The biochemistry of natural fasting at its limits

Experientia. 1992 Jun 15;48(6):575-82. doi: 10.1007/BF01920242.


There are several groups of animals that are adapted for extremely long duration fasting as part of their reproductive cycle. Penguins, bears and seals routinely fast without food or water for months at time. However, they do not 'starve', as the biochemical implications of starving are very different from those of successful fasting. There are distinct biochemical adaptations in lipid, carbohydrate and especially protein metabolism that allow these animals to survive. It appears, at least for penguins and seals, that the duration of the fast may be limited by changes that occur in biochemical regulation near the ned of the fast. In all of these species, the biochemistry of fasting and the ecological and behavioral demands of their breeding cycles are closely interrelated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / metabolism
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen
  • Fasting / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydroxybutyrates / blood
  • Seals, Earless / metabolism
  • Ursidae / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Hydroxybutyrates