In 1965, a 207-kilogram Scotch student started a 382-day fast under medical supervision. But how could his organism have been without food for so long?
If there is one subject on which doctors can not match their violins, it is fasting. Some find this method miraculous while others scream at mortal danger. Indeed, many people have already died by abstaining from eating for too long. In 1965, however, a 27-year-old Scottish man who was morbidly obese had no solid food for 382 days, which led to his Guiness book of records in 1971.
In 1965 Angus Barbieri went to the University Hospital in Dundee, Scotland. He is relatively healthy but would like to help him lose weight. Because Angus weighs 207 kg, which, unsurprisingly, weighs on his social and sentimental life. Doctors then suggest that he fast for an indefinite period.
"Originally, it was not planned to make the fast last so long, but since he adapted so well and wanted to reach his ideal weight, he went on and achieved the longest ever fasting" , say doctors from the University of Dundee School of Medicine in an article published in 1973 in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.
For over a year, Angus drinks water, tea and herbal teas. If he does not eat any solid food, doctors give him supplements of potassium and sodium, vitamins and small doses of yeast because it contains protein.
125 pounds lost in 382 days
And of course, fasting takes place under close supervision. The young man regularly goes to the hospital where his blood pressure, urine, blood glucose level and plasma electrolyte levels are monitored. Not surprisingly, these levels decrease over the months. Never mind, Angus stays fit and upbeat. "Despite the hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, Ed), the patient did not have symptoms, felt well and walked normally", describes the report of doctors, saying that Angus has no stool every 37 to 48 days.
Then, after 382 days, he finally reaches his ideal weight: 81 kgs. He lost 125 kgs. He decides to stop. "Except that I feel a little weak, I do not feel sick," he says to the press, adding that he no longer remembers the taste of real food. His first meal after the fast: a boiled egg and a slice of bread. "I really enjoyed my egg and I feel completely full," he says with amusement.
"The therapeutic and supervised fasting of an obese patient can work safely," the doctors then concluded, noting, however, that "prolonged fasting" should be used with great caution. And to thank Barbieri for his "cooperation and his will". An iron will indeed since, six years later, the Scot has taken only 7kgs. He is happy and finally has a girlfriend with whom he will have two children.
Tapping into her body fat reserves
If his story is all about a fairy tale, one question is, how could Angus Barbieri have been eating without food for more than a year?
If you eat throughout the day, your body will draw the majority of its energy from the glucose in your blood and liver. Cells use it to synthesize ATP, a molecule that carries energy into cells. And if no glucose is immediately available in the blood or liver, the body is able to produce it from glycogen, a long chain of glucose stored in the liver and muscles. What's more, the body can break down natural fat into glycerol, which can then be converted into glucose and free fatty acid. These can be converted into ketone bodies.
Angus Barbieri has extremely abundant reserves of glycerol, located in the heaps of his body fat, he was able to live through this process for an incredibly long time. However, since the body itself can not produce certain nutrients and vitamins essential to the body, the Scotsman would most likely die without the potassium, sodium and yeast supplements given him by the doctors.
Throughout history, with the exception of that of Angus Barbieri, the longest fasts took place as a sign of political protest. During his lifetime, Gandhi has at least 14 hunger strikes, for a maximum of 21 days. In 1920 members of the Irish Republican Army fast for 94 days in Cork Prison in Ireland. More recently, it was the director, screenwriter and Ukrainian film producer Oleh Sentsov who made talk about him by stopping to eat from May to October 2018 to protest against his arrest by the Russians.
Extended fasting can be very dangerous and is not recommended at all. If you want to lose weight, talk to a health professional who will tell you what to do.