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Alopecia areata – Genetics Home Reference

The causes of alopecia areata are complex and not well understood. A combination of factors likely underlies the disorder, including changes in many genes that function in the hair and skin and in the immune system.

Alopecia areata is one of a large group of immune system diseases classified as autoimmune disorders. Normally, the immune system protects the body from foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, by recognizing and attacking these invaders and clearing them from the body. In autoimmune disorders, the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body’s own tissues instead. For reasons that are unclear, in alopecia areata the immune system targets hair follicles, stopping hair growth. However, the condition does not permanently damage the follicles, which is why hair may later regrow.

Many of the genes that have been associated with alopecia areata participate in the body’s immune response. These include several genes belonging to a gene family called the . The HLA complex helps the immune system distinguish the body’s own proteins from proteins made by foreign invaders. Each HLA gene has many different variations, allowing each person’s immune system to react to a wide range of foreign proteins. Certain variations in HLA genes likely contribute to the inappropriate immune response targeting hair follicles that leads to alopecia areata. Immune system genes outside the HLA complex, such as several genes involved in inflammation, have also been associated with alopecia areata.

Some of the genetic variations associated with alopecia areata have been identified in people with other autoimmune disorders, which suggests that this group of diseases may share some genetic risk factors. People with alopecia areata have an increased risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, including vitiligo, systemic lupus erythematosus, atopic dermatitis, allergic asthma, and autoimmune thyroid diseases (such as Hashimoto thyroiditis and Graves disease). Similarly, people with those autoimmune disorders have an increased risk of developing alopecia areata.

In many cases, it is unknown what triggers hair loss in people with alopecia areata. It is possible that environmental factors, such as emotional stress, physical injury, or illness, provoke an abnormal immune response in people who are at risk. However, in most affected people, the onset of hair loss has no clear explanation.

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What are the Signs of Not Eating Enough?

What are the signs of not eating enough

Typical signs that you’re not eating enough can include feeling tired, getting ill more often, hair loss, or skin problems.

While obesity and related conditions are on the rise, the dangers of undereating are relatively overlooked. Undereating can have a range of adverse effects on a person’s health and wellbeing.

In this article, we look at the risks and reasons for undereating. We also highlight nine signs and symptoms to look out for that may indicate a person is undereating.

Risks of undereating

The primary risk of undereating is becoming underweight. This is typically determined using body mass index (BMI).

BMI uses a person’s height and weight to give an approximate indication of whether a person is within a healthy weight range or not. Typically, a BMI of under 18.5 is considered underweight.

You can determine your BMI using one of our BMI calculators or charts.

The health risks associated with being underweight include:

  • osteoporosis and bone fractures
  • infertility
  • developmental problems
  • a weakened immune system
  • malnutrition
  • increased risk of surgical complications
  • anemia
  • chronic fatigue

Reasons for undereating

Some people undereat intentionally, often as a result of adhering to restrictive diets or following popular health trends. Sometimes, these diets and trends can be misinterpreted or contain inappropriate nutritional advice, which can lead to undereating.

In other cases, a person might undereat due to an eating disorder or simply without realizing they are doing it. Sometimes people who have an abnormally high metabolism or high levels of physical activity do not eat enough to keep up with their body’s demands.

Nine signs and symptoms of undereating

Signs and symptoms that a person may not be eating enough include:

1. Fatigue

One of the most obvious and widespread symptoms that might indicate that a person may be undereating is constantly feeling tired.

A body gets its energy from the calories in the food and drinks a person consumes. The body requires a certain amount of energy calories to function properly. Functions include the basic and automatic bodily processes, such as breathing, as well as more complex processes such as actively thinking.

The number of calories needed to maintain a healthy weight will vary from person to person and depends on a variety of factors, such as body size, metabolism, and physical activity levels.

When someone is undereating, they are consuming fewer calories than their body needs to function correctly. This can have a severe impact on energy levels, causing feelings of physical tiredness and mental fatigue, which may impair a person’s daily functioning.

