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We all know these scary stories where people had to eat their fellow sufferers after a plane crash or something. I don't know if there is even one of them true. I feel like it might result into more deficiencies than it would help your body.

It makes me wonder if it's really worth to eat human bodies if you are in such a situation? Is it better to stay hungry as long as possible?


I feel like this needs a little more input. I really don't want to discuss any moral questions here. I just want to know if the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The answer just might be: "Yes, it's (from an absolutely scientific point of view) recommended to eat human flesh."

To quote a user's comment:

... could it give you any diseases or make you vomit to the point of dehydration, etc...

  • Healthy or merely necessary for survival? – forest Sep 9 at 4:49
  • @forest Healthy. It's in the title. – OddDeer Sep 9 at 5:47
  • Yeah I get that. My point is that it might be beneficial, but not healthy. – forest Sep 9 at 6:34
  • @forest But, well, that's the question. Of course, when in doubt, it's better to eat something than to starve to death. The question is not whether you should do so or not but rather - just out of curiosity - is it healthy to eat human flesh. – OddDeer Sep 9 at 7:15
  • Oh I see what you mean now. So in other words, in a completely amoral world, would it be better (or at least comparable) from a purely health point of view to eat human flesh than, say, bovine? – forest Sep 9 at 7:16
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This is a good question, and there are actually some scientific issues to consider. I think morally we can all agree that it would be wrong to kill someone to eat them. But let's consider the situation where you're starving, and someone has just died in front of you due to no fault of your own. Is it "safe" to eat them? Will it benefit you?

The first issue to consider is that most disease organisms are specific to the species they infect, or at least have a high affinity to a small number of species. Therefore the more related you are to the dead animal, the more likely you are to pick up a disease from it. Of course there are general pathogens too, so cooking the meat is always a good idea. However, with something that can host the same diseases and parasites you can, like another human, the danger is even higher. You really really want to cook the meat.

Another less obvious issue is what parts to eat. Some organs contain high concentrations of hormones that can disrupt our normal processes if taken into the body as a whole. The exact composition of most hormones is species-specific, although they will still have similar broad affects across species. For example, insulin for use by human diabetics used to be harvested from pigs. On the large tree of life here on earth, humans and pigs are quite close, so it worked, although probably not quite as well as true human insulin.

In particular, avoid glands like the pituitary and thyroid. Such parts are even carefully not included in beef for human consumption, for example. Eating human thyroids would likely be even worse than eating cow thyroids.

I would definitely avoid central nervous system parts, like the brain and spine. The chances are rare of the dead human in front of you carrying a prion disease, but this is where the prions we know about apparently concentrate. Note that prions are not destroyed by cooking, so you can't make prion-infested tissue safe for consumption in the back country.

This may sound far fetched, and it is, but it has happened. Look up a disease called kuru. Some time apparently in the 1800s at least on person in Papua New Guinea got infected by a particular prion. Due to the cannibalistic customs in that area, his flesh was eaten, more people were infected, their flesh eaten, etc, until kuru was a serious problem by the min 1900s. Once cannibalism in that area stopped, no new cases of kuru occurred.

Of course if you're starving, you're facing death by other means too, so it's a tradeoff of probabilities. What I'd probably do is eat the obvious muscle tissue, after proper cooking of course. Most of the edible flesh on the legs and arms is muscle. Unless death by starvation is imminent, I'd stay away from other parts.

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Humans actually have a gene which protects them from cannibalism, according to some scientists, a prion disease acquired in prehistoric populations through cannibalism represents a likely explanation of the high prevalence of people with one mutated and one regular prion protein gene, which makes it possible for them to eat their own species without getting sick.

This question really comes down to morals and ethics. There are numerous documented incidents where people in desperate situations have resorted to cannibalism, a famous example was a rugby team whose plane crashed while flying over the Andes, they were stranded at an elevation of 3,600m (11,800ft) for months, and resorted to eating the dead in order to stay alive. They actually made a movie about it in 1993 called Alive.

Photo of the survivors of the 1972 Andes flight disaster when they were finally found 72 days after the crash. enter image description here

You wanna talk about survivors guilt, many of these guys have been haunted for over 40years for eating pieces of their friends.

Human meat is meat, sickness caused by cannibalism today is actually rare and known as Kuru, which is usually contracted from eating human brains.

There have been many cultures which have been known to eat human flesh, some still do. In recent times, aside from the tribes in Papua New Guinea, you also have the Cannibal War Lords of Liberia. Cannibalism is apparently still a problem in Liberia.

If you're eating cooked meat, then cannibalism is pretty safe, and will keep you alive and fed. The real question is, could you live with yourself afterwards?

  • You might consider adding the eating of dogs into this answer. Cultural bias is nearly as strong, but the cultures that consume dog are more plentiful then those that eat humans. – James Jenkins Dec 4 '15 at 20:14
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    @james eating dogs isn't cannibalism, I fail to see how discussing dogs is constructive with this question. – ShemSeger Dec 4 '15 at 20:16
  • As you point out in your answer, meat is meat. For the majority(?) of the English speaking world the top two taboo meats are people and dogs. – James Jenkins Dec 4 '15 at 20:23
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    People are strange when it comes to this... Most of my US friends were shocked/suprised to learn that in Switzerland we eat horse meat, while this seemed unthinkable to them. Funnily enough most horse meat we get here is produced in the US. :P – fgysin Dec 9 '15 at 15:58
  • @fgysin And Canada I bet too, there's a huge horse meat packing plant not far from where I am. – ShemSeger Dec 9 '15 at 16:50

protected by Sue Sep 8 at 22:19

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