By the end of the 15 months as a hostage in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Warren Rodwell had lost about 30 kilograms in weight due to starvation. When he would lay on his side and curl into a foetal position. his ribs would rub against his hip bones. How long can you live off the fat in your body?
The Starving Process
- Stage 1 – You haven’t consumed any food for an extended length of time and now you are starving. Luckily, you have a reserve of glycogen in your skeletal muscles and liver. Glycogen can be broken down into glucoses which your body can use as extra fuel. This extra “gas” will last you roughly 10-14 hours.
- Stage 2 – When that supply runs out, your body turns to body fat to keep itself going. Body fat is broken down into fatty acids and glycerol in a process called gluconeogenesis. The fatty acids themselves get broken down into ketones which enter the citric acid cycle and are converted into useable energy. When people are fasting or on a hunger strike, this is the energy their body is using to survive.
- Stage 3 – The human brain cannot survive on ketones alone. A maximum of 75% of its fuel can be ketones, but the remaining 25% must be glucose. The body then begins breaking down the glycerol into glucose, which was left over from the body fat conversion in stage 2.
- Stage 4 – Because the glucose isn’t enough to make up the full 25% required by the brain, your body begins to convert amino acids into glucose. It does this by breaking down your body’s protein. Since you haven’t consumed any protein recently, your body turns to the next available source of protein – the protein in your muscles.
- Stage 5 – The body isn’t particularly picky about which muscles it targets and begins to target several organs and intestinal muscles. The now damaged intestinal muscles are the reason why complications occur when trying to feed someone who has been starving for an extended period of time. Worse still, the body begins attacking the heart muscles.
- Stage 6 – Your body is now near a complete shutdown. Your nervous system is severely compromised, your electrolyte levels are causing arrhythmia in your already weakened heart, and your other organs have begun to shut down or are severely impaired. Your body is now fully cannibalizing itself. Eventually, your atrophied, arrhythmic heart can’t take anymore and stops beating. With no oxygen or blood pumping to your organs and brain, you finally succumb to death.