Malnutrition – Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and More Facts

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Although it occurs rarely in westernized nations, malnutrition still affects many of the poorest people in the world. Even in first world economies, malnutrition can still occur. Any time the diet does not provide adequate nutrients, individuals may become malnourished. This condition can be easily treated, but can be life threatening if it is not remedied quickly.

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition

Malnutrition occurs when someone eats a diet that does not contain the right nutrients. It may lack vitamins or calories in general. If the diet is low in calories, it can lead to starvation. In wealthy nation, malnutrition is normally due to an unhealthy diet that is low in vitamins. According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is the leading threat to public health around the world. Due to this, providing adequate nutrition is one of the most important forms of aid*. In addition, malnutrition has been a greater concern among women, the elderly and children. Especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding, women need extra nutrients. If they do not receive them, the child they are carrying or breastfeeding will also develop malnutrition. Normally, this condition is linked to poverty, an unhealthy diet or high food prices.

What are the Causes of Malnutrition?

In poorer nations, malnutrition is normally caused because individuals cannot access the food they need. There may not be a diverse enough diet available or the area may be experiencing a famine. In wealthy countries, malnutrition is normally caused by the way that people eat. Modern diets tend to be high in fats, oils and processed foods. Although these foods are a source of calories, they do not provide the varied nutritional needs that the body requires. In order to work properly, the human body needs to receive vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber. If any of these elements are missing, the body will become malnourished. In addition, certain diseases can cause the body to stop* absorbing nutrients properly. Some individuals who drink excessive amounts of alcohol are unable to absorb B vitamins that are consumed. Gastroenteritis and parasitic infections can also cause nutrients to be absorbed poorly.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition?

The symptoms of malnutrition can vary depending on which nutrients are lacking. In general, individuals will experience weight loss*, dizziness and fatigue. Due to the lack of nutrients, individuals may experience reduced* muscle mass and decreased* mobility. Wounds will take longer to heal and the immune system will function poorly. This can lead to increased infections and longer recovery times. Individuals may find it difficult to stay warm due to the limited tissue mass. This inability to stay warm may lead to hypothermia. In addition to these issues, malnutrition sufferers may also experience problems with fertility or libido.

How is Malnutrition Linked to Water Retention Issues?

The side effects of malnutrition can vary between each individual. If the person is not receiving enough water, their body will start to retain fluids within the body’s tissues. In addition, water retention can occur due to hormonal imbalances that stem from malnutrition. If the diet is too high in sodium, it may also cause water retention.

How can Malnutrition be Prevented?

In developing nations, changing agriculture practices are preventing malnutrition. When countries are able to produce* food more effectively, the cost of food decreases* and food availability increases*. Infants that have malnutrition can be breastfed. The female body naturally makes all of the nutrients that a baby needs. By breastfeeding over the first few years, 1.3 million children’s lives could be saved around the world.

To treat* malnutrition in the first world, individuals have to improve* the quality and nutrient content of the food they eat. This can be accomplished by educating people about proper nutrition. Common causes of malnutrition like alcoholism can be treated by avoiding the cause. Individuals should adopt a healthy diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals.

What are the Treatment Options for Malnutrition?

In mild cases of malnutrition, individuals can treat* the problem by adopting a healthy diet. When the malnutrition is caused by a vitamin deficiency, it can be corrected by consuming more of the vitamin. If the vitamin deficiency is severe, a medical practitioner can inject it into the body. For unknown causes, a doctor may perform blood and urine tests to see what medical condition is causing the malnutrition. Severe cases of malnutrition may require professional medical treatment. In cases of starvation, individuals may need to slowly ease* back into a normal diet. Eating nutrient rich food too quickly can cause other medical conditions in patients that are severely malnourished.

Although it occurs rarely in wealthy nations, malnutrition can still happen. Vitamin deficiencies or lack of essential nutrients can cause severe symptoms. From water retention to dizziness, individuals may suffer from signs of malnutrition. To alleviate* these symptoms, individuals must consume the nutrients that they are lacking.

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Author

Expert Author : Emily Clark (Consumer Health Digest)

Emily Clark is a medical writer with years of experience. She can be found residing in Maywood, Illinois, researching and writing on recent advances in medicine.