Malnutrition : Are You Really Healthy or Undernourished?

Some quick myths and facts about Malnutrition

Myth 1: Malnutrition and hunger are the same.

Fact: Malnutrition is not related to hunger. The people or even children suffering from malnutrition lack the basic nutrient requirement of the body. If they are provided with nutritious food, they are sure to recover soon from it.

Myth 2: Malnutrition is related to a too-thin body texture.

Fact: Wrong. Malnutrition is not related to a too-thin body, but the financial situation of the person. A nutritious food that is rich in minerals and vitamins is quite expensive due to which the people look for cheap food items that contain grains and carbohydrates which lead to a lack of the nutrients in their body.

Myth 3: Malnutrition is a health issue that starts after the baby is born.

Fact: Malnutrition is a health issue that can begin anytime, even in the womb of the mother. When this happens, the fetus lacks proper growth which can lead to any kind of physical or mental disability. To avoid this, women who are pregnant, as well as breast-feeding, should be provided with the required nutrients.

Malnutrition – A Silent Killer

Do you know, malnutrition ranks the top in the list of global health risks? Around 50% of the total childhood deaths are due to malnutrition which reaches around 3.5 million children every year!

Yes, this is the truth.

Malnutrition is a health disorder that is knocking the doors of many countries worldwide. But what actually is malnutrition? Hunger? Wait you are on the wrong path.

Malnutrition is not referred to as hunger, but the lack of required nutrients in your diet. The imbalance or deficiency of proper nutrients and energy lead to malnutrition not only in the children but in adults too. The basic malnutrition causes include low income, inappropriate eatable choices, difficulty in getting the right food, mental health issues, and physical health issues.

In short, when an individual gets limited food, no food, or is in a condition when the body lacks required nutrients for a right balanced diet, it severely impacts the health resulting in malnutrition, which can be life-threatening too.

In malnutrition, the person lacks some nutrients like minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients which are essential for the functioning of the body. Hence, malnutrition can result in situations like:

  • long-term and short-term health issues
  • measured recovery from illness and wounds
  • increased infection risk
  • difficulty in focusing at school or work

Hence, malnutrition can lead to several other health issues if not considered in the initial stage and if preventive measures are avoided.

Can Malnutrition lead to any deficiencies?

Malnutrition can lead to particular deficiencies in the health of human beings which can include:

  • Due to the lack of Vitamins, particularly, Vitamin A, children and even adults can suffer from vision issues.
  • When a deficiency of Vitamin C is observed, it results in scurvy. This basically occurs when the diet of an individual lacks plenty of fresh veggies and fruits. Young children, people having alcohol in access, older people, as well as people with particular mental health issues are at higher risk.
  • Lastly, deficiency of overall nutrients can result in Kwashiorkor, which is a severe situation of malnutrition. The symptom of this condition is the distended abdomen. Another deficiency in this is Marasmus in which the individual faces very little fat or muscles on their body.

Hence, this is some of the deficiencies that are widely observed due to the lack of required nutrients or malnutrition.

What are the different types of Malnutrition?

When the word malnutrition is heard, everyone visualizes a too thin individual whose bones are visible through the skin. But this is not necessary as one who is quite fat can also be suffering from malnutrition.

Here are the different types of malnutrition.

1. Undernutrition

Undernutrition is further divided into four different sub-types which include stunting, wasting, deficiencies in minerals and vitamins, and lastly underweight. Undernutrition is widely observed in children who are more likely to suffer life long diseases or death.

When a person has good height but lacks the required weight as per the height, it is known as wasting. This indicates severe weight loss as the person doesn’t have enough food or are suffering from infectious diseases like diarrhea. When an individual is severely or moderately suffering from wasted, he is at high risk of death.

When a person lacks proper height as per their age, it is called stunting. This occurs due to recurrent or current undernutrition, poor conditions of socioeconomic, poor nutrition or maternal health, inappropriate infant, frequent illness, etc. Stunting limits the development of the children both cognitively and physically.

Lastly, children who lack proper weight compared to their age are said to be suffering from underweight issues. Children suffering from underweight can either be wasted, stunted or both.

2. Inadequacies of minerals and vitamins

Lack of required intake of micronutrients, or say minerals and vitamins is also a form of malnutrition. The micronutrients are helpful for the production of hormones, enzymes, and other elements that are required for the proper development and growth.

Iron, Vitamin A, and Iodine are much helpful for the health, and the deficiency of these micronutrients can be much threatening to the development of the population and health, especially, for pregnant women and children in the countries having a low income.

3. Obesity and Overweight

Obesity and overweight are generally a situation when the individual is too heavy considering the height. Another issue that would accompany obesity includes an accumulation of abnormal fat. When an adult comes with a BMI of 25 or more than 25, he is said to be suffering from overweight, but if it is more than 30, it is obesity.

Both the conditions would take place when the lack of proper balance between energy expended and energy consumed is observed. Consumption of unhealthy or junk eatables, and drinks that are high in fats and sugar, as well as very little or zero physical activity suffer from this issue.

