Skip to main content

Starvation is defined as a “severe deficiency in caloric energy intake needed to maintain human life.” It is the most extreme form of malnutrition that is caused by an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that malnutrition can be defined as deficiency, excess, or imbalances of specific nutrients. According to findings from the Minnesota Starvation Study by Keys et al. (1950), which is one of the most prominent studies used as a source of psychoeducation in eating disorder treatment, the act of restriction and extreme dieting directly impacts an individual’s physical, social, behavioral, and psychological well-being. There is a plethora of adverse short- and long-term effects that can occur because of starvation, including but not limited to the following examples:

  • Dehydration: Starvation can cause dehydration, which is signaled by extreme thirst and reduced urinary output. Moderate dehydration may cause mild symptoms such as cracked and exceedingly dry skin, muscle cramps, lethargy, low or undetectable blood pressure, constipation, among others. Severe dehydration can affect temperature regulation and can cause electrolyte imbalances, leading to irregular heartbeats or brain seizures.
  • Electrolyte disturbances: Electrolytes are minerals in the blood (e.g., potassium, chloride, sodium, and magnesium) that are essential for metabolic processes, for the normal functioning of nerve and muscle cells, and for overall functioning of most organs including the heart, brain, and kidneys. Starvation leads to electrolyte imbalance, which is mostly due to dehydration after prolonged fasting, and can lead to a variety of adverse symptoms (e.g., weakness, tiredness, constipation, depression, cardiac arrhythmias, sudden death, etc.).
  • Bone loss: Research findings confirm that prolonged starvation causes bone loss by stimulating osteoclast activity (bone cells break down), leading to loss of bone mineral density, and decreased overall bone strength.
  • Impairs brain function: A study on female mice showed that 48 hours of starvation markedly decreased brain glucose consumption and its associated biochemical reactions. Hence, prolonged starvation exhausts all the glucose needed for the effective functioning of cognitive abilities.
  • Cardiac irregularities: starvation can result in a slowed heart rate and abnormally low blood pressure (particularly during exercise) which can lead to sudden death.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) complications: starvation results in changes in pancreatic exocrine function, intestinal blood flow, villous architecture, and intestinal permeability. The colon loses its ability to reabsorb water and electrolytes, which may result in unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea.

Whilst many of the consequences of starvation are reversible, prolonged starvation is often the catalyst for a wide range of unwanted effects, and without proper treatment can be life threatening. 

Treatment In Calabasas

Calabasas is a city in California. It is a well-known suburb of Los Angeles, located west of the San Fernando Valley and north of the Santa Monica Mountains. Over the past decade, the city of Calabasas has grown in its reputation for luxury as well as for privacy which makes it a hidden gem for residential living for society’s elite, and one of the most desirable destinations in Los Angeles County. It is also home to a plethora of highly qualified mental health clinicians providing an array of therapeutic services and treatment options. 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

Back to top