Health Dangers of Being Underweight

I was visiting with some family this weekend who own a house on a lake. The weather was beautiful so we decided to lounge lakeside and dip in and out of the water in the hot afternoon. As the guys did their own thing, I sat and chatted with my sister-in-law, who is a very smart and wonderful person and who is also very, very thin. I’m not sure how the conversation came around to it, but at one point she was telling me how she wants to lose the “rolls” on her stomach. I squinted to see the little rolls on her stomach, which is likely loose skin from when she was pregnant and nothing to do with body fat. “I’ll show you rolls” I thought to myself, with visions of whipping my t-shirt up and having her gasp in shock at the ebb and flow of my rolling bodyscape, but I didn’t. Instead I told her she looked wonderful, which she does.

Being underweight can be very unhealthy and can lead to many health problems including anemia, hair loss and infertility.

Being underweight can be very unhealthy and can lead to many health problems including anemia, hair loss and infertility.

Afterward my sister-in-law and I talked about what a “healthy weight” would be for her, and for me, and we shared about counting calories and the daily struggles of trying to stick to a healthy diet. It was good to have the focus of weight be off of me for a change to be honest. It was also good to address that fact that there are many health dangers associated with being underweight as there are with being overweight and that unhealthy eating habits tend to be at the root of both of these problems.

A lot of attention has been focused in dealing with overweight issues but much as this is justified, little attention has been directed to tackling matters pertaining to being underweight. Scientifically speaking, people who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) that is under 18.5 are considered to be underweight. Some of the main causes of weight loss that leads a person to being underweight include; stress and depression, malnutrition, abuse, eating disorders, and dental or oral problems.

Being underweight can be a serious risk to the immune system by making it weak. That basically means that the body is not getting enough nutrients and can therefore cause one to have the flu, a cold or be at risk of other related infections much more frequently than other people. It can also result in a serious loss of hair (as discussed in the previous post “Dieting Causes Hair Loss” or growth of hair in the most unlikely and unwanted areas. This condition is more common in women than men. Hair needs to be nourished by adequate and healthy intake of food just like the body.

An underweight person is at higher risk of having osteoporosis and bone loss. Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones and makes them brittle. Having osteoporosis increases chances of one having fractures and broken bones. The body needs energy that is found in food to strengthen bones. Women in menopause are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis. Serious weight loss especially because of deliberate food restriction or illness is also known to reduce the levels of muscle mass. For growing teenagers, the muscles may not develop well by being underweight.

Many pregnancy complications have also been related to a woman being underweight, resulting in miscarriages especially in the first three months of the pregnancy and in severe cases it may actually cause infertility or make it almost impossible to conceive. Underweight conditions can also result in anemia. Anemia is brought about when the body is not able to transport enough oxygen in the red blood cells. Some of the symptoms of anemia include heart palpitations, exhaustion, fainting or feeling extremely dizzy. This condition is caused by iron deficiencies. People restricting food intake or dieting are more likely to suffer from anemia. Another effect of severe weight loss is that it causes menstrual irregularities by making the menstrual flow become irregular or it can make it stop in severe cases also known as amenorrhea. Other health dangers of being underweight include heart irregularities, vulnerability to diseases, memory loss, cancer, digestive diseases and hypothermia.

It is as important to remember and address the health dangers of being underweight as it is to address the ones associated with being overweight or obese. If you have friends or family who are very thin, watch out for signs that may make one see that the weight loss is becoming a problem. Some physical signs can be loose and elastic skin, depression, loss of muscle bulk and lethargy, which is also lack of energy. Rapid weight loss can also be a strong sign that something is wrong. Being underweight is just as risky as being overweight and is typically caused by unhealthy eating habits, such as starvation diets and skipping meals. There are also some health problems that may cause one to become underweight, such as hyperthyroidism. Of course, one major cause of someone becoming underweight is an eating disorder. Whatever the cause, it is important to address the issue if it is present.

