New Delhi: Anna Hazare is in the fourth day of his fast unto death demanding a stronger anti-corruption Lok Pal Bill. He has lost 2.5 kg and his blood pressure is fluctuating but he is mentally going strong, according to Dr Praveen Sharma who examined the veteran social activist. But how long can he survive without food?
The extent to which a human body and survive without food varies from individual to individual. Mahatma Gandhi has gone without food for as long as 21 days. Freedom fighter Jatindra Nath Das died after a 63-day fast while imprisoned in Lahore. Frank Stagg, a jailed Irish Republican Army member, also couldn't survive a 62-day hunger strike.
Doctors believe that most humans can live for up to eight weeks without consuming food, but as long as they drink water. People with extra body fat and/or general physical fitness have a better chance of surviving longer durations. Metabolism also plays a role; people with slower metabolism have a better chance of going on longer. The body is also able to adjust its metabolism rate with the rate of change of food intake. Also important is the climate, both extreme heat and cold are not conducive for a fasting protester. The body has to burn more calories to keep itself at the right temperature. Will power is another important aspect. Someone with a strong will to survive will be able to hold up longer than someone who doesn't want to.
When the food supply to the body is stopped, it first uses carbohydrates to keep the essential functions going, followed by body fat and then the body starts using the proteins, this is when starvation sets in and body begins to consume the body itself for fuel. The liver and intestines lose the most weight during starvation and so do the heart and kidneys. This can cause permanent damage to the vital organs. The reduction in the heart's size leads to lower blood pressure and slower pulse rate. Extended fasting can cause cardiac dysrhythmia arrest and kidney failure, in addition to other health complications.
Since water is more vital for the human body than food, humans can survive for far fewer days without water. A healthy individual may be able to make it for three to six days without drinking water. But that too depends on the atmospheric conditions. Survival in heat without water is difficult than in cold.
There have been some remarkable examples of endurance of surviving without food and water. A Japanese man who lost consciousness while on a hiking trip in 2006 lived to tell the tale after 24 days without food and water. Doctors believe that his body could have gone into a hibernation like stage.
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