Hence, these are the different types of malnutrition which can lead to other severe health issues like diabetes, cancers, and cardiovascular health issues. People who are on unhealthy diet programs or lack proper nutrition are at high risk of developing this health issue at the earliest.

What are the symptoms of Malnutrition?

The list of symptoms and signs of malnutrition includes:

  • irritability and tiredness
  • lack of appetite
  • lack of interest in eatables and drinks
  • lack of concentration
  • feeling cold always
  • depression
  • loss of muscle mass, body tissues, and fat
  • high risk of suffering from sickness and
  • long healing time for diseases or wounds
  • increased risk of complications post-surgery

When the level of malnutrition is severe, it can also result in heart failure or difficulty in breathing.

The symptom list for the children include:

  1. lack of proper weight and growth
  2. lack of energy and tiredness
  3. anxiety and irritability
  4. slow intellectual and behavioral development leading to difficulties in learning

No doubt, in both cases, there are possible treatments, but some cases may suffer from malnutrition on long terms. Severe malnutrition can also result in anorexia nervosa, a type of mental health issue.

What are the causes of Malnutrition?

There are various reasons for suffering from malnutrition. The list of the causes includes:

1. Limited food intake

Difficulty in eating nutrients and absorbing them or lack of enough food is among the prime reasons for suffering from malnutrition. This situation can arise as a result of liver diseases, cancer, conditions leading to nausea, difficulty in swallowing or eating, medications that make it difficult to eat, etc. Mouth issues like improper fixing of dentures are also one of the causes of malnutrition.

2. Mental health issues

Malnutrition and even undernutrition can affect the individuals suffering from dementia, depression, anorexia nervosa, and schizophrenia.

3. Mobility and social problems

Some of the other causes of malnutrition are the inability of leaving the house or reaching the store for making any purchase, physical difficulty in preparing meals, living alone, lack of motivation for sufficient and nutritious cooking and eating habits, limited skills of cooking, lack of money to purchase the right food ingredients, etc.

4. Stomach issues and Digestive disorders

If the body fails to digest or absorb the nutrients properly, even taking a healthy diet can result in malnutrition. Some of the examples of stomach disorders and digestive issues due to malnutrition are Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, vomiting, and persistent diarrhea.

5. Alcohol

Excess consumption of alcohol can result in gastric issues or damage the pancreases on a long-term basis. This makes it difficult for the individuals to digest the food, produce hormones for regulating metabolism, and absorb vitamins too. Alcohol also adds calories to the body as a result of which the individual feels heavy.

Hence, these are some of the causes of Malnutrition which can damage the health, mind, and body of the individual in the short or long-term.

How can you diagnose Malnutrition?

Similar to other health issues, there are particular signs of malnutrition too. If the doctor respondent’s Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or any other health issue, there are particular tests that need to be carried out for diagnosing malnutrition or determining the status of the nutrients in the body of the patient. The tests include:

  • blood tests for monitoring or screening
  • tests for some particular nutrients like Vitamins and iron
  • prealbumin tests for determining the protein levels
  • albumin tests for checking the kidney and liver diseases

Apart from this, there is an advanced tool designed for determining the risk of malnutrition. Anemia is also a situation that can lead to nutritional deficiency in the body.

What are the possible treatments of Malnutrition?

On diagnosing malnutrition, the doctors are sure to look for a particular treatment plan for the patient. Along with the doctor’s treatment, the individual would also need to see a healthcare provider and nutritionist. The treatment basically depends on the severity of the health issue along with any other health issues, conditions and complications if any.

The treatment may include phase like:

  • constant monitoring and screening
  • fixing a proper dietary plan along with other supplements
  • looking after particular symptoms like nausea
  • treatment for any kind of current infections
  • looking for any swallowing or mouth issues
  • suggesting any other eating utensils

If the condition is quite severe, the individual might have to:

  • get admitted in the hospital
  • regular intake of nutrients for some days
  • look for ingredients rich in calcium and potassium

It is the healthcare team that would keep a continuous monitor on the patient to be sure that they are regularly getting required nutrients or not.

How to prevent malnutrition?

As a matter of fact, everyone has to consume particular nutrients that can be obtained from various food ingredients. Young children, older adults, individuals suffering from chronic illness, and much others need to take additional care to be sure that they are having all the essential nutrients required. When initial signs of undernutrition or malnutrition are observed, make sure you visit the doctor for proper treatment and diagnosis.

Conclusion

There are various campaigns carried out to fight against malnutrition in every country. There are many families who are not capable of having nutritious food like fresh veggies and fruits, meat, legumes, milk, etc. For this, many countries have taken an initiative in providing all these at a cheaper cost which would prevent them from malnutrition. Proper steps are taken by the government to provide a good and well-balanced meal to pregnant women, children in government schools, etc.

So, make sure you avoid any such circumstances that would lead to malnutrition. Have a healthy lifestyle and avoid every possible situation that would lead to malnutrition. So, watch your meals, and take care!

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