Harmful Effects of Being Underweight

Dangerously low body weight can lead to an array of potentially serious complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a body mass index that falls below 18.5 is considered underweight by medical standards. If you experience low body weight due to emotional, physical or unknown circumstances, seek guidance from your doctor.

Weakened Immune System

Carrying dangerously low body weight may reduce the effectiveness of your immune system, increasing your risk for infections and disease. According to an article published in ‘Today’s Dietitian’ in January 2008, common causes of low body weight include anorexia, emotional stress, wasting diseases (such as HIV/AIDS) and reduced appetite. People with physical illnesses and elderly individuals who exhibit reduced appetite require adequate nutrition and immune system strength in order to produce or maintain physical wellness. For these individuals, low body weight may serve as a red flag to health practitioners, indicating need for medical intervention. If you find that stress causes reduced appetite or altered eating habits, seek ways of managing stress and promoting relaxation. Developing an illness atop your stress may exacerbate emotional problems and further unhealthy weight loss.

Osteoporosis/Loss of Bone Density

Maintaining low body weight is a risk factor for osteoporosis, a condition marked by reduced bone density and a common cause of hip fractures in elderly women. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, a nutrient-rich diet that provides adequate calories and nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, may help prevent osteoporosis. Conditions associated with osteoporosis include anorexia, celiac disease, depression, hyperthyroidism and weight loss–all of which may correlate to changes in appetite, nutrient absorption and dangerously low body weight. If osteoporosis runs in your family or you’ve experienced any one of these conditions, seek guidance and treatment from your doctor as well as a qualified dietary professional for best results.

Nutrient Deficiency

Low body weight is associated with poor nutrient and caloric intake. When your body reaps too few nutrients, nutrient deficiency occurs, increasing your risk for associated conditions and disease. According to Today’s Dietitian, being underweight can reduce intake and absorption of vital nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals, increasing your risk for nutrient-related conditions, such as anemia (iron deficiency), amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle), fertility problems and pregnancy complications. Proper nutrients are also necessary for healthy skin, nail and hair growth. In extreme cases, the body can go into an unhealthy dietary state of ketosis, increasing your risk for health complications such as high cholesterol and kidney failure. If physical or emotional conditions prevent you from reaping adequate food and nutrients, seek guidance from your doctor or therapist who can guide you toward healthy recovery.

About this Author

August J. McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as “Healthy Aging,” “CitySmart,” “IAmThatGirl” and “ULM.” She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit – a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.