Food.

Voedsel. Φαγητό. Bwyd. питание.

Chakula. 餐飲. Aliments. Mat. Comida. طعام.

غذا. Makanan. Cibo. フード. Ushqim. Meaai.

Kadaharan. Món ăn. Kos. Manje.

No matter where you live, no matter what language you speak, everyone in the entire world cannot live without it: food.

Our bodies must have sustenance and fuel daily, or our functionality will go down drastically.

But how quickly does that functionality go down without food? How long can a person last without it?

Of course, because our bodies are all so different, this is a hard question to answer, and it is even more difficult to research due to the ethical nature behind such research.

However, from November 19, 1944 to December 20, 1945, a study on starvation was conducted by the University of Minnesota. It was titled the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, or the Minnesota Semi-Starvation Experiment. This clinical study was aimed at understanding the effects of human starvation. Out of 200 volunteers, 36 men were chosen to participate and had to lose 25% of their normal body weight (American Psychological Association).

That’s insane, right? Not to mention incredibly unethical—to starve people for the sake of research. Why in the world would someone sign up for that?

However, as crazy and unethical as it sounds, this study was conducted for one purpose: to help people. World War II and the deprivation it scourged was the reason this study was even started. Researchers and scientists wanted to figure out how to help those who had suffered through starvation periods recover in the most healthy way possible.  

But what exactly happens, physiologically, when a person enters into starvation mode?

The Bright Side, a YouTube channel that creates educational videos and has 27 million subscribers, posted a video titled, “What Will Happen If You Eat Nothing for 7 Days.” The effects on the body after even the first few days are startling. Here is a summary of what happens in bulleted format:

  • As soon as you’ve begun your “no food” period, nothing much will happen within those first 6 hours. You are going to be fine and will probably not experience anything detrimental to your health.
  • After the 6-hour mark, your body will begin to notice that something is wrong. There is no food, and your body, as if turning on a switch, will begin to starve itself since there is not enough glucose in your blood. (For those wondering what glucose is, Merriam-Webster states that it is “the sweet, colorless, soluble form that occurs widely in nature and is the usual form in which carbohydrate is assimilated by animals). Basically, it is a very important energy source in living organisms that is a component of many carbohydrates (Dictonary.com). It’s responsible for fueling your brain, muscle tissue, and red blood cells.
  • After 6 hours of not eating, your body will enter a process called Ketosis. The only way for your body to survive is to begin breaking down fat to use as energy.
  • Your fat will be broken down into fatty acids, but unfortunately, your brain cannot use these acids as fuel.
  • So as another resort, your brain will turn to Ketone bodies for energy. It works for a moment, but not for long. Ketone bodies cannot replace glucose because Ketones are “acids made when your body begins using fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. This happens because there is not enough insulin to get sugar from the blood into the cells, and the body turns fat into energy. When fat is broken down, Ketone bodies are made and can accumulate in the body (Diabetes Research Institute Foundation).
  • All of this leads to cognitive functioning impairment.
  • After about 3 days without food, it’s your brain that goes into another extreme: it starts to break down your body’s protein. Proteins release amino acids, which can then be converted into glucose your body really needs in order to keep up functionality.
  • So your brain is finally happy, but now it’s your body that suffers.
  • After that, your body will start to cannibalize itself and will begin to eat away at muscle mass.
  • Women’s menstrual cycles may pause at this stage.
  • Both genders bone density begins to diminish.
  • After about a week of not eating food, your immune system is seriously weakened. It can no longer block the path to your system and keep away all diseases and viruses. No vitamins or minerals are coming in, and it is focusing all its faculties on staying alive.
  • Most people can die from disease at this stage because their bodies can no longer fight off diseases, even if it’s just a small disease.
  • After one week of no eating, a person’s body will become more and more fragile by day (The Bright Side).

This is quite a scary process.

Even though this is the factual, physical process of what happens to the body when a person begins to starve, that process can either be gradual or accelerated depending on the health the person is in at the time. Which, again, is why it is so incredibly hard to know for certain how long a person can last without food. Scientific American notes that the “duration of survival without food is greatly influenced by factors such as body weight, genetic variation, other health considerations, and, most importantly, the presence or absence of dehydration.”

From famous historical figures such as Mahatma Ghandi who fasted for a period of 21 days or hunger strikes such as the 1980 or 1981 Irish hunger strikes, the 2000 Death Fast in Turkey, or the 2012 Kurdish prisoner’s hunger strike, it is difficult to say just how long a person’s body can go without food, but one study in the British Medical Journal cited that there were “several hunger strikes that ended after 21 to 40 days.” The reason being is that participants of the hunger strikes were experiencing severe, life-threatening symptoms and therefore had to end the strike.

However, in an article published by the Independent, people who are starving will feel “faint, suffer lightheadedness, and dizzy spells, will feel weak and often cold.” Days 35-42 are considered to be the “most unpleasant phase to those who have survived prolonged fasting” because they can bring bouts of vertigo, vomiting, and difficulty drinking water. “After seven weeks without food, you can expect confusion, loss of hearing and/or eyesight, and internal hemorrhaging. And behond 45 days? Expect death at any point.”

Additionally, D News states that children are the most risk to adverse reactions to starvation. Because children are growing, their bodies suck up all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they can to enhance growth. But starvation can permanently affect a child’s development and has been known to cause death more quickly. “Children can only last 32 days without food. Adults can last approximately 70 days” (D News). However, these numbers are—again—only estimates. A person’s health before starvation could greatly affect the time he or she is able to survive without food. This theory is underscored by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) which explains in an article that it “seems possible to survive without food and drink within a time span of 8 to 21 days.” However NCBI affirms that “if a person is only deprived of food, the survival time may even go up to about two months, although this is influenced by many factors.”

Food.

It is insane, for those of us who are extremely blessed and fortunate to have food be part of our daily lives, to even imagine this ever happening. But hunger is far more widespread than many people realize, even in today’s world. The UN World Food Programme reports that 1 in every 9 people do not have enough to eat and that 795 million people suffer from malnourishment.

Let’s just think about that for a moment: 795 million people.

That’s a lot.

That’s why it is so important to have the knowledge, even if you live in a land of plenty, of growing your own food. Learn how to take care of yourself and your family so that, if such times should ever arise, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are prepared for food shortages and famines. You will be able to provide for your family and keep them fed. And although it may be difficult to know how you can even help those who are suffering in foreign lands, you can. It may be small contributions here and there where you can afford it, but helping even a little bit can make a difference in someone’s life, however small it may be.

That’s what we’re about here are Survivable.com. We want to teach others how they can plan and prepare so the people they love can be safe. It’s not about doomsday prepping or teaching people to be territorial over their provisions. We want everyone to be able to learn survival skills so that we can all be prepared and succeed together because one thing is for certain: we’re stronger when we’re united.

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