how long can you go without food
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how long can you go without food,
A typical, well-nourished male weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds) technically has enough calories stored to survive for between 1 and 3 monthsTrusted Source.
However, people who have voluntarily stopped eating to participate in hunger strikes have died after 45–61 daysTrusted Source, which suggests that a person would be unlikely to survive for 3 months.
The body needs the nutrients in Food to survive. It uses protein, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as vitamins and minerals, to renew cells and fuel vital bodily processes.
Without food, the body starts to use its own tissue as fuel, but it can only do this for so long.
Scientists are not sure exactly how long the average person can go without food. They have not studied starvation in traditional experiments because it would be unethical to ask a person not to eat for a prolonged period in order to examine the outcome.
The best indication that researchers have of how long people can survive comes from those who have been on hunger strike.
Why the time period varies
Eliminating food and water intake for a significant period of time is also known as starvation. Your body can be subject to starvation after a day or two without food or water. At that time, the body starts functioning differently to reduce the amount of energy it burns. Eventually, starvation leads to death.
There is no hard and fast “rule of thumb” for how long you can live without food. There’s a lack of scientific research on starvation because it’s now considered unethical to study starvation in human subjects.
There are some studies that explore old research on starvation, as well as examine more recent occurrences of starvation in the real world. These instances include hunger strikes, religious fasts, and other situations.
These studies have uncovered several observations about starvation:
- An article in Archiv Fur KriminologieTrusted Source states the body can survive for 8 to 21 days without food and water and up to two months if there’s access to an adequate water intake.
- Modern-day hunger strikes have provided insight into starvation. One study in the British Medical JournalTrusted Source cited several hunger strikes that ended after 21 to 40 days. These hunger strikes ended because of the severe, life-threatening symptoms the participants were experiencing.
- There seems to be a certain “minimum” number on the body mass index (BMI) scale for survival. According to the journal Nutrition, men with a BMI of less than 13 and women with a BMI of less than 11 cannot sustain life.
- An article in the British Medical JournalTrusted Source concludes that those who are of a normal weight will lose a higher percentage of their body weight and muscle tissue faster than those who are obese when starving during the first three days.
- According to the journal Nutrition, women’s body composition makes them able to withstand starvation longer.
What factors affect survival?
Many factors can affect how long a person can go without food. A person’s age, sex, body size, fitness, general health, and activity level all play a role.
The amount of liquid that the person drinks will also be significant. Experts believe that sipping water from early on in the period without food may prolong survival.
There are only limited studies into how long people can live without eating. Many look at people who chose to starve themselves and were later evaluated by a doctor.3
How is this possible?
Being able to live for days and weeks with no food and water seems inconceivable to many of us. After all, a daylong fast or even an hours-long stretch without food and water can make many of us irritable and low on energy.
Your body actually adjusts itself if you engage in a short-term fast or are unable to access food and water for very long stretches of time. This allows people to engage in religious fasts and even try “fasting” diets like the eat-stop-eat approach without doing irreparable damage to their bodies.
It takes about eight hours without eating for your body to change how it operates. Before that, it functions as if you were eating regularly.
Under normal circumstances, your body breaks down food into glucose. The glucose provides energy to the body.
Once the body hasn’t had access to food for 8 to 12 hours, your glucose storage is depleted. Your body will begin to convert glycogen from your liver and muscles into glucose.
After your glucose and glycogen are depleted, your body will begin to use amino acids to provide energy. This process will affect your muscles and can carry your body along for about three days of starvationTrusted Source before metabolism makes a major shift to preserve lean body tissue.
How is this possible?
To prevent excessive muscle loss, the body begins to rely on fat stores to create ketones for energy, a process known as ketosis. You will experience significant weight loss during this time. One of the reasons women are able to sustain starvation longer than men is that their bodies have a higher fat composition. Females are also able to hold on to protein and lean muscle tissue better than males during starvation.
The more fat stores available, the longer a person can typically survive during starvation. Once the fat stores have been completely metabolized, the body then reverts back to muscle breakdown for energy, since it’s the only remaining fuel source in the body.
You’ll begin to experience severe adverse symptoms during the stage of starvation where your body is using its muscle reserves for energy. A study in the British Medical JournalTrusted Source states that those undergoing a hunger strike should be monitored closely for severe side effects of starvation after losing 10 percent of their body weight. It also says that very serious conditions will occur when an individual loses 18 percent of their body weight.
Fighting Starvation: How Your Body Behaves
Our bodies rely on glucose, as it is our primary source of energy. Starting from this, let’s see not how long you can go without food, but how your body works during a period of fasting.
- If we stopped eating for a whole day, our bodies would deplete the entire blood sugar reserve.
- At the end of that fasting day, your body starts releasing a hormone called glucagon. In turn, it stimulates the liver to produce glucose to feed your brain, mostly.
- Since your muscles rely on fatty acids to function, in 2 to 3 days spent without any food, the adipose tissue of your body becomes the primary source of fuel.
- In a couple of days more, your liver starts to transform fatty acids into ketone bodies. This process is probably more familiar to those who keep the Keto diet. The ketone bodies circulate in the bloodstream to the brain so it can use them for fuel. At this point, the daily glucose requirements for our brains to work lowers dramatically;
- When your body also depletes the reserves of fatty acids, it turns to the muscles for fuel and starts consuming the proteins in your tissues.
- Progressively, as the protein breakdown continues, you lose the function of the heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs until you reach the point of no return.
Here is the curious thing when it comes to how long can you live without food: the fact that your liver begins the ketone production is what allows human beings to survive prolonged periods without food. It is also the building block of the ketogenic diets.
What Are The Effects Of Starvation?
Living and not eating has serious affects on your body. The main systems around the body will deteriorate at a rapid rate with a lack of water and meals. Some of the main effects of starvation on the body are:
- feeling faint
- feeling dizzy
- water retention
- drop in blood pressure
- slowing down of heart rate
- dehydration (even if water is being drank)
- malfunctioning thyroids
- pain in the abdomen
- low potassium levels
- fluctuation in body temperature
- experiencing post traumatic stress or suffering from depression
- going into cardiac arrest or having a heart attack
- organ failure
Once starvation has been experienced for a prolonged period of time, a person cannot go back to consuming the normal amount of fare they would have before they began not eating. The body takes a while to get used to eating again, a process which should be taken very slowly to stop adverse reactions from happening. These reactions are referred to as refeeding syndrome and can include:
- neurological illnesses
- heart failure and other heart conditions
- swelling of the tissues around the body’s cells
A doctor will have to be involved in supervising eating once starvation is over. The normal diet for the refeeding process is lactose free food products, items low in protein, low in sugar and low in calories too.