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How long before hunger striking becomes starvation?

By Shorena Labadze
Friday, March 21
Nearly 70 hunger strikers are camped on the steps of parliament thirteen days into the opposition demonstration, and at least eight have been taken away for medical aid.

But with a key demand being the guarantee of free and fair parliamentary elections—slated for late May—how long can the hunger strikers last?

The body runs out of glucose after about three to five days without food, according to a BBC report, so it starts breaking down fat for energy. After around three weeks, or when weight loss exceeds 18 percent of initial weight, a hunger striker will begin to experience serious problems.

When fat stores are all gone, the body goes into “starvation mode,” lowering its metabolism and beginning to harvest protein from muscle tissue and vital organs, quickly impairing the function of the heart, lungs and liver.

Pneumonia is a significant risk, and hunger strike survivors have sustained liver damage and partial loss of eyesight.

How long any individual can last is down to a number of factors, including how healthy they were in the first place and how much fat and muscle they have. Hunger strikers have been known to strategically limit weight loss by supplementing their water intake with vitamins, salt and sugar.

The average healthy man with 11 kg of body fat can go without food for around 60 days before dying.

Mahatma Gandhi, one of the worlds most famous hunger strikers, only ever fasted for 21 days, while Irish Republican Army protestor Bobby Sands died after 66 days without food in a British prison.

At least eight protestors have already been hospitalized, and a March 18 Health Ministry statement expressed concern at the condition of a number of others, including opposition coalition leaders Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri.

Lali Padolskaia, a doctor on call at the opposition demonstration, said all of the hunger strikers were fully aware of the health risks.

“They know this can impact them very negatively very soon, but they say they’ll go without food until they die,” she told the Messenger. “All we can do is give them mineral water.”