Body & Fitness

Too thin – health risks

It was Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, who famously said, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” In fact you can be too thin, and while it doesn’t pose as many health risks as being overweight, being underweight can lead to some very serious health problems.

Broken bones

Being too skinny increases a woman’s risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, and the chance of breaking bones. Fat fuels the production of the hormone oestrogen, which women need for strong bones. Too little oestrogen can make bones porous and brittle, and more prone to fractures.


Being underweight can affect your chances of getting pregnant. A shortage of fat can mean your body is not producing enough oestrogen, which is needed for conception. It’s a form of natural protection – when you get very thin, your body knows that it will be harder for you to sustain a healthy pregnancy, so makes it more difficult for you to conceive in the first place.


Women who have a low BoI (body mass index) before they become pregnant are 72% more likely to suffer a miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy, according to British research. That’s because the oestrogen produced by fat cells plays a part in healthy pregnancies and a shortage can lead to problems. Meanwhile, a Swedish study found very thin women have a greater chance of experiencing severe nausea during pregnancy.

Lung disease

There’s evidence that older women who are underweight are more susceptible to chronic lung problems like bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma. It’s thought this is due to a combination of factors, including a lack of oestrogen affecting the immune system. Very thin women may also lack growth-factor hormones needed to maintain healthy lung tissue.

Heart disease

While obesity is normally associated with an increased risk of heart disease, there is a greater chance of dying of a heart attack in middle age if you are underweight and have arthritis, according to a US study. The researchers think thin people are more prone to arthritis, triggering inflammation of the body, particularly the heart. Chronic inflammation can play a role in atherosclerosis, in which fatty deposits build up in the lining of the arteries.How thin is too thin?

opinions vary, but a BoI of 18 or less is thought to increase your risk of health problems.

Calculate your BoI here

Health watch

  • Just a couple of alcoholic drinks a day can cut a woman’s chances of surviving breast cancer, according to new research. An Italian study has found that women who drank as little as two small glasses of wine daily and later developed the disease were more likely to die from it than those who drank less.

  • Scientists have discovered a protein that can reduce the damage caused by a stroke. Called alpha-B-crystallin, the body produces it naturally when you have a stroke, in an attempt to try to reduce the effects, but doesn’t usually make enough. Researchers hope that giving patients supplements of the protein within 12 hours of having a stroke will help protect against problems such as being unable to use one side of the body.

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