Going on hunger strike strains body’s organs
Body cannot function without calories
Gulf News report – Dubai: Hunger strikes can go on for months — Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi has gone without food for 222 days so far but each day a person goes without normal nourishment places further strain on the intricate and finely tuned body organs and systems that keep a person alive.
Dr Gwynne Jones, a critical care physician in Ottawa said that any effects on body tissue will extend beyond fat stores. Muscle and lean body mass, “the bits of the body that do the actual work,” Jones says, are also being broken down.
The average person needs about 1,200 calories a day to keep organs functioning, the brain active, the heart beating and basic growth functions going, says registered dietitian Jennifer Sygo of Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto.
“It certainly depends on age, gender, the amount of muscle a person has … their size. Bigger people tend to have higher metabolisms than smaller people,” she said.
Beyond that basic caloric requirement, you need another 30 per cent to look after the activities of daily living — everything from brushing your teeth to walking around.
“We can liberate fat stores… the fat that we naturally have around our organs, the fat we have under our skin, those are useful stores because we are built to be able to handle feast and famine to a certain degree,” she said.
But that comes at a cost to well-being over time. With no glucose coming in, the body launches into a state called ketosis.
“In effect, what that is, is converting fats into a sugar-type by-product that the body can use for basic fuel because glucose is what fuels our brain and it’s what fuels any type of quick activity, if we had to run away from a fire or something like that,” Sygo said.
The body converts the fats into basic units of energy called ketones, a process that, among other things, can lead to bad breath.
“One of the ketones that is naturally produced by the body is called acetone, and if you know the smell of nail polish remover you have an idea of what acetone smells like,” Sygo said.
That could happen within a couple of days of beginning a hunger strike.
Some people, Sygo said, willingly enter a ketotic state for weight control, and there are people who talk about successfully managing their health through ketosis.
How long a person can subsist on the limited intake of a hunger striker can’t be predicted and depends on many factors, including the person’s physical condition at the beginning of the strike.
“Their nutrient status to begin with would have a significant role to play,” she said. “If they were well-nourished and in good health they could sustain it longer.”
66 days after beginning his strike in 1981. Nasrin Sotoudeh, an imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer, drank water mixed with salts and sugars before ending a 49-day hunger strike in December, the New York Times reported.
Fluids are critical to maintaining life. In general terms, the human body can go without water for two to three days. A lack of fluid causes problems with kidney function within just a few days, particularly if a person is active.
Inside the body of someone on a hunger strike, many other changes will occur over time.
“You could become anaemic,” Dr Ewan Affleck, a Yukon emergency care specialist said..
Chronic diarrhoea is possible because the bowel loses its ability to function through a lack of essential minerals and nutrients needed for digestion.
Signs of deficiency, particularly of protein, could emerge throughout the body.
“Over time you might start to see things like the skin becoming more brittle and eventually you might see red sores or cracking of the skin, especially around the hands,” Sygo said.
“Hair might start to break. Nails might start to break. Those would all be signs of protein deficiency as well as other nutrients that would be associated with protein like zinc.”
If a person chooses to end a hunger strike, it’s not simply a matter of deciding to eat a big steak dinner in celebration — in fact, doing that could pose a significant danger to a body that has become accustomed to virtually no nutritional intake and which is lacking the necessary enzymes in the gut for digestion.
“You start very gradually,” Sygo said.
Often, that could begin through intravenous feeding.
Affleck says there is a risk of permanent damage from a hunger strike in the long run.
In extreme cases, there could be permanent organ damage. However, Affleck said, “the body is resilient.”
This video has been taken from a camera attached to a weather balloon that goes up to 70,000 ft. into the darkness of the space. There is a GPS tracker inside the payload that tracks the location of the balloon and helps to find the balloon after bursting at high altitude and falling to the ground. The video captures imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh’s picture in the space as a symbol of our support for her hunger strike in Iranian prison. We would like to thank Director for Solar System Exploration at NASA’s JPL, Dr. Firouz Naderi for the partial sponsorship of this project.