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Health Consequences

In order to deal with the effects of starvation, the body is forced to slow down all its processes and to find ways of conserving energy. The physical effects of starvation include:

  • Dehydration -> risk of kidney failure.
  • Muscle weakness -> risk of muscle loss.
  • Tiredness and overall weakness -> risk of fainting.
  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure produces changes in the heart muscle -> risk of heart failure.
  • Loss of bone density resulting in dry, brittle bones (osteoporosis) -> risk of postural problems and risk of fracture.

Starvation also affects a person’s thinking and behaviour. Poor nutrition and dehydration produce changes in brain chemistry. It is thought that these changes in brain chemistry contribute to sustain the distorted thinking, disturbed perception and obsession with food associated with anorexia. Intellectual ability can also be affected resulting in reduced concentration, poor memory, difficulties with abstract thinking, problem solving, decision making and planning. In some cases, these changes can also increase vulnerability to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. If the depression is severe, there is a risk of suicide.

Other means of weight control such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics and excessive exercise can also have very serious health consequences and can have a significant impact on a person’s capacity to function effectively.

Bone health needs to be monitored and advice should be sought from a professional on how best to manage nutrition and exercise to facilitate the restoration of bone health. A DEXA scan will give a clear assessment of bone density and indicate what kind of treatment is required and how best to protect oneself against further loss.