15 comments to Health Dangers of Being Underweight

  • Herbalife

    Great Article, as a male collegiate athlete, I was monitored very closely as my body fat was constantly at 6%. NCAA rules state that if a male athlete body fat drops below 6% that athlete can not compete. That’s when became educated and I understood how dangerous it is to be underweight and the effects it can have on your body’s chemistry.

  • Anika

    ever sense I was about 10, I’ve been underweight. Recently I have been struggeling with an eating disorder, and though I’ve stopped, I can’t seem to gain the weight back. I honestly eat three healthy meals a day, and don’t purge, or workout excessivly. I’m thinking that this may just be where my body weight is naturally, but does that still put me at risk of the things that come with being underweight? I do get sick alot, but I don’t know if that’s just because of other things.

  • Anika – Thank you for sharing your experience with us. You didn’t mention, but have you been to your doctor lately for a physical? I think that your doctor would be the best person to talk to about whether you are at a healthy weight right now. It is true that some people have a very fast metabolism and are naturally quite thin. You could be one of these people. It is great that you are eating three “healthy meals” each day. Do you know how many calories a day you are eating? If not, try tracking your calorie intake with a calorie counter for a week to make sure you are eating at least 1400 calories a day. Anything less than that may be too little and could harm your health in the long run.

  • Shannie

    I am very, very thin, probably about 20 lbs under weight. I don’t have an eating disorder, and I hardly ever get sick. One of my problems is that I don’t eat very healthy. I am also a very picky eater. I like corn, oranges, bananas, and grapes…but that’s about it with fruits and vegetables. I eat out a lot and eat junk food a lot too. I know that I need to eat healthier, and i’m working on that, but I don’t get why i’m not gaining any weight from eating so unhealthy. I also get good exercise and I played soccer for 8 years, but don’t really have any muscle either. My doctor is a little concerned, but hasn’t said anything about being too concerned. I’m really concerned because I don’t want to end up with tons of health issues when I get older.

  • Janelle

    I’m 23 years old and I’m 20 lbs underweight too. I’m 5’6. But I’m not the very skinny type although I think I’m slim. I have bulges though and I can’t consider myself as an anorexic look. Other people say that weight is not an important issue. Measurements are more important to see if one is healthy or in shape. However, I do get sick very often. I’m not sure if it is related to me b eing underweight. I go to the gym once a week and I try not to eat any fatty foods as much as I can. I’m also knock kneed. I have joint pains at the foot and knees but I’m not sure also if that’s due to being underweight, knock kneed, or I’m just plain paranoid.

  • Blaze

    I’m 23 almost 24, male who is 6 foot 5 inches tall. I weigh 170 pounds now and seem to have lost about 10 pounds recently (last 3 months). I have been at 180 for years even when i had a eating disorder of purging. I’m eating the same. I haven’t had eating disorder for over 6 months now. I do not get sick very often at all (once a year or less), but recently i developed lower back chronic pain/problem, the chiropractor dx’ed it as ‘Lumbosacral segmental dysfunction’ but i am no longer going to chiro (isn’t helping- don’t believe in it, it is bs) I exercise well not overexercise, eat pretty well, no junk food. When i was 18 i went to Costa Rica for 6 months to study abroad. I went up to 205-210 lbs there. I was eating lots of beans and rice and breads, and i was smoking lots of pot, but i was also exercising alot there. I have been clean of all drugs for 4 years now. Now i can sit down and eat half a jar of peanut butter with some jelly/raisins/banana mixed in in one hour often and it seems like my metabolism just runs right through it. I want to be like around 200 lbs- willing to put on muscle but have to heal my back before this.

    Please advise me or just comment please i would like feedback. Thanks.

  • angel toral

    I’m considered “overweight” and my mom was just making rude comments today about overweight ppl, at the same time she’s a boneyard I’m so sick of just setting there taking it all in while she glotes about how she lost so much weight I know it’s my mom and I seem crude but not near as crude and rude as her. Now I know that being underweight is just as unhealthy not to mention as unattractive as overweight ppl. Now I just feel like I can have a say in her little conversations about “FAT PPL”.

