MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: How long could a human survive on water and maple syrup alone?

Date: Wed Dec 22 13:09:09 1999
Posted By: Phyllis Stumbo, Staff, Nutrition, University of Iowa
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 944934183.Bc

If a person consumed only water and maple syrup without any additional vitamins, minerals, or nutrients, the first signs of health problems could occur after one to two weeks. Thiamin is one of the first nutrients to exhibit a deficiency, so it is the one I will concentrate on. Thiamine is needed in the metabolic process that converts the carbohydrate in the maple syrup to energy in the form used by the body. The intake of pure carbohydrate without the presence of thiamin results in impaired function of the nervous, circulatory, digestive, and endocrine systems.

A study of men doing hard daily labor on a diet adequate in calories but deficient in B vitamins found that thiamin deficiency symptoms of fatigue, apathy, muscle and joint pain, anorexia, constipation, and deterioration of work performance began after one week. After the third week of restricted thiamin intake, the subjects lost all ability to eat. It was unethical to continue the study at this point without supplementation. If the subjects continued without supplementation, starvation and death would probably occur within a few weeks, depending on the fat and protein stores of the person.

But back to the original question, if a person needed to survive on only maple syrup and water and could include a multivitamin supplement or a natural source of B vitamins such as brewer's yeast, that person could probably live for several months. The length of time would depend on the syrup supply and the person's body fat stores, energy level, and quality of diet before the restriction began. The person would want to prevent ketosis and spare protein loss from breaking down muscle and organ tissue for energy and for this purpose 150-gram carbohydrate or about cup of maple syrup per day would suffice.

Very interesting question. Are you planning on setting aside reserve food in case of a world catastrophe?

Dr. William Dixon, a college health physician at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, studied the medical literature on starvation when 20 students on his college campus planned a hunger strike. His article, Hunger Strikes: Preventing Harm to Students, in the Journal of American College Health, vol. 48, September 1999, is interesting to read and provides references on fasting.

Phyllis J. Stumbo, PhD, RD
University of Iowa,
Iowa City, IA

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