The Effects of Famine

The following example essay on “The Effects of Famine” talks about the negative effects of hunger on the human body. In addition, the problem of chronic hunger in Africa is being raised.

Crises in Africa revolving around food and water, or lack thereof, have been all too common and all to fatal over time. Just earlier this year [2018], Cape Town, South Africa, was predicted to reach zero day, the day the town would run out of water, earlier this year on April 12th according to CNN.

Since then, the date has been moved forward to 2019, and the terrible day may never exist at all if the rains expected to fall over Cape Town arrive on time. But the fact still remains that one of the largest cities in Africa, and a major tourist draw, came within an inch of their taps running dry. And citizens of Cape Town are still having their water rationed, with the ration size being 50 liters per person per day.

In this report, two topics will be examined; the effects of famine.

The Effects of Famine on Pregnant Women, Children, and the Elderly

Severe undernutrition has the worst effect on infants during their first hundred days (from their conception to the age of two). And most deaths that occur during famines are those of infants and other small children. Nutrients are essential to infants development, and since theyre not getting proper vitamins and nutrients, their growth is stunted. Malnourished women can also have difficulty lactating.

A pregnant woman who suffers from extreme malnourishment or undernutrition before or during pregnancy will be at a higher risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

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They will also be at an elevated risk of their child having a low birth weight (LBW) due to poor growth in utero or being delivered preterm. Low birth weight children will be at a higher risk of infections due to the fact that their immune systems havent had the opportunities to develop as much as they shouldve when they were in the womb. And they probably wont have the opportunity to develop as much as they should because their bodies will have to devote more of the finite nutrients they ll have to their brains and hearts. They will also be more vulnerable to illnesses like hypothermia, will likely have feeding difficulties, and infants as a whole demographic will have a higher than average mortality rate.

The Effects of Famine and Extreme Hunger on the Human Body

Hunger isn’t just a weird feeling that your stomach gives you when you need to eat something. Hunger can affect every single organ in your body and leave you vulnerable to infections. Hunger is the way that our bodies have pushed us to gather food and to stay alive for over hundreds of centuries. And when we don’t have enough to eat, our bodies cannot properly function. Malnutrition is one of the leading causes of death in the world, including developing third world countries and industrialized nations, according to the US National Center for Biotechnological Information (NCBI). Without proper energy, your immune system can’t properly fight off infections, your bones deteriorate, and many other terrible things begin to happen.

The Brain

The average human brain will use up roughly 20% or one fifth of the body’s energy. When you starve your body, you starve your brain. Malnourished or starving children have difficulty concentrating in school, leading to a higher dropout rate for children who suffer from extreme food insecurity or famine. And a lot of them have to drop out to help their parents put food on the table. A starved brain can’t do what a brain provided with the proper amount of nutrients can.

Your body needs glucose to function. It converts carbohydrates into glucose that your body can use as energy. But you get your carbohydrates from food, and when you stop eating food, you stop consuming carbohydrates. When you stop consuming carbohydrates, your body doesn’t have any new material to turn into glucose. This is all fine for the first 6-12 hours after you stop eating, as excess glucose is stored in the liver (the average person has 90 to 110 grams of glucose stored in their liver), which your body can use.

The thing is, the brain requires 120 grams of glucose a day to properly function. This number manages to drop to 30 grams when the body is running on ketone bodies, proteins that the body produces that can cross the blood brain barrier and keep the brain alive in desperate times. However, the body will switch to other sources of energy to preserve glucose for the brain.

The Heart

A healthy, well fed human hearts job is to pump blood throughout the body. It, like all other organs in the body, needs energy to function. Blood would already be in short supply thanks to the fact that the liver and the kidneys are nearly crippled, making the job harder for the heart in the first place. All this was bad enough, but since the heart isnt receiving proper nutrients, its vital job is already to much. In the wake of starvation, the heart has been proven to literally shrink.

As a matter of fact, one of the quickest ways to die from starvation is to die of cardiac arrhythmia or a heart attack. Brought on by extreme degradation of the tissue in the heart. This has been observed in those suffering from anorexia or bulimia.

The Liver, Kidneys, and the Immune System

The liver, kidneys, and the immune system play an incredibly important role in the body staying alive. They werent named vital organs for no good reason. Your immune system is fighting a constant battle with various bacteria and viruses. Winning just about every war that they wage. The livers main job is to filter incoming blood from the digestive tract, remove waste and toxins, and then pass it back to the rest of the body. It also produces bile for the intestines so that we can properly process and digest fats, and it produces the proteins needed for blood clotting and many other functions. The kidneys, like the liver, help to remove toxins, waste, and extra water from the blood before returning it to the body. However, it disposes of these toxins through urine, ridding the body of them.

Needless to state again, these organs are of incredibly high importance to the body not dying. Things would go terribly wrong if a minor thing went awry with just one of them. However, malnutrition messes up all of these organs.

Undernutrition deprives the immune system of the nutrients and energy that they need to fight off even common infections. As most of the energy being ripped away from the rest of the body will go towards keeping the brain and heart functioning, not much is left over for the immune system. Most malnourished children die of common and easily preventable bacterial infections, according to an article published by the NCBI.

