is equivalent to better life expectancy. But the above scientific explanation doesn’t explain why fasting by a wife would result in higher life expectancy of her husband. To understand this, let us look at some recent biomedical results.
According to recent research done by Giana Angelo and Marc R.Van Gilst, female worms when subjected to fasting (starvation) have shown increase in their life-expectancy and more remarkably have shown increase in their reproductive longevity. In a paper titled ‘Starvation protects Germline stem cells and extends reproductive longevity in C. elegan’ published in Science journal highlights these findings.
“The study of starvation-resistant biological programs has elucidated numerous mechanisms influencing aging. Here we present the discovery and characterization of starvation-induced adult reproductive diapause (ARD) in Caenorhabditis elegans. ARD differs from the C. elegans dauer diapause in that it enables sexually mature adults to delay reproductive onset 15-fold and extend total adult life span at least threefold. The effectiveness of ARD requires apoptotic death of the entire germ line, except for a small population of protected germline stem cells (GSCs). When feeding is resumed, surviving GSCs regenerate a new germ line capable of offspring production near the level of non-starved animals. The starvation-sensing nuclear receptor NHR-49 is required for ARD entry and recovery. Our findings establish mechanisms for preserving stem cell potency and reproductive potential during prolonged starvation.”
Dr. Van Gilst goes on to quote, “Many paradigm-shifting discoveries in C. elegans have since been replicated in humans. Therefore, the idea that our findings will be relevant to human reproduction is a possibility that certainly needs exploration” and “If such a process exists in humans, it likely evolved to help our ancestors preserve fertility during periods of famine or food shortage. We certainly don't have a prescription for famine. Consequently, our study should not be used to promote potentially dangerous interventions such as severe caloric restriction and starvation as a means to restore a woman's fertility”
If we assume that, fasting indeed improves the reproductive longevity and life expectancy among women, it still doesn’t prove ‘fasting by wife increases the life expectancy of men’. For this, we need to look at another important biomedical result.
According to the research done by Davey Smith, S. Frankel and J. Yarnell from University of Bristol, sexual activity seems to have a protective effect on men’s health. As per their research paper titled “Sex and death: are they related? Findings from the Caerphilly cohort Study”,
“Mortality risk was 50% lower in the group with high orgasmic frequency than in the group with low orgasmic frequency, with evidence of a dose-response relation across the groups. Age adjusted odds ratio for all-cause mortality was 2.0 for the group with low frequency of orgasm (95% confidence interval 1.1 to 3.5, test for trend P = 0.02). With adjustment for risk factors this became 1.9 (1.0 to 3.4, test for trend P = 0.04). Death from coronary heart disease and from other causes showed similar associations with frequency of orgasm, although the gradient was most marked for deaths from coronary heart disease. Analysed in terms of actual frequency of orgasm, the odds ratio for total mortality associated with an increase in 100 orgasms per year was 0.64 (0.44 to 0.95).”
Now, let’s combine the two results and understand the bigger picture. It can be summarized as follows,
- · Fasting increases reproductive longevity and female lifespan
- · Higher Reproductive longevity implies potential for more sexual activity by women during lifespan.
- · Higher Sexual activity has protective effect on men’s health, increasing the life expectancy.
As per Karva-chauth custom in India, a wife fasts for the increase in life expectancy for her husband. Scientifically, her fasting leads to higher reproductive longevity, leading to higher sexual activity during her lifespan. And since Santana Dharma strictly prohibits adultery, husband is the only option for sexual activity for married woman; hence her increase in sexual activity is directly proportional to her husband’s sexual activity, which in turn means, husband is going to have higher life expectancy due to increase in sexual activity.
The above scientific explanation can be easily tested on animals and humans, hence one can safely say, ancient Indians could have conducted scientific experiment and come to the conclusion that, by ‘fasting by wives would result in higher life expectancy for their husbands’. Note, this result is statistical in nature, individual cases might vary. But overall, it would increase the life expectancy.
Now, that explains why, ancient Indians started the custom of Karva-Chauth.