Exeter, Devon UK • Feb 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Science Hannibal Lector eat your heart out – the science of cannibalism

Hannibal Lector eat your heart out – the science of cannibalism

5 mins read
Written by

Picture the scene, you have been stranded on a desert island for weeks, water supplies are running scarce but food is the real issue. Your companion, Frank, died a couple of days ago and his sun-burnt flesh is looking all the more tempting as the minutes tick by and you feel like you are being devoured from the inside. But would roasting Frank on a spit actually do your starving body any good?

Firstly, it turns out that cannibalism is one of the more fat based diets you can undertake. James Cole, a lecturer at the University of Brighton conducted a study into how many calories the human body would provide if consumed. At a whopping 81,500 calories there is no denying that taking a quick bite out of your friend would provide you with energy. A single leg will provide you 7150 calories, a pair of lungs 1500 calories and if you feel like taking your Daenerys Targaryen impersonation to the next level, a heart will provide you with 722 calories. But, in addition to committing a social blunder; around half of the calories found in the human body are adipose cells. Yes, half of the cells in our bodies are fat. Gastro-cannibalism is not healthy for anyone and the fattiness of eating a roasted cadaver is not the only con of cannibalism believe it or not.

‘Kuru Disease is an incurable condition contracted from eating a human brain or by coming into contact with an open wound of an infected individual.’

Kuru Disease is an incurable condition contracted from eating a human brain or by coming into contact with an open wound of an infected individual. Fortunately, the delicacy of the human brain is only appreciated in a limited area. Specifically the Fore Tribe in Papua New Guinea. The tribespeople do not eat brain for its taste though; they consume the organ as part of the funeral rites of the recently deceased. This is known as cultural cannibalism.

The disease peaked during the 1950’s in an endemic fashion and was the most common cause of death amongst the female Fore. The decline occurred almost a decade later once scientists had identified the cause and educated the populace to not ingest brains. The scientific name of such a deadly disease is Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy. The existence of the disease is down to the unnatural shape of proteins or prions within the brain. Symptoms include tremors, headaches and a loss of balance with this being due to the disease affecting the cerebellum part of the brain. Because the incubation period is so vast (up to 60 years), symptoms can take time to emerge but once they appear, life expectancy depletes to just a few years. If you’ve already managed to get past the social stigma of human brain consumption and have perhaps always wanted to be a zombie, think again.

Autopsy specimen of a confirmed sporadic Creutzfeld Jakob Disease case by Jensflorian. Source: wikimedia.commons

Autopsy specimen of a confirmed sporadic Creutzfeld Jakob Disease case by Jensflorian. Source: wikimedia.commons

The spongiform component of Kuru disease means that it leaves your brain resembling a sponge. Basically one eats a brain and instead of wanting more, the disease makes your brain devour itself. A similar disease of the same family is ‘Mad Cow’ Disease also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. Bovine creatures contract this from eating parts of their own species- essentially cow cannibalism. Research on this disease has led to discoveries that it may cause Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease so there is potential for both Mad Cow and Kuru disease proving useful to the medical stratosphere.

Such horrific consequences of cannibalism would surely put anyone in their right mind (punny probably inappropriate joke right there) off the thought of eating a brain or body but say if one wanted to try it here in the UK, it could legally go ahead. According to Samantha Pegg of Nottingham Trent University, there is no law against cannibalism in the UK. Hypothetically you could go and get yourself a socially unacceptable snack. But with high levels of fat and the potential of contracting a lethal, incurable disease I think it’s probably best if you give that one a miss this Halloween.

You may also like

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign Up for Our Newsletter