This section is from the book "Practical Dietetics With Special Reference To Diet In Disease", by William Gilman Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease.
Starvation, or asitia, is a term which technically applies rather to the lack of sufficient food for the maintenance of the body, while inanition means the lack of assimilation of food by the tissues. Where there is defective absorption, food may be furnished to the system in abundant quantity, but inanition results from lack of ability to absorb and develop force and nutriment from it. The interval through which different persons can subsist without food depends upon: 1, External conditions of temperature and moisture; 2, the amount of work being performed; and 3, the existing condition of the body.
1. The maintenance of a uniform warm external temperature prolongs the period through which man can endure abstinence from food. Exposure to cold accelerates starvation symptoms by reducing the vitality of the body and the resistance of the system. Moisture in the air, by preventing evaporation from the surface of the body, prolongs the period of starvation which can be endured.
2. Persons who refrain completely from exercise can live far longer without food than when undergoing active work. Self-for-getfulness in times of famine, by diverting the mind from the sufferings of the body, tends to prolong life.
3. Well-nourished persons can endure longer intervals of abstinence from food than the weak or diseased. The distress of delirious or apparently insensible persons may be augmented by lack of sufficient food. Sex has no influence with the effects of starvation, but they are most keenly felt at the extremes of age, by young children, and senile subjects.
Those who have the most fat stored in their tissues call upon this supply to maintain the energy of the body in the absence of food, and, having a larger supply than thin or emaciated persons, they can endure starvation much longer, although they may complain more bitterly of the pangs of hunger than invalids, who are accustomed to a low diet. Chossat's experiments with starving animals proved that while they lost 40 per cent of body weight, the loss of fat alone reached 90 per cent, being greatly in excess of that of any other substance. Anselmier fed starved dogs upon their own blood, and succeeded in thus prolonging their lives for three or four days beyond the usual limit, and life lasted until 60 instead of 40 per cent of their body weight had been lost.
When food is wholly withheld, life cannot be prolonged beyond six to ten days in the majority of instances. During the winter of i87f5-'77 an accident occurred in a colliery in South Wales by which four men and a boy became imprisoned for ten days without food. At the expiration of this period they were found alive, and, although very feeble, they were able to walk when released. They had had a supply of water, and the atmosphere in which they were confined was moist. At another colliery accident in Wales a number of men were confined in a mine for six days without food, and, although their sufferings were extreme, nearly all were able to walk out on being rescued. As a result of an earthquake in Calabria, Sicily, in 1783, several persons were imprisoned in falling ruins. A girl of eleven years survived, having been six days without food, and another girl of sixteen years survived after eleven days of starvation.
The lack of food may be endured with far less torture if water is applied in abundance to the system. When water is withheld in addition the body loses weight much more rapidly, the tissues become dry, the thirst excessive, the secretions are suppressed, and the suffering is greatly intensified.