Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
People often worry about having too much body fat. And indeed, too much body fat is linked with health conditions like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, and depression. But while it’s a good idea to work towards a healthy body composition, having too little body fat also has its dangers. They’re just not considered as often by most of us.
If you think the lower your body fat, the better – then think again. Body fat performs important functions that help you live a healthy life. With too little of it, you are likely to have an increased risk of certain conditions and other unwanted effects too.
Here’s what you need to know about why it’s a bad idea to let your body fat get too low.
What’s body fat, and why does your body need it?
Your body is made of muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, and organs. But it also contains some fat—aka body fat.
Body fat can be found below your skin. If you have lots of it, it can also be found around your internal organs such as your heart, liver, and intestines.
Some organs such as the brain also contain fat. Fat is an essential part of hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Fat is essential for your body to function properly. You need a certain amount to stay alive. Having too little body fat can be seriously detrimental to your health.
What’s the right amount?
While too much fat is unhealthy and too little fat has unwanted effects, it’s best for your body to have the right amount of fat.
Experts say you need at least 3% body fat to stay alive if you are a man and 12% if you are a woman. Most athletic people such as weightlifters and bodybuilders have about 7% body fat during their peak performance periods, but this tends to increase when they aren’t actively training.
Typically you’d find that a very fit, athletic man has about 7-10% of body fat and a fit woman has about 14-17%. In general, women normally have about 20-32% body fat, and men 10-22%
What are the dangers of too little body fat?
Too little body fat can affect your body in many dangerous ways. Though a very low body fat sounds appealing to some, it can make you very unwell and cause permanent damage.
Here are some of the effects you may feel if you have too little body fat.
Hormonal problems and imbalances
Since many of your hormones are made from fat, having too little can also reduce how much of them your body makes.
This lead to less testosterone and estrogen, which can cause
- low libido
- less sperm production
- changes in your menstrual cycle or missed periods
- difficulty conceiving or carrying pregnancies to term
When your body fat is too low, it could make your heart beat too slow and increase your risk of heart disease.
Problems regulating body temperature:
Body fat acts as a cushion that protects you from cold. If your body fat is too low, you are likely to be cold all the time.
Concentration or memory issues
Too little body fat can make you experience brain fog. Since your brain needs fat to function, having too little can make it harder to concentrate, remember or think clearly. If you notice you’re struggling to remember facts or little things from your day, or can’t focus on your work, low body fat might be to blame.
Poor immune system
Studies show that when your body fat is too low, you are more likely to fall ill and your immune system doesn’t function as it should. So if your body fat percentage is way below what it should be, you might find yourself picking up lots of viruses or feeling ill often.
Fat supports your skin and contributes to its supple, firm look. Without enough fat, your skin could lose that firm look. Instead, your skin might begin to look ashen and wrinkled.
Body fat is one of the ways your body stores energy. Without it, you are more likely to feel weak and tired all the time.
Too much or too little body fat can have unwanted effects on your health. It’s best to aim for a normal range for your sex and fitness levels. Luckily, you can often reverse the effects of low body fat with a proper diet. It is a good idea to seek advice from a healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
Not sure how to address your diet? Using an app which provides you with nutritional information can ensure you’re getting enough calories and meeting your needs. Whisk is a good option which allows you to meal plan, save your favorite recipes to one place, and find out about the macros and nutrient breakdowns of your food.