HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF BEING UNDERWEIGHT

We’ve have access to so much information about being overweight, but does being underweight have negative effects on our health? Women of childbearing age who are underweight may not menstruate regularly. Ovulation may cease because the body senses it cannot support a foetus. Even if you do become pregnant, you may suffer more complications during your term and put the baby’s health at risk.

Infertility is an issue many underweight women face. Women that have suffered from an eating disorder, or who exercise a great deal may experience a cessation of menstruation, otherwise known as amenorrhea. While some may only be focused on their weight now, many don’t realise that there can be some long term consequences that will affect fertility. For instance, being underweight is also associated with dysfunctional ovulation which can impede pregnancy. Going on a weight gain diet in these cases almost always improved the chances of the woman getting pregnant. A woman must have a certain amount of body fat to sustain a healthy and growing baby, so any woman who is underweight should try to establish a diet that is highly nutritious and will help her maintain and gain weight throughout a pregnancy.

People who are underweight may suffer from fatigue and low energy. They tend to have less muscle mass, which contributes to weakness and feelings of being chilled. Being underweight may also mean you do not adequately take in or absorb certain vitamins and minerals. This makes people who are underweight more likely to develop osteoporosis or anaemia.

Osteoporosis is a common side effect of being underweight. Osteoporosis, which means porous bones, is a disease that causes bones to become fragile and to break. In most people, the bone breaks occur in the hips, spine and wrist. Osteoporosis is caused by not ingesting sufficient calcium, not getting enough exercise, insufficient vitamin D, alcohol abuse and smoking. A balanced diet, with plenty of calcium will help prevent osteoporosis.

Anaemia is a health risk of being underweight and is characterized by a lower number than normal of red blood cells. It is usually measured by a decrease in the amount of haemoglobin which is the red pigment in red blood cells that transports oxygen. Anaemia can be caused by nutritional deficits common in people who are underweight and not eating a balanced diet rich in iron. Some symptoms of anaemia are fatigue, pain in the chest and shortness of breath.

The underweight are also more likely to get sick due to compromised immune systems. If they become sick, they are likely to experience more serious bouts of illness because they have little in terms of fat reserves to support healing or additional weight loss

Men have essential body fat of 2-5% where woman have essential fat between 12-15%.

Anything lower than that for men or women can be associated with health risk.

Dangers of underweight:

  • Prone to infection, comprised immune system
  • Digestive disorders/malabsorption
  • Numerous cancers
  • Low lean muscle mass/metabolic rate
  • Hair loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irregular hormone regulation
  • Osteoporosis/fracture
  • Anaemia
  • Pregnancy complications (or fertility problems)
  • Menstrual irregularities

Vitamin deficiency and being underweight can affect the effectiveness of your immune system. For instance, if you do not get enough vitamin D your body won’t be able to metabolize calcium. If you do not get enough iron you get anaemia. Nutrition is very important to your immune system and even if you are only have minor deficiencies you can suffer from illnesses that won’t go away and from fatigue. If you suffer with an eat disorder and would like to speak to someone about this, please visit http://www.thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

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