Paris: A healthy, young adult on hunger strike should be able to avoid mortal danger for up to two months but any longer carries the risk of death, a French nutritionist said as two Palestinians today marked 70 days without food.
Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 33, are protesting being held without charge under an Israeli procedure known as administrative detention.
Last week, they lodged an appeal with Israel`s highest court, but yesterday, their appeal was rejected, with both vowing to continue their protest until they were freed -- or died in the process.
They have since been joined by about 1,600 other Palestinian prisoners.
From about 60 days without food, the human body starts running low on fat and muscle to consume as fuel, and hunger strikers tend to "die of exhaustion like a candle that goes out," according to nutrition expert Jean-Claude Melchior.
Melchior said survival chances depend a lot on the hunger striker`s state of health and age.
The body needs to maintain a core temperature of 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit). To ensure this, a healthy adult weighing 70 kilogrammes (150 pounds) carries about 20 percent body fat in energy reserves.
When it stops being fed, the body will soon start consuming fat for warmth, said the nutritionist. In the first two weeks, it will also start converting muscle into sugar to nourish the brain.
After 60 days, said Melchior, "we are not exactly sure what happens." It has been observed in hunger strikers who die that their bodies had not used up all the available fat reserves.
"The organism goes out like a candle; a sort of global metabolic exhaustion," the nutritionist added.
After a hunger strike, eating must be resumed progressively, he said, and fatty, sweet foods avoided.
"If a hunger strike was correctly conducted, without the addition of fruit juices or sweet things (which throw the body`s survival mode out of kilter), there is no reason for lasting after-effects."