Affecting billions across the globe, malnutrition occurs when you receive insufficient amounts of nutrients or too much of one particular nutrient. This pattern manifests as serious health issues with time, affecting vision, stunting growth, exacerbating chronic illnesses and contributing to diabetes, heart conditions and even death.
What Is Malnutrition?
All humans need to consume varying quantities of proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, dairy and fats, all of which supply the body with vitamins and minerals that affect its functioning.
Malnutrition occurs when the body doesn’t receive a sufficient supply of key nutrients. This can stem from:
An imbalanced diet, in which one food group is consumed more than the other, also known as overnutrition.
Not getting essential vitamins and minerals through foods or supplements. Common deficiencies include iron, iodine, zinc and Vitamin A.
Not receiving a sufficient supply of calories, nutrients or proteins, resulting in undernutrition.
Particularly where undernutrition is concerned, malnutrition can lead to:
– Decreased fat and muscle mass
– Dry hair and skin
– Hollow cheeks
– Sunken eyes
– Wound that take longer to or don’t heal
– Visible weight loss
– A distended stomach
– Inability to concentrate
If malnutrition goes untreated, it can lead to:
– Chronic health conditions
– Stunted growth
– Higher risks for obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
– Changes in metabolism
– Muscle wasting and decreased mobility
– Higher infection risks
– Breathing difficulties
– Increased hypothermia risks
– Fertility issues
– Decreased libido
– Post-operative complications following a medical procedure
Who’s at Risk for Malnutrition?
Certain individuals have a higher risk for malnutrition:
– Those who live in an area with decreased or limited access to food.
– Your nutritional needs recently changed — a common issue with developing children and pregnant women.
– The elderly, especially if they live alone or have a disability.
– Those who live with a condition like Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis that affects nutrient absorption.
– Those who are socially isolated.
– Those living with an eating disorder.
– Those recovering from an illness that affects how well or how often they consume food.
Treatment for Malnutrition
Regardless of the source, malnutrition can be addressed and improved through two methods: providing enriched food or vitamin and mineral supplements, and nutrition education touching on food choices and, in certain cases, physical activity. This last strategy is often done through a dietician’s guidance, who will instruct a patient on how much and which types of carbohydrates, dairy, fats and protein to consume each day.
Patients who are severely undernourished may receive artificial nutrition support. This may be done through two methods:
– Enteral: A tube passes to the patient’s stomach, delivering a liquid food supplement.
– Parenteral: The nutrient-containing liquid is delivered to the patient’s bloodstream.