Malnutrition: Detection, Prevention, Cure & More

The Beginners Guide to nutrition Series

Ch 1: Malnutrition

We often come across the term ‘malnourishment’ or ‘malnutrition’ but rarely do we understand the real meaning of it. Most of us believe that malnutrition is a state of nutritional deficiency whereas, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. It’s an umbrella term for undernutrition, overnutrition as well as diet-related diseases like Diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, and cancer.

 

LET US DIG DEEPER AND UNDERSTAND WHAT MALNUTRITION IS, ITS CAUSES, EFFECTS, RISK FACTORS, TREATMENT AS WELL AS PREVENTION.

 

WHAT IS MALNUTRITION?

Malnutrition is a condition where there are either nutritional deficiencies, imbalances, or excess nutrients in the body. It is a hypernym for 2 conditions: undernutrition and overnutrition including diet-related disorders.

Undernutrition is when there is a deficiency of certain nutrients in the body leading to stunted growth, wasting (low weight in comparison to height), being underweight, lack of important vitamins and minerals leading to poor metabolic functions and eventually a weakened body.

Overnutrition is when there is an abundance or excess of these nutrients/energy in the body which leads to being overweight, obesity and related diseases and disorders which we today call the ‘lifestyle’ disorders like diabetes, PCOD, heart problems, liver problems and even cancer.

Malnutrition can lead to long-term health problems, weakened immune system or even life-threatening problems like cancer.

 

SYMPTOMS AND EFFECTS

The symptoms of malnutrition vary depending upon whether it is overnutrition or undernutrition.

The following are the symptoms of undernutrition:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dry, dull hair and skin
  • Hair fall
  • Irritability, depression, and anxiety
  • Loss of muscle and/or fat
  • A swollen stomach
  • Abnormal bodyweight or BMI
  • Sunken eyes and hollow cheeks

Kwashiorkor and Marasmus are also diseases due to malnourishment in children. The symptoms are an abnormally swollen belly with thin arms and legs. The former is caused due to protein deficiency and the latter is because of poor nutrition in children.

Some vitamin and mineral specific deficiencies lead to diseases like night blindness when there is a deficiency of Vitamin A, Goitre when there is an Iron deficiency, Rickets for Vitamin D and Scurvy for Vitamin C.

Now, coming to overnutrition, the symptoms may include weight gain, obesity, abnormal BMI, abnormal blood sugar levels, hair fall, slow metabolism, lethargy, and fatigue.

 

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF MALNUTRITION?

There are numerous causes for malnutrition, some of them are mentioned below:

  1. Low intake of food – This can be because of several reasons like the lack of availability of food, affordability of food items, low appetite due to underlying health issues, difficulty in eating due to nausea or taste, sometimes it can also be because there is a difficulty in absorbing the nutrients.
  2. Mental health conditions – people can become a victim of malnutrition if they are depressed, or are suffering from dementia, schizophrenia, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia or even body image insecurities.
  3. Inability to get or prepare food – people who do not have easy access to grocery stores or who find it difficult to reach a store to buy food, or people who cannot cook or have limited skills or money can also become malnourished.
  4. Excessive alcohol use – alcohol consumption leads to digestive issues like gastritis and in the long run, it can also damage vital organs like the pancreas and liver. This further leads to poor digestion, nausea, hormonal imbalance and more.

 

WHO IS AT RISK?

People who do not have access to proper, home-cooked meals, or people with low income, or people suffering from gastrointestinal issues, or people with chronic eating disorders are the most vulnerable.

The diagnosis can often be made by your doctor by looking at your blood test reports, urine and stool samples etc.

 

TREATMENT AND PREVENTION

Treatment is done based on the cause of malnutrition and treating the root of it. Doctors might also prescribe some multi-vitamins and a balanced diet plan.

The easiest way to prevent malnutrition is to understand our body, the food we eat and how it provides us with nutrients and energy. We must take a balanced diet and to do so, we need to understand the different components of our food. For this reason, Garveish herbals has started this blog series – ‘The beginners guide to nutrition’ to educate each one of our readers about the macro and micronutrients, how to plan meals, how to take a balanced diet and the importance of ayurvedic remedies in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We will be talking about each topic in detail so, stay tuned for more!

 

 

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