Episode 221 S6-21
Effects of Starvation
The Endless Night Ch 21
There are lots of possible disaster scenarios that can leave our bodies starving. Whether self or environmentally inflicted, the body has a series of procedures it does to keep you alive. Today on the podcast, Chin and I discuss the realities of starvation after hearing how it is affecting Erika in The Endless Night adventure.
The initial response your body makes when it starts to starve is to conserve body mass. Whether or not the condition is brought on because of environmental circumstances or self-inflicted because of an urge to change body weight makes little difference in the effects. Starvation has some disastrous effects on the body. Long term starvation in the young will slow growth and delay puberty. If you are forced to go without food for an extended period, having a few extra pounds may not be a bad thing.
When the body is lacking the nutrition it needs to work correctly, cortisol and insulin production drop rapidly. Your body will start to break down muscle, making you feel extremely weak. You will begin to lack electrolytes and nutrients like calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. The bones start to suffer, making the body susceptible to osteoporosis.
The inside of the body does not do well when starved. The liver begins to shrink, along with the gastrointestinal system. This diminished size will leave your body feeling full when you eat a small amount. The kidneys, as well as the heart, lose mass as well, and without proper hydration, the kidneys are likely to fail.
Cardiovascularly, the heart rate slows, and it’s possible to develop arrhythmias or have a heart attack. The body temperature will lower and be a challenge to maintain. The mind begins to slow down its thought process, and it will be hard to concentrate.
According to Josef Brozek, author of Psychology of Human Starvation and Nutritional Rehabilitation, even in situations of low caloric intake, the effects on the human mind can be severe. In the experiments he performed, Brozek found that his subjects were fatigued. They had an increased appetite, accompanied by hunger pains and muscle soreness. They were irritable and very sensitive to noise. There was also an increase in what Brozek called the “neurotic triad.” The tried includes hypochondriasis, depression, and hysteria. There can be an increase in the need for activity and a decrease in sex drive. Brozek’s patient’s friends told Brozek that the personalities of their friends had changed.
During any environmentally caused period of starvation, these symptoms that Brozek describes would only increase the chaotic atmosphere. He explains that even after returning to a healthy diet, most of them hadn’t recovered after three months. The overall recovery times stretched anywhere from two months to two years. Many of his subjects put on fat afterward and some of them became extremely overweight.
Your body will face some extreme challenges if it begins lacking nutrition, but how long does it take to start feeling the effects? You might be surprised how long you could go without eating as long as you have prepared for the event. There was a man, Mr. Barbieri, in Scotland that weighed in at 456 Lbs. when he decided to stop eating. Mr. Barbieri went and incredible 382 days without eating. Doctors could tell from his chemical imbalance that he truly was not eating. During the fast, Doctors provided Mr. Barbieri with supplements, and he stayed well hydrated. When he finished, he weighed about 180 Lbs.
Not all of us have this much extra weight that we could live on for a year. The length of time your body could survive depends on many factors. The quality of food you consume makes a difference, as well as your body’s muscle structure. The environmental conditions of the circumstance will also make a big difference. One thing that does not change is if you don’t have water, you will not survive long. Go for water over food.
The stomach cramps and thoughts of food will begin after only twelve hours. After twenty-four, the pains will increase. You may start burping and become nauseous. You will become distracted by your focus on food. Focus for essential functions still exists, but you will be cranky.
Forty-eight hours later the glycogen stored in your liver and muscles is gone. Fatigue and agitation accompany shaking and instability. Your mind will begin to lose the focus for intricate activities.
Fat is burned by the body to produce ketones for the body to live on after the glycogen is gone. At this point, a little extra fat is not a bad thing. However, the brain can’t use ketones, so it starts to harvest muscle immediately. After the fat is gone, the body begins to use the muscle as well.
In the final stages of starvation, the body’s cell die. There is not a pattern to which ones go first. Without potassium, the body is weak and spasms uncontrollably. The immune system will be compromised, and the lack of electrolytes will leave the body wanting for oxygen.
Once 40-50% of the body weight in an average person is gone, there is no coming back. As the end approaches there will be abdominal bloating, along with flaky skin and dehydration. The hair begins to change color, and the body may become paralyzed. The immune system is now non-existent, leaving the body defenseless. The opportunity to recover has now come and gone.
There are many historical examples of successful fasts, but in all of the stories they have access to water. You need to stay hydrated! Supplements are a smart idea to add into your go-bag. Even without food, supplements can increase your chances of survival.
Super Prepper explains the math to figure out how many days you can survive. Go to https://tdeecalculator.net/ and enter your information. A few numbers will populate. Multiply your current maintenance calories per day by 1500 to determine the number of extra calories your body has in reserve. Then divide that number by your basal metabolic rate.
A few extra pounds may give you a longer starvation survival time, but that doesn’t mean you should go crazy eating garbage. Your brain and your body will eventually be harvesting your muscles, so you want to make sure you have a lot of them built up. Healthy fats on the body will give you a better energy source if they are needed. In a situation where you are facing starvation, you will probably have to push your muscles hard. When you train today, you should make sure you think about this need for endurance while increasing flexibility.
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Chin Gibson is the mystery prepper. Friend to all and known to none. His real identity hidden from the public, Chin is well known to the online prepper community as the go to resource for finding a community member to solve your problem. He is an awesome people connector and does his best to unite the voices educating the masses about being ready for a unforeseen life challenge. Chin will be joining Sara to co-host The Changing Earth Podcast.