How does starvation lead to coronary heart disease

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Submitted by Dr T on February 16, 2013 – 12:35pm

Question: 
Dear Doctor T,Please could you tell me how starvation (for example, anorexia nervosa) leads to coronary heart disease? I am a biology student, and it says in my textbook that starvation can lead to coronary heart disease, but doesn’t explain how. I asked my teacher, but he said that I don’t need to know if it’s not in the textbook and wouldn’t explain.I’m really curious as to how starvation could cause CHD. It says in my textbook that coronary heart disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. How does starvation lead to this build-up?I understand that starvation puts a strain on the heart because the lack of nutrients in the diet upsets the electrolyte imbalance of the body, which prevents the heart from being able to perform its ordinary functions and interrupts the heartbeat. However, I don’t understand how starvation could lead to a build-up of plaque on the artery walls!I’d be really grateful if you could explain, in detail, how starvation leads to coronary heart dieses.Thank you very much for your time!Tessa

Hi Tessa,
You are right to question this; starvation does not cause coronary artery disease. It may cause however a form of cardiomyopathy (“dilated cardiomyopathy“) that may lead to heart failure. A dilated cardiomyopathy , other than intrinsic heart disease, has many causes that might interest you:

  • Metabolic: endocrine diseases (eg, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, acromegaly, myxedema, hypoparathyroidism, hyperparathyroidism), diabetes mellitus, electrolyte imbalance (eg, potassium, phosphate, magnesium)
  • Nutritional: thiamine deficiency (beriberi), protein deficiency, starvation, carnitine deficiency
  • Toxic: drugs, poisons, foods, anesthetic gases, heavy metals, ethanol

Coronary artery disease is caused by many risk factors, but none include starvation, nor snoring as has beed recently reported!
Hope this helps,
Dr T

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