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What Is Inanition?

By Kathy Dowling
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Inanition is the term used to describe an individual suffering fatigue and exhaustion due to a lack of nutrients circulating throughout the body. Nutrients are vital for an individual to survive and affect an individual's physiological functioning. Entering the body via food, nutrients assist with growth, repair of tissues, and energy production. Typical causes of inanition include starvation and malnutrition.

Different periods in life require different amounts of calories relative to energy output. For example, during adolescence, energy output is high, therefore calorie requirements are greater. During these periods, the calories needed come from nutrients, an essential component for every aspect of living. Actions such as breathing, moving, and thinking all rely on three main types of nutrients: macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins.

Macronutrients come from carbohydrates found in starchy foods, such as potatoes, protein found in meat, and fats including polyunsaturated fat found in soybeans and monounsaturated fat from olive oil. Minerals are found in most foods and provide essential nutrients to the body. Some include calcium found in milk, phosphorous found in grains and legumes, and potassium from vegetables. Like minerals, vitamins are also found in many foods and vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin D, are important for different bodily functions including vision, immunities, and bone health.

When an individual is suffering from inanition from undernourishment of macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins, symptoms will include exhaustion, a lack of energy, malaise, and/or listlessness. Exhaustion can result in a lack of physical and mental activity, which often leads to an individual becoming withdrawn from daily activities. Common causes of inanition include starvation and malnutrition, both of which result in a lack of nutrients being circulated throughout the body.

When inanition arises from starvation, it is because the individual has not eaten for a long period of time. Throughout this condition, the body produces harmful chemicals such as ketones and acetones. Ketones are produced from an imperfect oxidation of fats in the body, while acetones are produced from the partial oxidation of fatty acids. An individual suffering from starvation will experience excessive weight loss and modifications in metabolism. There are many causes of starvation, including conditions such as anorexia.

Malnutrition can also cause inanition and occurs due to a diet that is unbalanced or inadequate. The cause of malnutrition may be a result of an inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestinal tract, or it may be the result of a lack of an essential nutrient altogether. Individuals living in poverty are frequently found to be malnourished.

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