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How Hunger Kills – Effects of...


How Hunger Kills – Effects of Chronic Hunger

In this guest blog, one of our virtual volunteers Fathima Naurin explains how chronic hunger affects functioning of human body and mind.

Ever felt the need to eat something desperately? Or wasted food when lost appetite? Well then it’s not unusual since more than 80% of world population must have felt the same at least once in their lifetime. But have we ever considered the others, or what comes to be the 9.9 percent of the human population who keeps setting new record each year for going on an empty stomach to bed every night? The rise of pandemic did them worse with the number of undernourished people continuing to rise till date. As many as 811 million people are faced with excessive hunger right now.

So what really happens when you go without food? Let’s take a quick look:

After a day or two of skipping meals, the first reaction to come your way is the decreasing blood sugar which makes you irritated and confused at the same time. Then comes the increased production of cortisol which adds in more fuel of leaving us stressed and hangry. Metabolism slows down day by day, leaving your body to get into survival mode. This is where the acute hunger transforms into chronic and the long term undernourishment journey begins.

Normally hunger starts with an uncomfortable stomach ache but as days go by, it starts to affect the brain. You start to lose essential nutrients, minerals and proteins hindering the further development of brain, affecting your ability to read, memorize or even remember things. Onset of impaired vision, damaged gums and teeth and lack of immunity causing wide spread of diseases are some of the early signs of chronic hunger. The more meals a person misses, the more severe effects are going to be.

Hunger not only has an impact on one’s body but also the mind. Constant worries about food can cause people to suffer from depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), anxiety and all other kind of mental distress leading to have suicidal thoughts. Children with iron deficiency caused by undernourishment can have behavioral changes leading to inattention and poor memory. This can be related to why poverty can have an effect on one’s school performance. They seem to have lower IQ and struggle academically when compared to children from well- nourished environment. A child’s first two years of life is considered to be very important and malnourishment will severely damage the brain, causing lifelong misery.

(Man ends up bedridden due to malnutrition in Venezuela)

The time it takes to die from hunger cannot be calculated since it varies depending on people’s capacity to withstand. But that doesn’t change the end result. Not only does the weight starts to reduce, but also the alternatives to restore energy gets lower and there’ll come a time when our body’s left with no plan B.

Without proper hydration, kidney function will shrink in few days. There are several symptoms that follows chronic hunger, from slow heart rate to organ failure, anything is inevitable. When it comes to starvation, a person’s fat reserves are completely utilized by the body until it’s exhausted, leaving everything in the hands of protein. The end of protein in one’s body is like the end of one’s lifespan since protein helps in the functioning of important organs. There is no prevention to this order of death unless the main factor, the food comes in action sooner. But the most interesting fact is that even the availability of food must be handled with care to prevent something called refeeding syndrome, caused by the rapid refeeding after a long period of under- nourishment. All these are accountable in the case of people who might get the access but what about millions of others who are traumatized every second because of hunger.

Hunger seems to be one of these numerous problems that the world is facing and it seems too big for any of us to handle individually. But one thing that we need to be certain of is the fact that even a small change can have greater impact – whether it’s at home or at work or even when in a community – we can as well contribute to finding solutions to this world problem. An estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted, out of which the 11% comes from households. Even a small, attainable goal can help us seat everyone in the world with food to eat, leaving chronic hunger no place to rest upon.