Changes in body fluid and energy compartments during prolonged hunger strike

Rev Hosp Clin Fac Med Sao Paulo. Mar-Apr 2000;55(2):47-54. doi: 10.1590/s0041-87812000000200003.

Abstract

Prolonged total food deprivation in non-obese adults is rare, and few studies have documented body composition changes in this setting. In a group of eight hunger strikers who refused alimentation for 43 days, water and energy compartments were estimated, aiming to assess the impact of progressive starvation. Measurements included body mass index (BMI), triceps skinfold (TSF), arm muscle circumference (AMC), and bioimpedance (BIA) determinations of water, fat, lean body mass (LBM), and total resistance. Indirect calorimetry was also performed in one occasion. The age of the group was 43.3+/-6.2 years (seven males, one female). Only water, intermittent vitamins and electrolytes were ingested, and average weight loss reached 17.9%. On the last two days of the fast (43rd-44th day) rapid intravenous fluid, electrolyte, and vitamin replenishment were provided before proceeding with realimentation. Body fat decreased approximately 60% (BIA and TSF), whereas BMI reduced only 18%. Initial fat was estimated by BIA as 52.2+/-5.4% of body weight, and even on the 43rd day it was still measured as 19.7+/-3.8% of weight. TSF findings were much lower and commensurate with other anthropometric results. Water was comparatively low with high total resistance, and these findings rapidly reversed upon the intravenous rapid hydration. At the end of the starvation period, BMI (21.5+/-2.6 kg/m2) and most anthropometric determinations were still acceptable, suggesting efficient energy and muscle conservation.

Conclusions: 1) All compartments diminished during fasting, but body fat was by far the most affected; 2) Total water was low and total body resistance comparatively elevated, but these findings rapidly reversed upon rehydration; 3) Exaggerated fat percentage estimates from BIA tests and simultaneous increase in lean body mass estimates suggested that this method was inappropriate for assessing energy compartments in the studied population; 4) Patients were not morphologically malnourished after 43 days of fasting; however, the prognostic impact of other impairments was not considered in this analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology*
  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Water / physiology*
  • Electric Impedance
  • Female
  • Food Deprivation
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prisoners
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skinfold Thickness
  • Starvation / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors