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Malnutrition - Symptom, Treatment And Causes

Last Updated: Nov 12, 2019

What happens in Malnutrition?

Normal things like resisting disease and growth becomes difficult in a person having malnutrition. Learning abilities reduce and doing physical work is harder. Pregnancy has risks involved and breast milk might not be adequate or nourishing enough. Malnutrition chances increase if the food isn’t adequate or nourishing enough. Even though the food might be sufficient to eat, malnourishment might be there if the micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) aren’t sufficient for the daily needs. Malnutrition and disease are linked closely.

Disease may often be the outcome of malnutrition or even the cause of it. According to the UN, malnutrition is the single biggest cause of disease all over the world. Early age linked malnutrition reduces mental and physical development in childhood. Stunted growth is a huge problem and is linked to malnutrition in developing nations. Deficiency of iodine in diet is the biggest cause of mental problems and retardation. School performance is affected due to undernutrition and affects children later in their adulthood as it results in lower income. Women birth low weight babies due to malnutrition.

What are the 4 types of malnutrition?

The four types of malnutrition which a person might suffer from are given below:

  • Growth failure malnutrition: When the growth of an individual is not as per the expectation and age then it comes undergrowth failure malnutrition.
  • Chronic malnutrition and stunting: This condition takes a lot of time to occur. The consequences of the condition are also severe. This condition starts before a child is born due to improper maternal health.
  • Micronutrient malnutrition: This is a condition that develops due to lack of vitamins A, B, C, D, selenium, iodine, iron, zinc, folate, and calcium. For the various processes of the body, these micronutrients are of great importance. A healthy person can become malnourished if these things are deficient.
  • Wasting or acute malnutrition: This is a condition that occurs if there is a drastic weight or sudden weight loss. It is divided into three types:
    • Marasmus: This condition occurs when the tissue and the body fat start decreasing at a very rapid pace. This happens to compensate for the lack of nutrients in the body.
    • Kwashiorkor: In this condition, a child may have swollen limbs due to pitting oedema.
    • Marasmic-kwashiorkor: This condition is a combination of both the above conditions.

What are the causes of malnutrition?

People from all parts of the world are affected by the condition of malnutrition. This condition can occur because of medical, economic, and environmental conditions. Some of the common causes of malnutrition are inclusive of the following:

  • Digestive problems along with issues of absorption of nutrients: disease such as bacterial overgrowth in the intestine, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease can lead to malnutrition.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to a person consuming fewer amounts of micronutrients, calories, and protein.
  • Mental health disorders like depression can lead to an increased risk of malnutrition.
  • Some of the studies have revealed that being frail, lacking muscle strength, and having poor mobility increases the risk of malnutrition.
  • In both developed and developing countries lack access to sufficient food leads to the condition of malnutrition in the children.

What food is best for malnutrition?

Given below is the list of top food products which are best for malnutrition:

  • Carbohydrates: consuming carbohydrates in a sufficient amount is very important. They help in the storage of the protein along with getting a sufficient amount of energy.
  • Vegetables and fruits: a person suffering from the condition of malnutrition must take vitamins available from fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Protein is responsible for providing the body with the essential nitrogen which cannot be received from the lipids or carbohydrates. It is also very important for cell formation. It also improves the immune system.
  • A person suffering from malnutrition must also include fats in the diet as they play an important role in maintaining healthy hair and skin. It also insulates the body from the shocks.
  • Vitamins and minerals: these play a pivotal role in the body performing different functions. It not only promotes good health, but it also protects against several diseases and infections.
  • Balanced diet: one of the best ways to prevent malnutrition is to consume a balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals.
  • Drinking plenty of water: keeping oneself hydrated also plays a vital role. A person should drink at least 8 glasses of water daily.
  • Including food products that are a rich source of vitamin B-12 can be very beneficial for the person suffering from malnutrition.

What are the complications of malnutrition?

  • A child may suffer from anorexia and poor appetite. He/she might not be able to drink water or breastfeed.
  • A child may suffer from vomiting after every oral intake.
  • The body temperature of the child may also be lower in comparison to other children.
  • A child may experience lower respiratory tract infection with symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, and fast breathing.
  • A child may suffer from severe anemia and might appear pale.
  • The skin of the child may also become broken.
  • A child can also be suffering from lethargy.

What are malnutrition long term side effects?

There are several diseases and chronic health conditions which can be developed due to malnutrition. Some of the long term effects of malnutrition are inclusive of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. A recent study which was conducted on 50 adolescents revealed that boys who have stunted growth are because of the result of the malnutrition in their early life. These adolescents also gained fat 5 per cent more in comparison to their peers.

As per one of the study individuals with stunted growth have greater chances of developing high blood pressure in comparison to individuals without stunted growth. It has been revealed in one of the researches that if in the early years of childhood a child is malnourished then it can lead to the changes in the metabolism which increases the risk of development of chronic disease later in life. As the long term effects of malnutrition may enhance the chances of certain disease thus, preventing and treating this condition is of utmost importance.


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Written ByDt. Ms. Archana Desai P.G.In Dietitics,BSc - Dietitics / NutritionDietitian/Nutritionist
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