Josephine Zappia Josephine Zappia

Starvation as a clinical condition

Starvation is normally associated with undernutrition in third world countries or economically deprived conditions. However, there are many situations in the more affluent world which are essentially starvation conditions.

The most obvious starvation situations are the eating disorders anorexia nervosa, bulimia and prolonged or inappropriate dieting. Other conditions include malabsorption diseases such as coeliac disease and lactose intolerance; infections; diarrhoea; and cachexia in cancer.

Perhaps the most insidious, however, is prolonged dieting for weight loss or control.

In prolonged dieting, when you reduce caloric intake the body has insufficient caloric intake to meet normal demands and goes into starvation mode, with the consequent reduction in BMR (basal metabolic rate). This results in an even lower caloric intake being required for weight loss.

Physiological effects of prolonged starvation include:
* Blood pressure drops, especially when standing, exacerbating the impairment of body functions through inefficient blood flow
* Wasting of cardiac muscle, which can lead to heart failure
* Impairment of skeletal muscular function
* Wasting of respiratory muscles, which leads to breathing problems and exacerbates the problem of oxygen supply due to poor blood flow
* Increased susceptibility of body to infection due to protein shortages
* Impairment of body temperature regulation

Starvation and malnutrition are obstacles to any cure, so treat yourself with kindness!

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