Low energy levels can also have an adverse impact on physical activity performance and fitness. In a 2013 review, researchers found that people with an eating disorder consumed too few calories, which had a negative impact on physical fitness and sports performance.

2. Getting ill more often

Undereating can also lead to an imbalanced diet. This can mean that a person’s body does not receive enough of specific nutrients to maintain a healthy immune system and fight off illnesses. It can also mean that illnesses, such as the common cold, last longer than they should.

Maintaining a healthful nutritional intake is particularly important for people who already have a weakened immune system, such as young children or older adults.

In one study, researchers found that providing people over the age of 65 with nutritional supplements resulted in significant improvements in the functioning of their immune systems.

3. Hair loss

Undereating can cause hair loss if nutritional intake is not sufficient. In a 2013 review, experts suggested that deficiencies in proteins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and vitamins can cause hair loss or other abnormalities, such as changes in hair color or structure.

4. Reproductive difficulties

When a person’s body is not receiving enough nutrition, it prioritizes which processes to focus on maintaining, such as the life-supporting processes of breathing and blood circulation. As a consequence, sex hormone production can become impaired, which can reduce a person’s desire for sexual activity and can interrupt reproductive processes.

Researchers have shown that a diet that contains insufficient calories can have an adverse impact upon reproductive functioning in both males and females. This can prevent pregnancies from occurring.

People require a sufficient level of calories to maintain a healthy body temperature. Consuming too few calories may cause a person’s core body temperature to drop, which can create a constant feeling of being cold.

In a 2011 study, researchers found that people who consumed a restricted number of calories had a significantly lower core body temperature than those who consumed more calories.

6. Impaired growth in young people

Good nutrition is vital to proper development in young people. Undereating can cause nutritional imbalances that impair certain aspects of development, such as healthy bone growth.

During puberty, proper nutrition is essential to allow bones to grow and strengthen. Without this, a person might remain permanently smaller or weaker than their peers.

7. Skin problems

Skin problems are another sign that someone may be undereating. If a person’s body does not get a sufficient amount of nutrients, such as vitamin E, it can lead to skin problems. Without enough vitamin E, a person’s skin may become more easily damaged by inflammation or UV exposure.

Other vitamins necessary to maintain healthy skin include vitamin B-3 and niacin.

8. Depression

Depression is a highly complex mental health condition that can have a range of interlinked causes. It is not always possible to determine what is causing a person’s depression, and the condition is not necessarily a sign of malnutrition. However, recent evidence has suggested there may be a link between poor nutrition and depression.

In a study of people who were pregnant, researchers found that symptoms of depression were associated with lower intakes of omega-3 fatty acid. In another study that used data from 31,424 adults, the authors found that those with depression had lower vitamin D levels than others.

9. Constipation

Eating too few calories can also lead to constipation. People with constipation experience fewer bowel movements than other people. They may also have harder stools that can be difficult or painful to expel.

When a person undereats, their body has less food to convert into stools, which can cause constipation. Constipation tends to mean having fewer than three bowel movements per week.

How to deal with undereating

Where possible, the most effective way for a person to tackle undereating is to increase the number of calories they consume. However, it is crucial to do this healthfully.

Foods high in sugar or unhealthful fats, such as trans-fats and saturated fats, contain a significant number of calories and may be a tempting way to increase overall calorie intake. However, these foods may also contribute to a whole range of other health risks, such as type-2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease.

Some tips for healthfully increasing the intake of calories include:

  • eating meals more frequently throughout the day
  • eating meals high in protein
  • eating more complex carbohydrates, such as rice or pasta
  • consuming more monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts and avocados
  • including a good selection of vegetables in the diet
  • cutting down on cardiovascular exercise only if advised by a doctor

People with eating disorders, or other health conditions that contribute to undereating or malnutrition, should seek the advice of a doctor.

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.