Starvation physiology: reviewing the different strategies animals use to survive a common challenge

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2010 May;156(1):1-18. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2010.01.002. Epub 2010 Jan 6.


All animals face the possibility of limitations in food resources that could ultimately lead to starvation-induced mortality. The primary goal of this review is to characterize the various physiological strategies that allow different animals to survive starvation. The ancillary goals of this work are to identify areas in which investigations of starvation can be improved and to discuss recent advances and emerging directions in starvation research. The ubiquity of food limitation among animals, inconsistent terminology associated with starvation and fasting, and rationale for scientific investigations into starvation are discussed. Similarities and differences with regard to carbohydrate, lipid, and protein metabolism during starvation are also examined in a comparative context. Examples from the literature are used to underscore areas in which reporting and statistical practices, particularly those involved with starvation-induced changes in body composition and starvation-induced hypometabolism can be improved. The review concludes by highlighting several recent advances and promising research directions in starvation physiology. Because the hundreds of studies reviewed here vary so widely in their experimental designs and treatments, formal comparisons of starvation responses among studies and taxa are generally precluded; nevertheless, it is my aim to provide a starting point from which we may develop novel approaches, tools, and hypotheses to facilitate meaningful investigations into the physiology of starvation in animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fasting / physiology
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Starvation / physiopathology*
  • Weight Loss / physiology


  • Amino Acids
  • Ketone Bodies
  • Proteins
  • Glycogen
  • Glucose