starvation, condition in which deprivation of food has forced the body to feed on itself. Causes are famine, fasting, malnutrition, or abnormalities of the mucosal lining of the digestive system. Famines are often compounded by political strifes that restrict the distribution of aid and imports, as has been demonstrated in Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq after the Persian Gulf War, and the conflict between the Serbs and Croats in former Yugoslavia. Fasting, usually conducted as a religious discipline or political protest, results in dizziness, weakness, and loss of bone mass; these lead to malnutrition. First to be lost are fat deposits and large quantities of water. The liver, spleen, and muscle tissue then suffer the greatest loss of weight. The heart and brain show little loss proportionately. The starving person becomes weak and lethargic. Body temperature, pulse rate, blood pressure, and basal metabolism continue to fall as starvation progresses, and death eventually ensues.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.