Two weeks without any food, just water and B vitamins. Since October 11, Father Philippe Demeestère, Jesuit priest and chaplain of the Secours Catholique du Pas-de-Calais, and two activists, Anaïs Vogel and Ludovic Holbein , have ceased to feed on the treatment of migrants by the authorities in Calais.
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Until when is it possible to hold out? “The danger occurs very quickly if we do without hydration, says Cécile Bétry, doctor and researcher in nutrition at the University of Grenoble Alpes. If we continue to drink, however, the body will adapt to the lack of food.and a healthy person can sometimes last up to six weeks ”. But this prolonged morning is not without consequences on health.
A higher risk of major infections
“Three weeks is starting to take a long time”, thus worries Martine Laville. For the professor of nutrition at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lyon 1, it is “Of a critical turning point”. “They should not doubt too much move and limit their efforts, because itis when you start tapping into muscle mass. Since the stores of glucose in the liver are limited, the body begins what is called gluconeogenesis, that is, it makes sugar using amino acids found in muscle proteins. Or the latter are used for the functioning of the skeletal muscles but also the heart which helps to defend against infections. “
This is one of the main risks of “Great fasts” : that of getting an infection, all the greater in this season which sees epidemics of Covid and flu coexist. “When the body is weakened, it can quickly become serious”, warns Martine Laville.
The consequences on the body also depend on the age and initial state of health of the people. Or if Anaïs Vogel and Ludovic Holbein are respectively 35 and 38, Father Philippe Demeestère is 72, which could complicate his convalescence.
The dangers of “inappropriate refeeding syndrome”
“In any case, the longer the hunger strike lasts, the more gradual the refeeding should be”, raises Cécile Bétry, who insists on the need for the three volunteers to be followed closely when they stop their strike. “We do not always know it but in reality, this is where the vital prognosis can be most involved”, reports the doctor. In question, the ” inappropriate refeeding syndrome », A set of complications that arise after a long period of restrictions.
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” When we do not eat, the body goes into a kind of hibernation, the whole metabolism is slowed down, explains Cécile Bétry. The fact of starting to eat again will restart all the metabolic pathways. Very important needs in vitamins and minerals will then arise: ions, sodium, potassium, magnesium or phosphorus, the lack of which can lead to cardiac arrest ”. A phenomenon which, she recalls, has been illustrated in history, especially for people returning from concentration camps.
Weight regain must therefore be done under supervision, ideally in the context of hospitalization which will allow additional intake of vitamins. “It will be necessary to go there cautiously, to bring a lot of protein while preserving the digestive tract which has no longer been used to receiving food”, adds Martine Laville.If they are well followed, they should not have any after-effects according to her. “As long as their hunger strike does not exceed 30 days, 40 maximum. “