What Are The Symptoms And Side Effects Of Starvation?
Refraining from eating can have serious adverse effects on your health and fitness goals.
There are many ways to lose weight. But starving is not one of them! There are serious health effects of starving yourself.
Reducing calorie intake may work for weight loss. But not eating anything or consuming negligible amounts of food can cause nutritional deficiencies. Self-inflicted starvation can also be attributed to a condition like anorexiai XAn eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight and extreme restriction on calorie intake. .
Not eating can also lead to severe malnutrition and may even permanently damage your organs. Starving, in other words, can cause both physical and mental damage.
Read on to learn about the harmful side effects of starving yourself.
In This Article
Symptoms Of Starvation
Kristy Smith, Nutritionist and Holistic Health Coach, says, “Starving has drastic effects on your body. It destroys your muscles, bones, skin, and organs. Immunity gets weak due to a lack of nutrients, and your body becomes susceptible to a number of diseases.”
She adds, “Long-term effects include chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. It also causes electrolyte disturbance resulting in weakness, tiredness, or sometimes even depression. In addition, it results in a slow heart rate and abnormally low blood pressure. In fact, starvation acts as an invitation to many diseases.”
The starvation symptoms vary from person to person. The major symptoms reported are (1):
- Abnormal attitude and behavior towards food and eating
- Poor emotional and social functioning
- Poor concentration
- Reduction in the rate of weight loss
- Impaired cognitive performance, like poor concentration
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Cold intolerance
- Drop in blood pressure
Starvation for a long period should not be encouraged as it may lead to several side effects.
What Are The Side Effects Of Starvation?
According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition can be defined as deficiency, excess, or imbalances of specific nutrients (2). This is perhaps the most damaging effect of voluntary or forced starvation. Starvation usually means that you don’t eat much at all. This leads to many essential nutrients and vitamins being excluded from your diet.
Lack of food for a long period slows down the body’s energy stores and poor nutrition, which is often related to dehydration.
This dehydration may, in turn, aggravate other problems and lead to cracked and exceedingly dry skin, lethargyi XA state of lacking energy and being drowsy that can be alleviated by getting enough rest or sleep. , lack of urinary output, low or undetectable blood pressure, along with other conditions like constipation, among others (3).
Thus, it is important to remember to drink enough water, even if you are on a starvation diet. Starvation and dehydration depletes glycogen levels and disturbs electrolyte balance.
3. Decreases Resting Metabolic Rate
Starvation for a long period decreases metabolic ratei XThe number of calories you burn or are required to accomplish your body's needs over a specific period of time. as you are depriving your body of food and water, which almost exhausts its energy stores.
Chronic starvation decreases the resting metabolic rate, but the exact mechanism is still not understood well (4).
4. Loss Of Monthly Menstrual Period
Starvation leads to many problems. One of these problems is it upsets how your periods are regulated. Those thinking about going on a starvation diet may want to consider this aspect before beginning the diet.
The adipose tissue helps to produce female sex hormones by regulating the receptors (5). Due to prolonged starvation, your fat cells start to shrink. The lack of fat cells causes lack of estrogen, the female hormone (6). As prolonged starvation can lead to organ damage, the body processes tend to slow down, which usually causes menstruation to stop.
Starvation can also induce constipation in many individuals.
Studies on many individuals with anorexia have shown that they may deal with severe starvation, which can lead to many disorders and requires the use of regular laxativesi XA type of over-the-counter medicine that helps improve stool weight and consistency and increases bowel movements. to be treated wholly.
A case study on three women with severe anorexia found that they needed to use regular laxatives or enemas to help flush their colon. These women also ran a higher risk of rectal prolapsei XA condition that occurs when the rectum becomes stretched out and slips outside the anus, the end of the digestive tract. due to the overuse of laxatives (7).
6. Bone Loss
A starved or starving individual may continue to lose weight at an alarming rate. Although the changes in the skin and musculature are quite obvious, the bones also undergo developmental changes.
In both animal models and humans, prolonged starvation caused bone loss by stimulating osteoclast activity (bone cells break down), leading to loss of bone mineral density and decreased overall bone strength (8).
One of the most common side effects of starvation is fatigue. Starvation upsets the balance of essential vitamins in your body and slows down physiological processes, which can lead to fatigue and a feeling of lightheadedness.
8. Effects On Blood Pressure
Chronic starvation may lower blood pressure levels as your body is completely devoid of food and water.
A case study on a 17-year-old girl with anorexia showed very low blood pressure, which was very difficult to measure (9).
