Protein poisoning

Protein poisoning (also referred to as starvation , caribou pain , or fat starvation ) is a rare form of acute malnutrition thought to be caused by a complete absence of fat in the diet.

Excess protein is often cited as the cause of this issue; When consumed in the correct ratio, such as that is found in pemmican (which is 50% fat by volume), the diet is considered nutritionally complete and can be controlled by humans. Other stresses, such as severe cold or a dry environment, may intensify symptoms or decrease time to onset. Symptoms include diarrhea , headache, fatigue, low blood pressure , slow heart rate , and a discomfort wave and hunger (very similar to a food craving ) that can be satisfied only by the consumption of fat.

Protein poisoning was first noted as a consequence of eating rabbit meat, hence the term, “rabbit starvation”. Rabbit meat is very lean; commercial rabbit meat has 50-100 g dissectable fat per 2 kg (live weight). Based on carcass yield of 60%, rabbit meat is around 8.3% fat [1] while beef and pork are 32% fat and 28% fat. [2]

Possible mechanisms

It has been observed that the liver is much better than 221-301 g of protein per day (for an 80 kg / 176 pound person, [3] and human kidneys are similarly limited in their ability to remove urea (a byproduct Exceeding the amount of amino acids, ammonia ( hyperammonemia ), and / or urea in the bloodstream, with potentially fatal consequences, [4] especially if the person switches to a high-protein dietwithout giving time for the levels of their hepatic enzymes to upregulate. Since protein only contains 4 kcal / gram, it is possible to exceed the temperature of the body. fat or carbohydrates. HOWEVER, Given the Lack of scientific data on the effects of high-protein diets, and the Observed Ability of the liver to Compensate over a FEW days for a shift in protein intake, the US Food and Nutrition Board does not set a tolerable upper intake level nor upper acceptable macronutrient distribution range for protein. [5]


In US Military Arctic Light Infantry Training (ALIT), it is taught that it takes more vitamins to digest than it returns. It is recommended in survival situations to eat at all if it is the only thing to eat.

The Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote as follows:

The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger. This disorder is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend on the times of rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit- starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no other source-beaver, moose, fish-will develop diarrhea in about a week, with headache, lassitude and discomfort wave. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats it, but it is a belief that it is a belief in North America. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken. [6]

During the Greely Arctic Expedition 1881-1884, a harrowing experience of 25 expedition members, of which 19 died, Stefansson refers to “‘rabbit starvation’ which is now to the key to the Greely problem,” which was why “only six cam back. ” He concluded that one of the reasons for the many deaths was cannibalism of the lean flesh of members who had already died. Stefansson likens this to rabbit starvation, which he explains somewhat in the above quoted observation. quote needed ]

Charles Darwin , in The Voyage of the Beagle , wrote:

We were here to buy some biscuit. I did not have anything to do with anything else. but I felt like it would be okay with me. I have heard that patients in England, when they want to confined themselves to an animal diet, even with the hope of life before their eyes, have hardly been able to endure it. Yet the Gaucho in the Pampas , for months together, touches nothing but beef. But they eat, I observe, a very large proportion of fat, which is of a less animalized nature; and they particularly dislike dry meat, such as that of the agouti. Dr. Richardson, also, has remarked, “that when people have fed for a long time to eat, the desire for fat becomes so insatiable, that they can consume a large amount of unmixed and even oily fat without nausea:” this appears to me a curious physiological fact. It is, perhaps, from their meat that the Gauchos, like other carnivorous animals, can abstain long from food. I was told that at Tandeel , some troops voluntarily pursued a party of Indians for three days, without eating or drinking. [7]

In Into the Wild (1996), Jon Krakauer conjectured that Chris McCandless might have suffered from rabbit starvation.

See also

  • Clostridial necrotizing enteritis , aka pigbel, another lethal protein-related diet problem
  • Country food / Inuit diet , the traditional diet of the Inuit and First Nations
  • Kwashiorkor – Disease resulting from sufficient caloric intake with very low protein content
  • Marasmus – Disease caused by inadequate caloric intake
  • No-carbohydrate diet
  • Protein toxicity – damage caused by the buildup of protein metabolic waste products in the bloodstream
  • Proteopathy – damage caused by misfolded proteins


  1. Jump up^ “FAO: Rabbit, Husbandry, Health and Production” .
  2. Jump up^ “FAO: Guidelines for slaughtering meat cutting and further processing” .
  3. Jump up^ Tipton, K (May 2011). “Efficacy and consequences of very-high-protein diets for athletes and exercisers.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society . 70 (2): 205-14. PMID  21375795 . doi : 10.1017 / S0029665111000024 .
  4. Jump up^ Bilsborough, S .; Mann, N. (April 2006). “A review of dietary protein intake in humans”. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism . 16 (2): 129-152. PMID  16779921 .
  5. Jump up^ US Food; Nutrition Board. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients)” . The National Academies Press . Retrieved 2010-12-22 .
  6. Jump up^ “Rabbit Starvation” . [ self-published source? ][ unreliable medical source? ]
  7. Jump up^ Charles, Darwin (2006). “Travel of the Beagle: Bahia Blanca to Buenos Ayres”. In Wilson, Edward. From So Simple To Beginning: The Four Great Books by Charles Darwin . London, NY: WW Norton & Company. p. 121. ISBN  0-393-06134-5 .