When Mitsutaka Uchikoshi got lost on a Japanese mountain, his chances of survival were slim. He had no food, water, or protection against the environment.
Mitsutaka became separated from his climbing party on Mount Rokko. The last thing he remembers is lying down in a grassy area. He felt exhausted, but relaxed in the sunshine. He fell asleep, and his metabolism slowed to a standstill.
When he was found 24 days later, his pulse was barely detectable. His organs had almost shut down, and his body temperature had dropped to 22 degree Celcius. Yet he was alive. Mitsutaka survived for almost four weeks without food, water, or shelter. How?
Dr. Shinichi Sato believes Mitsutaka’s body went into a state similar to hibernation to survive.
The doctor explained that his body temperature dropped quickly. “Therefore, his brain functions were protected without being damaged and have now recovered.”
Hibernation expert Hirohito Shiomi said that if Mitsutaka did survive for so long with such a low temperature, it was revolutionary. Dr. Frankie Phillips from the British Dietetic Association remains skeptical. The doctor explained that the body could survive that long without food, but not without water.
Animals hibernate to conserve energy when food is scarce, and conditions are extreme. Their heart beats slow, their core temperature drops and energy is conserved. No one is sure if humans can hibernate, but there are reports of humans falling into hibernation-like states.
In 1900, a British medical journal reported that some Russian peasants from the northeastern Pskov region had a unique method of dealing with harsh winters and scarce food. When the snow came they would go inside, light the stove and fall into a deep sleep. They called this state “lotska.” They would wake briefly just once a day to eat some hard bread and drink some water before returning to sleep. Six months later, when spring arrived, they would resume their normal lives.
While there is no proof that this Russian story is true, for years many scientists have argued that humans can hibernate.
NASA is working on a project called Spaceworks Enterprises. It plans to put humans into hibernation during long spaceflights using body and brain-cooling techniques. This would conserve space and resources for trips to other planets.
Astronauts in hibernation would be in a state of timeless limbo. Their metabolism would dramatically reduce the aging process. Meanwhile, their loved ones back on Earth would grow old.
Could hibernation be the key for humanity to discover brave new worlds?