  • polEsmoker

    I am a 23 year old male 6’5 and 162 pounds! I feel like I am falling apart due to possible depression and type 1 diabetes. I have severe acne scars and it makes it hard to look at people and go outside. Lack of proper food with my insatiable appetite and thirst makes me urinate and dedicate too much. I’m about to start taking cymbalta but I am afraid of the side effects and the potential long term complications. My mother is the only one I can talk to, my dad is miserable with an upcoming foreclosure of his house apparent. By the way I have no college csredits and no job. I’m concerned about my future. 🙁 nobody knows how bad my pain is but my mom. Weight gain advice would be appreciated 🙂

    • polEsmoker – It sounds like there are many stressful things going on in your life right now. It is good that you have your mother to talk to – keep talking and vocalizing your concerns. You are 23 and have your whole life ahead of you still. Take one day at a time. Nobody knows what their future will hold. When I was 23, which seems like another life ago now, I too was very concerned about my future. I worried so much back then and now when I look back I see that a lot of that worry was for nothing. Life has a way of working out OK and now I realize the best thing I can do when I start to feel worried is to have a positive attitude and relax as best I can.

      As for gaining weight, I strongly recommend you speak with your doctor about this issue. Considering that you are diabetic and on other medications, it would be best if your doctor suggests a proper weight gain diet for you.

      I wish you all the best.

  • Ariella

    I am 5’7″ and I have somewhat recently just lost about 30 lbs and now I am underweight. I was able to work out and burn 20 lbs. the “right way” but then it went over board and I had an eating disorder that took me down even more. I have turned everything around though, I am eating regularly (4-5 meals) and I can’t gain any weight (it seems every time it looks like I do, I end up losing it the next day). It doesn’t help that I am a vegetarian, but also, my periods have not come back and it has been about a month and a half since my “turn around”. So I guess what I am wondering is, is there any way my metabolism is actually this fast now? Will I ever have a period again? Should I continue to do what I am doing and wait a little longer?

  • robby

    It really hurts to read some of the posts here and the plight faced by many from this underweight problem. I wish that you all find a way through this problem and live your regular lives better. I guess underweight is quite a serious issue as well. But human lifestyle, stress are all inevitable to human life. Some people also have a ridiculously high metabolism and its impossible to counter this. Is there any way to slow metabolism, and surely noone wants to be fat. A lesser weight may have its demerits, but surely having larger weights than required is not the right balance.

  • juanee

    I am 26lbs under weight struggle with it all the time everyone has th answers for losing weight and one remark for gaining just eat what the crap

  • Blake

    I just recently was told about there being serious dangers with being underweight. I don’t really know that much about how to tell if i’m as underweight as my grandmother says. She’s been basically crying while telling me to eat because she thinks that i’m going to die. I’m 20 years old, about 6 feet tall, and weigh 112 pounds. I obviously have an eating disorder, because every time i wake up in the morning, i feel sick to my stomach and do not feel like eating. The only time, it seems, that i get hungry is around 3-5am. I have pretty much nothing to do, so i think that the problem may be lack of exercise, causing me to not have much of a drive to eat. I figure that i’ll start doing more things once a friend moves in and if that doesn’t fix the problem then i’ll just get prescribed something that makes you hungry. (But of course, advice is appreciated <3)

  • nathan

    since 20 have never hit 50kgs i eat healthy 3meals dont take alcohol nor smoke though i rarely go to gym am now 30 5’6 tall. help

  • Danielle Willson

    Why aren’t terminal illnesses like cancer listed as a common reason for under weight? going on 2 years with with stg 4 brain cancer and lost a total of 55 lbs. 5’6″was 140 lbs, got down to 94 lbs, it’s taken a year to get up to 110 lbs. I struggle still to gain more but it’s so difficult when eating healthy and no sugar…

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