, Volume 48, Issue 6, pp 575-582

The biochemistry of natural fasting at its limits

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Abstract

There are several groups of animals that are adapted for extremely long duration fasting as part of their reproductive cycle. Penguins, bears and seals routinely fast without food or water for months at time. However, they do not ‘starve’, as the biochemical implications of starving are very different from those of successful fasting. There are distinct biochemical adaptations in lipid, carbohydrate and especially protein metabolism that allow these animals to survive. It appears, at least for penguins and seals, that the duration of the fast may be limited by changes that occur in biochemical regulation near the end of the fast. In all of these species, the biochemistry of fasting and the ecological and behavioral demands of their breeding cycles are closely interrelated.