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Much like the question here about reptilians hosting the news, I thought that there could not possibly be people who would make claims like this.

However, some searching proved me wrong.

While not particularly prevalent, there are more than a few people out there making the claim that they can survive (and remain perfectly healthy) for sometimes up to 70 years without any food and water. However, apparently not all can achieve this degree of success, and claim various ranges. Some claim that they live solely on light and air.

For the record, there are some who call themselves "breatharians" and some who call themselves "inediates". I am not sure which is the preferred term.

They include pages like this as "evidence" for their claims.

Some are kind enough to be willing to give their secrets freely to the public as a pdf file which they encourage the reader to share freely, since presumably the author has no need to waste his income on trivialities such as food or a monthly water bill. However, there are others who offer classes for $10,000 USD, but throw in immortality as an added bonus.

I found that the "Breatharian Institute of America" also spouts a rapid-fire Gish gallop of other claims but I want to limit this question to just the scientific evidence as to:

  • Is it possible to live while remaining healthy, without eating or drinking for these extreme periods of time?

  • Has any particular individual making these claims been subjected to scientific study?

I know that this is (pun intended) low-hanging fruit, but I haven't seen the question addressed here yet.

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3  
Here is a study from 2008 –  Oliver_C Apr 22 '11 at 22:08
    
@Oliver_C The name of the journal rings alarm bells (regardless of the study’s result). Is this peer reviewed? –  Konrad Rudolph Apr 25 '11 at 13:17
    
Wikipedia covers this topic under the title "Inedia". There is a "Scientific basis" section in the article, including a number of footnotes. –  John Broughton Apr 25 '11 at 14:41
    
@Konrad - according to this it's peer reviewed –  Oliver_C Apr 25 '11 at 15:43
6  
Peer review is only as good as the peers. The "Journal of Homeopathy" is peer-reviewed as well... –  Lagerbaer Apr 25 '11 at 17:15

1 Answer 1

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Well starting on the page of evidence it says that people in Hunza in Pakistan live to 200, that is false and is probably a good place to start.

First link is a blog that has some useful information, notably:

"As someone who has lived and worked in the Hunza and Baltistan region of northern Pakistan for a decade, it is important to first debunk the myth that the Burushushki, Wakhi and Shina people of the Hunza region are blessed with the lives of Methusula. This was actually a myth which gained momentum when it was written up by Dr. Alexander Leaf, in the January 1973 issue of National Geographic magazine. There is absolutely no scientific validity to his claim. People of the Hunza suffer from malnutrition and nutrition deficiencies just as much as any other remote mountain region in SE Asia. Although the predominantly Ismaeli faith (branch of Shi-ite muslims) are progressive and relatively better off than most of their neighbours in nearby regions, they will all tell any visitor, that their life expectancy is around 50 - 60 years, just like any other region of northern Pakistan."

It would seem that there are people in Hunza who tell visitors that they are of an advanced age but they are unable to provide any proof, the whole myth around the Hunza people was due to a scientist being hoodwinked in 1973. Generally the population in Hunza does seem to be reasonably long lived and the elderly in the village are in a goof mental and physical state as noted by Dr Alexander Leaf at a later date:

Longevity. The longevity claims made for Hunzukuts by foreign visitors vary considerably, with the highest estimate being 150 years of age. Renee Taylor writes in her book Hunza Health Secrets for Long Life and Happiness: “In Hunza, people manage to live to over 100 years of age in perfect mental and physical health . . . men of 90 [are] new fathers and women of 50 still conceive.” Betty Lee Morales, president of the American Cancer Society and a 2-time visitor to Hunza, reported to the Los Angeles Times (July 16, 1973), “It’s an exaggeration to say that they live to be 150 but there’s no need to gild the lily. The average age is 90 when they die.” Dr. Alexander Leaf, Chief of Medical Services at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, has reliably reported meeting a 106-year-old man who still worked herding goats during the summer months, while “the oldest Hunzukut” was “revered” for being 110. Dr. Leaf also has pointed out that it is “the fitness of many of the elderly rather than their age that impresses me,” and he has noted that no written records of births or deaths were then kept in Hunza. According to the Mir of Hunza, out of a present population of 40,000, 6 men are over 100 years of age and many are 90 years old or more. (Before the 1st road came, there were at least 50 over the age of 100.) In America, by contrast, there are only 3 centenarians for every 100,000 people.

Generally there is no evidence for anybody living to an age of 200 years, the oldest people we know of all all well short of the magic 200 mark (I know it's wiki, but it has a well formatted list of all the names).

As for living without food or water, it's a well known fact that we need water to live and you can on average only survive 3-5 days without it. Of course there may be some exceptional circumstances where people have managed to go an extra day or two, but months without water is not possible.

Humans need water to live, plain and simple. We lose water through sweat, urine, feces and even breathing. This water needs to be replaced in order for our organs to continue to work properly. In severe heat, an adult can lose as much as 1.5 liters of water through sweat alone [source: Scientific American]. The main risk without water in high heat is that your body temperature will continue to rise and you'll suffer from heat stroke. Drinking water will cool you down and lower your core temperature.

We also need food, without any calorific intake we would run out of energy pretty quickly and eventually die. How long you can go without food depends on muscle and fat stores and the body can live off them for quite some time. Prisoners on hunger strikes have lived 73 days without food,

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to bend, however. The prisoners drank small amounts of water, but refused food altogether. Sands died from starvation in a prison hospital on the 66th day of the strike. Thatcher remained steadfast and called Sands a criminal and his death a suicide. Nine more prisoners died from starvation after Sands. Thomas McElwee lasted the longest, at 73 total days -- a full week longer than the next closest prisoner [source: irishhungerstrike.com.

The only evidence I can find of anyone coming near to living up to the breatharian ideal is Prahlad Jani who appears to have been able to survive for 15 days in hospital without food or water.

  1. Hindu Times Link
  2. DNA India Link

However there is controversy over the results as Prahlad Jani was not under constant supervision and no independant review of the results has been allowed.

Jani's handlers did not allow Edamaruku and his associates to be involved in the testing of Jani in 2003. Nor were they allowed to be involved in the recent re-testing. According to Edamaruku:

I asked to be allowed to send an independent team to survey the room where this test is taking place, but I was repeatedly turned down. It is ridiculous to ask people to believe that any man can go 15 days, let alone 70 years, without food or water.

Dr. Shah has been in charge of three similar investigations over the past ten years, and he has never allowed independent verification. In 2000, he was asking for funds to investigate a man he claimed got his energy from the sun, just like plants do. In 2003, he even approached NASA for funds to investigate Mr. Jani, claiming astronauts might benefit from the research. This particular hospital, led by this particular doctor, keeps on making these claims without ever producing evidence or publishing research.

So in summary, we know that we die after about 5 days of no water, the longest hunger strike I can find is 73 days and we also know that the claims made about people living to the age of 200 are false. The only glimmer of hope (A man who appears to have survived 15 days without food or water) appears to be false, So I can say quite conclusivly that anybody surviving on air and sunlight alone doesn't have very long to live...

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very well done. I was beginning to worry that this was one of those "not even wrong" claims no one was going to take the time to refute. Cheers –  Monkey Tuesday Apr 26 '11 at 22:15
    
I've seen TV documentaries about such claims. Usually it comes down to the claimants eating and drinking normally, but claiming they do so only because of the pleasant sensation and to be social, not because they need the nutrients (yeah, right). –  jwenting Nov 21 '13 at 6:51

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