Being Underweight Increases Your Chances of Stroke Death

Woman using scale to weigh herself
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Everyone knows that obesity is unhealthy. It is such common knowledge that few would go out on a limb to tout any benefits of obesity. But, did you know that being underweight is a risk for stroke death? This phenomenon is what medical researchers have dubbed 'the obesity paradox.' It turns out that after a stroke, obese patients, who are more likely to have a stroke than people of normal weight in the first place, are just as likely to survive and leave the hospital to go back home as stroke survivors of normal weight.

But, surprisingly, those who are underweight are more likely to die from a stroke than their normal weight or overweight counterparts.

What is underweight? 

Underweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5. This means that an adult who is less than 4ft 8 inches would be considered underweight if he is more than 6 pounds less than his ideal weight, while an adult who is 5ft 7 inches would be considered underweight if he is more than 10-12 pounds less than his ideal body weight. A taller person would have to be more than 12 pounds under his ideal body weight to be considered underweight.

If you want to know where you fit in terms of body mass index, you can calculate your body mass index by dividing your weight in pounds by the number that you get when you square your height in inches. You then multiply that number by 703 to determine your body mass index. But, there are faster ways to know your body mass index by just entering your height and weight into one of the many BMI calculators available online!


Why does being underweight contribute to stroke death? 

There are several reasons that being underweight can contribute to death after a stroke. A stroke itself is one of the most stressful battles that your body may ever have to face. After a stroke, the body has to put up an intense fight to heal.

You need a toolkit of nutrients - including vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and stored fats in order to mount that challenging uphill repair process.

Most people survive after a stroke. In fact, 88% of those who experience a stroke survive, even if there is some residual disability. But the human body consumes a substantial supply of nutritional resources to survive and recover after a stroke. Those reserves don't come out of the blue- some stroke fighting tools come from medications, but most come from the body itself. And that is one of the reasons that being underweight is a problem. Underweight people do not have enough nutrients to overcome the physical challenges of a stroke.

How can you avoid becoming underweight?

Most people battling overweight would consider this an odd question. But, over the years, your eating habits and activity levels, not to mention your hormones, can change and cause weight loss. Depression often interferes with appetite, making matters worse.

It is important to make sure that you get enough calories and that you also have a well rounded diet that includes a variety of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

If you are having a hard time keeping yourself from being underweight, you should observe whether you are eating enough. If you are eating a reasonable amount of calories and still underweight, you should check with your doctor to see if you have a hormonal problem such as a thyroid problem or a malabsorption problem that could be interfering with your body absorbing the calories from the food you eat. 

If you aren't eating enough, consider adding some of these mouthwatering and healthy foods to your diet. Overall, being overweight is not healthy. But few people know that being underweight is damaging to the body too.


The obesity paradox in stroke: impact on mortality and short-term readmission, Barba R, Marco J, Ruiz J, Canora J, Hinojosa J, Plaza S, Zapatero-Gaviria A, The Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, April 2015

Impact of Nutrition on Cerebral Circulation and Cognition in the Metabolic Syndrome,, Mellendijk L, Wiesmann M2, Kiliaan AJ, Nutrients, November 2015

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