What Happens To The Body System Doing Starvation

Food nutrients are essential for survival and betterment of our health or wellbeing. Every systemic process that occurs in our body requires energy from food before they are elicited.

Different varieties of food provide different or similar nutrients to our body. These nutrients in turn nourishes the body, build up our body cells, give us energy, or regulate other body processes.

Each kind of food is essential to our body, but eating the right type of food at the right time and quantity is a course to learn.


Both the lack of food, and excessive food nutrients supplied to the body have complications.


Last week we highlighted obesity as a consequence of overfeeding, we also discussed the risk factors of excessive nutrients accumulation in the body. Today, we want to explain what happens to our body when we stay without food for some time.


Hunger for food, or starvation is the inability to provide the necessary calories the body requires at a particular time, and in the right proportion.


Hunger may start gradually, then tends to rise to a stage of stomach contractions where the individual feels very uncomfortable and suffers fatigue. Sleep may occur during hunger, while some people may find it difficult to sleep.


During the early stages of hunger, our body tries to send signals to different areas, like the brain and gut mostly.

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In the brain, there are hunger centers that detect hunger and then give the body feedback that food is needed. These feedback signals may include the contractions of the stomach as mentioned before, crying, stomach upset (common in people suffering from ulcers), restlessness, fatigue, loss of consciousness, and memory loss.


What causes hunger?

The absence of calories needed for our body metabolism may be as a result of:



During war food is bound to become scarce and so many are left to starve. This usually results in hunger related sickness such as kwashiorkor.



This explains itself, poverty has to do with lack of money to buy food, which leads to lot of starvation. Also the inability to buy the needed quantity of food, or to eat what you want.


This is more difficult for poor people who dwell in urban areas where they have no lands to engage in subsistence farming.



Some disease conditions like Anorexia nervosa can cause extreme hunger. Sometimes hunger may not necessarily be the absence of food, but inability of the food to digest and be absorbed via the blood.


Other disease conditions that may cause hunger include hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, graves disease, diabetes mellitus, etc



The kind of job you do may not give you the time to eat your desired meal.

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Certain medications used as appetite suppressants cause hunger, although such drugs restrict the brain signals which informs the body that we need to eat. Appetite suppressants are used for weight loss. Examples of such drugs include: Phendimetrazine, Naltrexone-bupropion, Diethylpropion, Liraglutide, etc.



Deliberate starvation in the absence of food or disease.



Anxiety may also cause hunger hence it affects appetite. Some people refuse to eat when they are angry, happy or sad. This point varies in different individuals.


Whatever the cause may be, the symptoms as well as the risk factors of hunger increases as the duration of starvation also increases. For simplicity, hunger can be divided into three stages:

Initial phase

At the onset of starvation, our body communicates with the brain via signals to meet up with the body’s demands for nutrients.


If the appetite center in our brain informs the body to feed but no food is eaten, the body begins to convert the excess glucose which is initially stored as glycogen, back to glucose. Glucose is used as a “fuel” hence it gives the brain and other parts of our body the energy needed for several body processes or metabolism.


This stage of hunger is somewhat endurable.


Middle phase 

After continuous starvation, the excess glucose stored becomes used up. The body still demands for calories, if no food is eaten again. It gets to a point where glucose is produced by converting other non carbohydrate foods like proteins and fats back to glucose to fuel the body.

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Hunger at this stage causes loss of weight, fatigue, confusion and tiredness. Symptoms and their intensity may depend on the initial health status or physical fitness of the individual before the onset of the agony.


Final stage

This stage can be life threatening especially for people with diabetes mellitus. The little stored fats travel through the bloodstream to the liver to be converted into a type of fuel called ketone for energy. This may result in ketoacidosis caused by PH difference in blood.


At the final stage, the immune system becomes so inactive and defenseless against diseases and infections.


Symptoms at this stage of starvation will be discussed as risk factors or consequences of prolonged starvation.


Risk factors of hunger 

Hunger may not kill directly, except it get to a peak where no attention is given for too long. Also, extreme declination in body processes such as the body’s ability to fighting diseases, signaling, respiratory function, heart rates etc. may result to:



Inflammation of the intestinal lining

Increased deterioration of ulcers

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