Nutrition Talk: The Effects of Starvation

Nutrition Talk: What are the Effects of Starvation?

When there is such an obesity crisis in the United States, a lot of specialists, nutritionists, and other experts tend to lose focus on other issues. Not because those issues are unimportant. Far from it. The truth of the matter is that people often overlook the “wheel that doesn’t squeak the loudest.” So, when someone thinks about talking to a nutritionist, most of the time people associate it with weightloss.  But a nutritionist, by definition deals with the whole of nutrition, not just weight loss. And the opposite end of that spectrum of what they handle is the effects of malnutrition or starvation.

What does it do to the body, and at what point can it kill a person?  What can you do to combat it and what is the right way to handle food deprivation?

Your Body on Starvation

Most adults who pay attention to health segments in middle or high school, as children, know that our bodies consist of billions of very small organisms, called cells.  These cells require the consumption of nutrients and glucose to obtain enough energy to function for things like self repair, distributing water through osmosis, and replicating themselves and just outright existing.

These cells have short shelf lives, depending on what type they are, and they last long enough to feed, replicate a few generations before dying naturally and becoming waste.

Well, when a person starves themselves, you are not just making yourself go very hungry. You are killing your cells. When you put yourself through “cell-death” you are putting your body through a process call apoptosis.

There is a further mention explination of this topic by a recent publication in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Nutrition, Starvation, and Cell Death

According to it’s lead author,  Dr. Cristina Muñoz-Pinedo, “The death of cells in case of starvation may be similar to the effects of cell-death treatments such as chemotherapy where the mitochondrial pathway is activated. In case of starvation, the cells activate certain ‘death receptors’ on their membrane . In a normal scenario, this happens when lymphocytes of the immune system fight and kill infectious cells.”

cell death, starvation, nutritionSo, the more you are skipping meals, the more likely you are going to put your body through apoptosis, making it much harder for your immune system to function at all.

In more extreme scenarios that have been observed, “Prolonged starvation can cause permanent damage to your organs. A starvation diet results in a great loss in muscle mass and water weight because of dehydration. This can slow down your metabolic rate and you are likely to feel more hungry and end up overeating or suffering deficiencies that can affect your day to day life. So, starvation is never the solution. ”

And it doesn’t only literally kill your body’s cells. We have yet to mention what starvation can do to your brain.

Your Brain on Starvation

Your brain, just like your body, consists of cells. These cells are arguably the most important because it is what controls not only the other processes in the body, but is responsible for how we respond to situations that require our intelligence.

A study on the subject was performed on the closest thing in structure to brain cells during early stage development. In lieu of using embryonic brain cells, they used and observed tadpoles.

tadpole, cell death, starvation, nutritionAnd something interesting happened when they observed tadpoles that had no food. “Their neural progenitor cells stopped dividing and their body growth decreased. However, the animals remained alive and their behavior appeared normal. Surprisingly, if tadpoles were able to access food within about nine days, neural progenitor cells in the brain start dividing again. Eventually, the tadpoles wera able to catch up to their normal growth state if food had always been available.”

Our brain cells not only require nutrition to survive, but when you starve yourself, they are the first to go in your body. It brings a whole new level of understanding just how important it is  for our bodies to recieve adequate nutrition.  Thankfully, if you give a person who is starving themselves food, their brains are going to quickly bounce back.

But what does that say about our intelligence when we skip breakfast every morning? Or about a person that makes a poor decision or can’t retain information because they haven’t eaten that day?


When you are starving yourself, you are literally killing your body on a cellular level, shutting down every process starting withyour intelligence first. Weight loss from pure starvation is not a solution.  Talking to someone who knows about nutrition and can help is.