How Hunger Hurts

Hunger is uncomfortable. If you’ve ever missed a meal because you were too busy or you woke up late, you know that hunger takes a toll on our mood, our focus, and our sense of physical well-being.

The effects of hunger on the human body don’t end with a stomachache. In fact, true hunger — or, malnutrition — is a dual body-mind experience that has the same deteriorating effects on every human. Since about one in every 3 humans in the world is suffering from malnutrition and half the child deaths in developing countries are caused by malnutrition and its effects, it is essential that we acknowledge how the effects of malnutrition (aside from the immediate suffering) “jeopardizes the economy  and development of [a] country, continuing the cycle of poverty.”

Starting from the Top. 

MIND — Even though we think of hunger as a primarily physical experience, it is important to remember that acute hunger makes learning and concentration difficult at every age. Childhood malnutrition can cause reduced intelligence, anxiety, psychiatric issues and cognitive impairment in the long term.

EYES — Visual disturbances or impaired vision can be caused by deficiencies in Vitamin A.

MOUTH — Bleeding gums/decaying teeth are both symptoms of calcium deficiency.

HEART — Hunger causes a decrease in heart rate and oxygen levels, making it that much more difficult to perform any kind of physical activity, let alone labor. To function properly, the heart needs sufficient calcium, iron, protein and Vitamin B.

ORGANS — There are a number of malnutrition and deficiency disorders that threaten the intestinal tract, kidneys and livers, all of which need fiber in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to operate healthily.

SKIN — Designed to protect the body as one large shielding system, the skin begins to break down, drying out and flaking without proper hydration and sufficient vitamin A.

JOINTS and MUSCLES — These important connection points will ache if not provided protein — it doesn’t matter how often a person exercises, if the person isn’t getting sufficient protein, her or his muscles will weaken and shrink. Both of these effects put the person at a greater disadvantage when her or his livelihood depends on physical labor.

BONES — Without sufficient calcium, a young person’s growth will be stunted for life, possibly forcing her or him to function with fragile bones that easily break as an adult.

EXTREMITIES — Nerves in the hands and feet will begin to break down without sufficient vitamin E. Needless to say, the loss of control and feeling in these extremities render a person worthless in a labor force defined by physical activity.

IMMUNE SYSTEM — A number of diseases that are rare here but rampant in the developing world are directly caused by deficiencies in basic vitamins, minerals and macronutrients. And, outrageously enough, most can be treated with the mere introduction of those deficient vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. No pharmaceutical research, no vaccination, no drug regimen necessary. In most cases, just the right food in the right amount.

Here’s an abbreviated list of some diseases (1), their causes (A) and their symptoms (i) common in regions with severe food insecurity:

  1. Wet Beriberi — affects  the cardiovascular system. Prevalent in East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in refugee populations and in urban populations that consume a lot of rice.
    1. Deficiency of thiamine (Vitamin B1)
      1. swelling of the lower legs
      2. increased heart rate
      3. congestive heart failure
      4. enlarged heart
      5. shortness of breath
  2. Dry Beriberi — affects the nervous system. See Wet Beriberi.
    1. Deficiency of thiamine (Vitamin B1)
      1. shortness of breath
      2. loss of feeling in hands and feet
      3. vomiting
      4. strange eye movements
      5. confusion
      6. coma and death
  3. Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM) — in the form of Kwashiorkor or Marasmus depending on overall calorie intake. One in every four children in the world is afflicted with PEM.
    1. Deficiency of macronutrients (carbohydrate and protein)
      1. edema
      2. swollen abdomen (enlarged liver)
      3. diarrhea
      4. peeling and white spots on the skin
      5. reddish pigmentation of hair
      6. failure to gain weight
      7. stunted growth
      8. thin limbs and baggy skin
  4. Pellagra — prevalent in populations dependent on maize (corn). Chronic cases exist in parts of India and in African countries without the means to create or disperse fortified grains.
    1. Deficiency in niacin (Vitamin B3)
      1. diarrhea: irritation of the GI tract from the mouth to the colon
      2. dermatitis: scaly, red lesions, which can be disfiguring
      3. dementia: depression, delusions, insomnia, memory loss and stupor
  5. Rickets — became common during the industrial revolution, linked to populations with poor diets, lack of fresh air and sunshine. Common in many developing countries and may be making a comeback in some of the developed world, perhaps because children are spending less time outdoors.
    1. Deficiencey in Vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus
      1. skeletal deformities such as bowed legs, curved spine and pelvic deformities
      2. fragile bones
      3. delayed growth
      4. pain in bones
      5. muscle weakness
  6. Scurvy — yes, the disease that plagued pirates centuries ago is still around. However, it affects only those on a very restricted diet, frequently among populations with food emergencies, such as refugees.
    1. Deficiency in Vitamin C
      1. Bruising and bleeding easily
      2. loss of hair and teeth
      3. swelling and pain in joints

For more information and the descriptions used for this page, please read the World Health Organization pamphlet Turning the Tide of Malnutrition.

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One Response to How Hunger Hurts

  1. Pingback: Hunger is much more than an empty stomach. | Say No To Food Waste

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