- The Thai soccer team that got stuck in a cave for more than two weeks has made it out alive.
- Since the boys and their coach didn’t eat anything for more than 14 days, doctors are reintroducing them to food slowly and keeping their diets bland.
- Reintroducing starving people to food too quickly can be deadly.
After spending more than two weeks in a dark, wet cave, the Thai soccer team is out.
That’s because people who haven’t eaten for days can suffer a deadly condition called re-feeding syndrome if they eat too much too quickly. The soccer team went nine days without food, until rescue divers found them and brought energy gels. According to CNN, they were given one meal of sticky rice and grilled pork with milk while in the cave.
During their recovery, it seems the boys have settled on something of a food compromise with their doctors: chocolate spread and bread are being included in their recovery diet along with the other staple soft foods.
What happens to a starving body
When people starve, their bodies shift into a special fat-burning mode called ketosis, in which they rely on stored fat for fuel. This is different from the regular way most people fuel their bodies and minds by burning through carbohydrates first. Eventually, if people starve for long enough, they will switch to using their own muscle mass as fuel to stay alive.
During this time, starving people see their metabolic rate slow down considerably, decreasing by 20-25%.
They lose stores of key minerals, including phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. These electrolytes are important because they balance the amount of water in our bodies, move waste out of cells, and distribute nutrients.
Why it’s dangerous to feed a starving body too much
When people start eating a regular diet again after fasting, their bodies go through a major shift as they switch back to using carbohydrates as their go-to energy source and start secreting more insulin.
This can be a dangerous time, and starvation patients can be at risk of developing acute hypophosphatemia becuase the body uses up phosphates in its recovery process. So starting to eat again can cause phosphate levels in a person’s blood to drop so low that they can suffer from irregular heart rhythms and die.
Some of the earliest reports of re-feeding syndrome were documented in Japanese prisoners during World War II.
The important thing is to begin eating slowly, because otherwise people can develop a host of other dangerous and life-threatening conditions, like fatty liver disease, respiratory failure, dangerously high blood sugar levels, and fluid overload.
It’s also best not to upset the digestive tract with any spicy foods or tough-to-digest fibres.
Usually the danger lifts within about five days, and people can start eating whatever they want again – including the Thai pad kra pao the boys are craving.
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