9. Electrolyte Imbalance
Starvation leads to electrolyte imbalance, which is mostly due to dehydration after prolonged fasting.
Studies on rats showed that starvation could lead to electrolyte imbalances, especially sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium levels, which increased after refeeding them (10).
10. Affects The Brain
Prolonged starvation impairs brain function and exhausts all the glucose needed for the effective functioning of cognitive abilities.
A study on female mice showed that 48 hours of starvation markedly decreased brain glucose consumption and biochemical reactions associated with it (11).
Infographic: Most Damaging Effects Of Starving
Voluntary starving is never a healthy solution for losing weight. You may lose weight by not having food but it may cause serious health issues that can last a lifetime. Though we have listed all the damaging effects of starving in this article, you may check out the infographic below to know the most serious effects of starving that may lead to further health concerns.
While various fad diets and types of fasting are common nowadays for weight loss, you should be wary of the effects of starving yourself. Starving not only leads to malnutrition, fatigue, electrolyte imbalance and menstrual irregularities, but may also prove fatal if not checked early on. Underfeeding yourself may lead to irritability, anxiety and mental delusions, sometimes resulting in chronic depression as well. If you are aiming to lose some weight, make sure to consume small frequent meals and follow a healthy balanced diet.
Now that you know how starvation can adversely affect your body, we hope that you will rethink before going on those starvation diets. They are just a quick fix and offer little long-term benefits. Opt for a balanced regimen to lose weight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does your stomach shrink when you starve?
Kristy Smith says, “No, it does not shrink your stomach. As you become an adult, the size of your stomach remains the same unless you go through surgery. Eating less helps you rest your appetite thermostat, so you don’t feel hungry and can follow up on your eating plans.”
What’s the difference between starving and intermittent fasting?
According to Kristy Smith, “Starving is defined as completely retaining yourself from eating food or eating very few calories for a longer period whereas intermittent fasting can be described as eating food within a specific time frame.”
She adds, “Another thing that differentiates between the two is the severity of the symptoms. People who are starving can develop brain dysfunction, heart failure, diabetes, etc. On the other hand, people who are fasting can experience mild symptoms like hunger, headache, dizziness, etc.”
Can starvation cause internal bleeding?
Starvation is not related to internal bleeding. Prolonged starvation may cause physical and mental damage.
Does your stomach shrink when you starve?
Starving for long can reduce the amount of food your stomach can accommodate.
Does intermittent fasting put you in the starvation mode?
Intermittent fasting is short-term fasting, which is restricted to a 16:8-hour window, followed by eating healthy food. On the other hand, starving means complete fasting in which no food and water are allowed.
Does starving yourself make you bloat?
Yes, starvation makes you bloat as you are not drinking water to digest the remaining food in your stomach.
Can your body reject food after starvation?
Refeeding syndrome can occur when a person resumes eating after starvation. This is due to the reintroduction of glucose or sugar. There may be abrupt changes in the electrolyte and fluid balance as the body processes meals once more. As a result of these changes, the condition can be lethal.
- Starvation deprives you of essential dietary nutrients which may disturb physical and mental health.
- It may lead to malnutrition, fatigue, and depression.
- Prolonged starvation or anorexia may hamper your metabolism and lead to diabetes, low blood pressure, bone loss, and menstrual irregularities.
- Starvation can cause hair loss, skin dryness, and brittle nails.
- Starvation may also cause dehydration, which may lead to kidney problems and other health complications.
- The Starvation Symptom Inventory: Development and Psychometric Properties, Nutrients, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- What is malnutrition? World Health Organization.
- Adult Dehydration
- Chronic Starvation Secondary to Anorexia Nervosa Is Associated With an Adaptive Suppression of Resting Energy Expenditure, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Adipose tissue as an endocrine organ, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Types of reproductive disorders in underweight and overweight young females and correlations of respective hormonal changes with BMI, Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Rectal prolapse associated with anorexia nervosa: a case report and review of the literature, Journal of eating Disorder, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Evidence for the Adverse Effect of Starvation on Bone Quality: A Review of the Literature, International Journal of Endocrinology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Anorexia Nervosa: The physiological consequences of starvation and the need for primary prevention efforts, McGill Journal of Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Starvation and refeeding in rats: effect on some parameters of energy metabolism and electrolytes and changes of hepatic tissue, Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira, Scientific Electronic Library Online.
- Effect of starvation on brain glucose metabolism and F-2-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose uptake: an experimental in-vivo and ex-vivo study, EJNMMI research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.