AskDefine | Define starving

Dictionary Definition

starving adj : suffering from lack of food [syn: starved] n : the act of depriving of food or subjecting to famine; "the beseigers used starvation to induce surrender"; "they were charged with the starvation of children in their care" [syn: starvation]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. present participle of starve

Extensive Definition

Starvation is a severe reduction in vitamin, nutrient, and energy intake, and is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation (in excess of 1-2 months) causes permanent organ damage and, eventually, death.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 25,000 people died of starvation every day in 2003, and as of 2001 to 2003, about 800 million people were chronically undernourished.


Individuals experiencing starvation lose substantial fat (a.k.a. adipose) and muscle mass as the body breaks down these tissues for energy. Catabolysis is the process (medical condition) of a body breaking down muscles and other tissues in order to keep vital systems—such as the nervous system and heart muscle (myocardium) —working. Catabolysis will not begin until there are no usable sources of energy coming into the body. Vitamin deficiency is also a common result of starvation, often resulting in anemia, beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy. These diseases collectively may cause diarrhea, skin rashes, edema, and heart failure. Individuals are often irritable and lethargic as a result.
Atrophy (wasting away) of the stomach weakens the perception of hunger, since the perception is controlled by the percentage of the stomach that is empty. Victims of starvation are often too weak to sense thirst, and therefore become dehydrated.
All movements become painful due to atrophy of the muscles, and due to dry, cracked skin caused by severe dehydration. With a weakened body, diseases are commonplace. Fungi, for example, often grows under the esophagus, making swallowing unbearably painful.
The energy defiency inherent in starvation causes fatigue and renders the victim more apathetic over time. Interaction with one's surroundings diminishes as the starving person becomes too weak to move or even eat.


Low-volume, high-density food is provided slowly to sufferers of severe malnutrition, concurrently with water and control of diseases. The atrophic stomach is unable to accept large quantities of food. Organs and tissues weakened by starvation may, in a manner similar to that of a heart attack, rupture if food is provided too quickly. This can potentially cause death.

Biochemistry of starvation

The glycogenstorage is used up and the level of insulin in the circulation is low and the level of glucagon is very high. The main means of energy production is lipolysis. The TCA cycle helps the gluconeogenesis convert glycerol and [[fatty acids the acetyl CoA produces the energy used. Two systems of energy enter the gluconeogenesis, proteolysis provides alanine and Lactate produced from pyruvate. Too much Acetyl CoA produces ketone bodies, which can be detected in an urine exam. The brain starts to use ketone bodies as a source of energy.

Psychological effects of starvation

Through several reports and studies, scientists have discovered that starvation has many psychological effects on a person, in addition to its physiological effects. The most extensive and informative study on starvation's psychological effects is called the Minnesota Starvation-Rehabilitation Experiment, which was carried out from 1944-1946. The subjects of this experiment were thirty-two healthy conscientious objectors, ages twenty to thirty-three. Subjects' own estimates of the time it took for recovery ranged from two months to two years.

Capital punishment

Starvation has also historically been used as a death sentence. From the beginning of civilization through to the Middle Ages people were immured, or starved to death.
In ancient Greco-Roman societies, starvation was sometimes used to dispose of guilty upper class citizens, especially erring female members of patrician families. For instance, in the year 31, Livilla, the niece and daughter-in-law of Tiberius, was discreetly starved to death by her mother for her adulterous relationship with Sejanus and for her complicity in the murder of her own husband, Drusus the Younger.
Another daughter-in-law of Tiberius, named Agrippina the Elder (a granddaughter of Augustus and the mother of Caligula) also died of starvation, in 33 (however, it is not clear if she voluntary starved herself to death or if she was forced to).
A son and a daughter of Agrippina were also executed by starvation for political reasons; Drusus Caesar, her second son, was put in prison in 33 and starved to death on the orders of Tiberius (he managed to stay alive for nine days by chewing the stuffing of his bed); Agrippina's youngest daughter, called Julia Livilla, was exiled on an island in 41 by her uncle, the emperor Claudius, and not much later, her death by starvation was arranged by the empress Messalina.
Execution by starvation was also a possible punishment for Vestal Virgins found guilty of breaking their vows.
Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish friar, offered his life to save another inmate sentenced to death in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was starved along with another nine inmates. After two weeks of starvation he and three other inmates were still alive and executed with injections of phenol.
Ugolino della Gherardesca, his sons and other members of his family were immured in the Muda, a tower of Pisa, and starved to death in the thirteenth century. Dante, his contemporary, wrote about Gherardesca in his masterpiece The Divine Comedy.
In Sweden in 1317, the king Birger of Sweden had his two brothers locked up in the prison. They died a few weeks later because of starvation; their sentence was a punishment for a coup they staged several years earlier. This was called the Nyköping Banquet.
In Cornwall in 1671, there is a recorded case of a man by the name of John Trehenban from St Columb Major who was condemned to be starved to death in a cage at Castle An Dinas for the murder of two girls.


Severe starving patients may be treated, but they must be treated cautiously or shock may happen. Patients should be started on small quantities of sugared water, followed by diluted milk, and then whole milk. Only when they are able to digest these liquids, then simple foods may be given.

See also


External links

starving in German: Unterernährung
starving in Spanish: Inanición
starving in French: Sous-alimentation
starving in Korean: 기아
starving in Hindi: भुखमरी
starving in Italian: Inedia
starving in Lithuanian: Badavimas
starving in Japanese: 飢餓
starving in Norwegian: Sult
starving in Simple English: Starvation
starving in Swedish: Svält
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