I certainly have no plans of doing this -nor would I ever-, but I was reading Unbroken, the book, and there was a part where, after not being able to eat for so long, the characters in the prison camp began to have extraodinary memory. It has been a while since I read the book, so I may have a couple plot-points incorrect, but I recall one person being able to fluently learn a language in something like a month.

Anyhow, I was wondering if it really was lack of food that caused this or if it was something else, and whether this has any validity.

  • Thanks for the question, I hope I've answered your question, pls if there is any corrections you think might be added to make my answer clearer, pls specify as soon as possible. Thanks
    – Prince
    Nov 28, 2016 at 19:25
  • Doesn't food taste better the hungrier one is?
    – Geremia
    Nov 7, 2017 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


To answer your question, we will look at the physiological process of Starvation, conversion of food as energy and how the human body uses that energy.

Conversion of food/Digestion

Digestion of food starts in the mouth where our enzymes in our saliva start breaking down starch. Food is mainly digested by acid and other enzymes in the stomach to further break down food to a more absorbable form and finally absorbed in the intestines. This is with an exemption to fat which can be only absorbed with the presence of bile for fat emulsification in the duodenum (the part where bile ducts enter the 1st part of small intestine). Nutrients absorbed from food can be classified into Fat, Glucose/Sugar, Proteins, Vitamins, Minerals, and Electrolytes. In this context, we will focus on Fat, Sugar, and Proteins which makes up food calories we eat that are used as energy. -excerpt from The Physiology of Digestion

Physiology of Starvation

Our bodies maintain a particular level of glucose in the blood to maintain normal biological processes. That level varies from an individual but there is a normal range.

The blood-glucose level is kept at or above 80 mg/dl by three major factors: (1) the mobilization of glycogen and the release of glucose by the liver, (2) the release of fatty acids by adipose tissue, and (3) the shift in the fuel used from glucose to fatty acids by muscle and the liver. - Biochemistry, 5th edition: Jeremy M Berg, John L Tymoczko, and Lubert Stryer

Energy metabolism during Starvation

Each Organ Has a Unique Metabolic Profile

Brain. Glucose is virtually the sole fuel for the human brain, except during prolonged starvation.

Fatty acids do not serve as fuel for the brain, because they are bound to albumin in plasma and so do not traverse the blood-brain barrier. In starvation, ketone bodies generated by the liver partly replace glucose as fuel for the brain.

Prolonged starvation can cause increased amounts of ketones in the body to maintain normal brain functioning. There has been a study that giving ketones have improved brain functioning in patients with traumatic brain injuries. Another study claims that ketone bodies play a neuroprotective role during starvation.


I have looked into the description of the book you've read ("Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit."). The answer seems to be "will" or "spirit". Or it could just be ketones.

Common misnomer with ketosis, starvation ketoacidosis and diabetic ketoacidosis which have very different outcomes.

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