Body processes

Starvation – Function, Task & Diseases


This article aims to address the issue of starvation or starvation. We have warned about the dangers of obesity and how to prevent it many times here at, so it seems superfluous to talk about a problem like starvation. However, events such as the spilling of miners and other catastrophes prompt many readers to ask the question again and again: How long can a person actually go hungry? What are the consequences of starvation? How do you behave after a period of hunger?

Why are you starving at all?

If one wants to give an even approximately adequate answer to this question, then one must first explain what processes take place in the human body during a period of hunger. The most important insights into the changed course of the metabolism were obtained through medical observation by so-called hunger artists and during therapeutic fasting . Fasting is a voluntary abstinence from food for healing purposes. During this time, only adequate hydration with tea or juice is provided.

The difference to starvation lies in the emphasis on voluntariness. As a result, the attitude of those concerned is much more positive, even in the case of certain physical complaints. In addition, the decision to fast comes with a purpose that is lacking in people who are forced to starve. One can distinguish three stages in the process of starvation metabolism. In the first three days, the organism uses up the readily available supplies from the liver and muscles. The weight loss – mainly due to the loss of water – is about one kilogram per day. This time is associated with a strong feeling of hunger, but this soon subsides if you voluntarily abstain from food.

If the starvation is done under duress, then even during this time the feeling of hunger can increase to the point of being unbearable. After three days, the body has adjusted to the new situation. He is now attacking his reserves, but without endangering his actual existence. It gets its energy by burning the fat deposits under the skin and by breaking down muscle tissue. The change in the body is reflected, among other things, in a characteristic bland body odor. The daily weight loss is now 300 grams a day. Since it is mainly fatty tissue, one can assume a calorie turnover of about 2500 calories.

Physical deterioration from starvation

Overcoming the so-called re-poisoning is essential for surviving a period of hunger. Even with complete food abstinence, the body releases metabolic waste products into the intestine. However, since the regular excretion of the stool stops very soon, these slags remain in the intestine and are partially absorbed again. With therapeutic fasting, you can rid the body of these substances with enemas. If this is not the case, then these reabsorbed slags mean an additional source of disturbance for the organism, which greatly impairs the well-being. It may sound amazing, but after the body has adapted to the state of hunger, physical performances such as gymnastics, walks or even long hikes are quite possible.

Especially gymnastics and walks are part of the so-called fasting regime. On the other hand, standing up causes difficulties, since the adaptability of the circulatory system decreases, the blood pools in the legs and dizziness occurs at times. A clouding of consciousness does not occur at this time. On the contrary, we know from fasting people that special spiritual achievements and insights are possible. In general, a fast may be extended to at least three weeks without danger. Only then are the less vital organs broken down. The brain, heart and kidneys are spared for a very long time.

Finally, the emaciation takes on ever greater proportions. In addition to the complete atrophy of the subcutaneous fatty tissue and loss of muscles, the secretion of the tear and salivary glands dries up. The entry into this critical period is indicated by a conspicuous drop in weight. In addition to the reduction in physical performance, there is a loss of willpower and mental attitude. The unbearable feeling of hunger subsides. The starving person becomes apathetic until finally death occurs when the regulatory centers of the body are extinguished. An exact point in time for how long people can endure hunger cannot be given.

In addition to the state of nutrition at the onset of starvation, the willpower of the individual plays an important role. Irish patriot Terence MacSwiney is reported to have killed himself by refusing food for 74 days. Hunger strikes, which were poorly organized as acts of desperation, reportedly lasted only a few days. Positive impressions, such as hope for success or liberation or resistance to oppressors, can significantly prolong stamina.

The ability to adapt to such an exceptional situation is of course also limited by age; Children and old people are less resilient. Women should be able to starve longer than men. Heat loss must also be given special consideration. We know from our own experience that we can eat more in winter than in summer. This condition is caused by the increasing basal metabolic rate when it is cold.

Starvation damages the body

The time after surviving a period of hunger is difficult. More recently, scientific experiences have been made with inmates from concentration camps or prisoners. With the first bite, ravenous hunger set in, which in many cases had serious consequences if left unchecked. The overfilling of the stomach and the lack of digestive power can lead to serious, sometimes fatal disorders if the food is not selected. Therefore, a careful diet structure is necessary, which gradually leads to a normal diet through frequent small meals of easily digestible foods containing carbohydrates and dairy products.

Prolonged starvation, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, which is not uncommon in young people is sure to damage the body. On the other hand, limited, sensible restriction of food in the case of obesity and medically controlled therapeutic fasting have a positive effect on the organism and are indispensable in the treatment of certain diseases.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.