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Survivor? Or Starvation? March 4, 2011

Posted by abueno526 in Biology, Chemistry, Nutrition.
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Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.

Survivor. A show with the motto above,  “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.” Contestants are put on a deserted island with meager food, shelter, and comforts to compete in a series of challenges as they try to become the ‘Sole Survivor”.  Although the glory of winning the title is great, what is physically happening to contestants’ bodies as they put themselves under these extreme conditions?  Some, like Russell Swan from Survivor:Samoa, get fatigued earlier than others, having to be removed from the game for medical reasons.  When this shut down occurs, what is happening?  How far can they really be pushed until they move into a starvation-like mode?

How does it all start?

Typically, glucose is the major energy provider to the body.  Fats can be a precursor to glucose, and ample amounts of them in the body lead to proper function and metabolism.  When one is in starvation mode, the liver is the first to sense this.  Because the body is unable to convert fats into glucose, it biochemically makes a shift to harness more of its energy from ketone bodies in order to save the muscles from deterioration via protein breakdown.

And the downward spiral begins

This switch to the use of ketone bodies is also vital to supplying energy to the brain cells, which is a top metabolic focus for the body no matter its state. In this protection mode, and use of a new fuel source by the brain, blood glucose levels drop dramatically.  This way of living will continue until all fatty acid energy stores have been used up.  Metabolic function will switch from using ketone bodies to its last

resort of proteins for energy.  Final stages of starvation such as these can result in heart arrhythmia, liver failure , and a discontinuation of muscle functioning, ultimately leading to death.

What would you do for a million dollars?

So, when a Sole Survivor is picked at the end of 39 days, what sort of condition are they in?  Although perhaps a few sizes smaller, the contestants will not have reached a true starvation mode due to the time frame of the show and availability of some food for nourishment.  Although they can do it, it’s definitely not recommended unless you’re playing for the million dollar prize!

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[…] Survivor? Or Starvation? « MU Science Blog […]


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