The liver simply cannot do its job without energy. Leading to toxins building up in the bloodstream and spreading through the body. Most concerning of them all, the brain. The secretion of bile slows, but that’s not the biggest concern seeing that the body’s starving slowly to death. It also has difficulty filtering toxins and waste from the blood, leading to their inevitable build up.

The kidneys are unable to filter waste and toxins and dispose of them through urine. This is problematic, seeing that two of the organs responsible for filtration of the blood are now down, leading to even more buildup of toxins, according to an article published by the national kidney foundation. The kidneys are also responsible for producing blood. They produce roughly a cup and a half of blood every hour. So when they stop working, there may not be much blood to filter in the first place.


The skin has multiple equally important jobs. To prevent the loss of essential body fluids and make sure that toxins dont get in, regulate the temperature of the body, procuring vitamin D from its surroundings, excreting toxins through sweat, and many more. So you can imagine how terrible it would be if something went wrong with the largest organ in your body.

One of the symptoms of malnourishment is dry and flakey skin. Flakey and dry skin isnt very effective when it comes to one of the skin’s most important jobs, preventing infectious bacteria and viruses from making it into the skin. Adding on to the fact that the immune system is for all intents and purposes out of order. This is one of the reasons why most people die from infections roughly two weeks into being unable to eat.


The skeletal system has many important jobs that enable the body to survive. It supports the body so that it can move and perform important tasks, helps with blood cell production, and regulates endocrine. Without it, we would all just be miniscule piles of jelly like flesh rolling our way through the world. Malnutrition and starvation mess up this vital system that our entire life depends upon.

Studies done on animals have shown that malnourished bones are more likely the fracture and break. The body has to devote energy and proteins to healing the bone, henceforth chipping away at already finite resources. Malnutrition also impedes bone growth in children and teenagers. Slowing the development of one of the most important systems in the body.

The human body can last roughly three to eight minutes without air. It can go approximately three or five hours without shelter in the wild, and about three or four days without out water. But remarkably, humans have been known to last up to seventy days without food. The things that the human body will do to survive without out food manage to be simultaneously amazing and absolutely terrifying. The things that the body does to survive tend to take place over three phases.

The First Phase of Starvation

The first stage of starvation will be set in motion after the body’s glucose reserves have been depleted. This usually occurs 6-12 hours after a person hasnt had anything to eat. After the body has run out of glucose to use, it will begin to convert glycogen from the liver into glucose to use for energy. After your bodys out of glucose, it has to switch modes. It starts breaking down fats for energy, these fats in turn get turned into fatty acids. This is energy that almost the entire body can use, except for the brain.

Because fatty acids cant cross the blood brain barrier, the body has to change what its doing. It enters a state known as ketosis and the liver begins to break down fatty acids into ketone bodies, which are able to reach the brain despite the blood brain barrier. However, problems still remain as only up to 75% of the brains energy can come from the Ketone bodies and its still missing the 25% that would have to be made up by glucose. Therefore, mental function will be impaired. This leads to mood swings in many cases, something that was recently defined as hangry or a joining of the words hungry and angry.

Its important to note that ketosis isnt an inherently bad thing. As a matter of fact, many athletes, such as marathon runners, enter ketosis a lot. And certain low carb diets intentionally induce ketosis to help burn fats. Intermediate fasting also induces ketosis in the body. So occasionally and in low amounts, ketosis can actually be good for the body. But after 72 hours or more of nothing to eat, things begin to take a turn for the worse.

The Second Phase of Starvation

The second stage of starvation begins after approximately 72 hours with no food whatsoever, and can last from one or two weeks to several weeks. After approximately three days of being unable to eat, the brain will realize it needs more than the ketones to survive at this point. So the body begins to eat away at its own muscles in an attempt to stay alive. It uses the amino acids found in our muscles to produce glucose to keep the rest of the body functioning.

This is around the time that bone density begins to diminish and the body begins to shut things down to preserve energy. In women, the menstrual cycle halts entirely in order to preserve.

The Third and Final Phase of Starvation

Very few people die directly from starvation. Most get killed by infections that their bodies have been made vulnerable to due to the fact that their immune system is crippled. But for those who do, most often either marasmus or kwashiorkor will lead into their demise (two diseases that will be more heavily covered in a later segment). For others, otherwise easily preventable infections will be their demise. And for those who manage to avoid those two, cardiac arrhythmia or another type of cardiac failure will kill them.

You can perish in as short as three weeks, or you can last up to seventy days without food.

How Does Starvation Kill Us?

  1. Disease. The two big diseases that wind up killing the unfortunate souls who wind up in the third and final stage of starvation are Marasmus and Kwashiorkor.
  2. Infection. Many people affected by famine will die within the first two weeks of infection.
  3. Cardiac Arrest and Others. When a person finally dies from starvation, one of the quickest ways they’ll go is through cardiac arrest, cardiac arrhythmia, a heart attack, or another type of cardiac failure. Which is incredibly common in those suffering from anorexia. As you know, when the heart doesn’t have access to proper nutrients and energy it will literally shrink, making its truly vital job of pumping blood (which is already in short supply) incredibly difficult.

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The Effects of Famine. (2019, Nov 24). Retrieved from

The Effects of Famine
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