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Malnutrition

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Definition

Malnutrition is a condition characterized by lack of one or all of the nutrients in the diet. This may result from inadequate intake e.g. eating an inadequate or unbalanced diet or inadequate digestion or absorption of nutrients e.g. digestive problems, absorption problems or other medical conditions like cancer, chemotherapy etc.

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Types

  • Mild Malnutrition - No apparent symptoms of nutritional deficiencies may be present
  • Severe Malnutrition - There is irreversible systemic damage due to nutritional deficiencies

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Causes

  • Lack of some or all nutritional elements.
  • Famine
  • Starvation
  • Eating disorders e.g. anorexia, bulimia and binge eating
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Kwashiorkor - malnutrition caused by inadequate protein intake.
  • Marasmus - malnutrition caused by inadequate calorie intake
  • Not eating a well balanced diet.
  • Improper digestion or absorption of nutrients in the diet
  • Poverty
  • Natural disasters like earthquake, hurricane and tornado
  • Political disaster and war
  • Single or multiple vitamin deficiencies
    • Beriberi - Thiamine deficiency
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
    • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
    • Vitamin B9 (folacin)
    • Vitamin E
    • Vitamin K
    • Scurvy - Vitamin C deficiency
    • Rickets - Vitamin D deficiency
    • Pellegra - Niacin or tryptophan deficiency
    • Megaloblastic anemia - Vitamin B12 deficiency
    • Folic acid deficiency - Spina bifida
    • Iodine - Goiter

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Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased immune response resulting in recurrent bacterial and viral infections like the upper respiratory diseases, allergies, oral thrush, diarrhea.

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Implications

Malnutrition, if left untreated can lead to mental disability, physical disability, illness and even death. However, marked change in your body's functioning may include symptoms like fainting, lack of menstruation, lack of growth in children and rapid hair loss and graying of hair.

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What You Can Do

  • Eating a good, well-balanced diet.
  • Below is a chart of food preferences of different cultural and ethnic groups.
Ethnic Group
Recommended Diet
Asian
Grains, including rice, noodles, breads, millets and corn, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Fat comes from vegetable oils such as peanut oil.
Latin American
Food from plant sources, especially maize (corn) and potatoes, fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Fish, shellfish, plant oils (corn, soybean and olive oils), dairy products, poultry, red meat, sweets and eggs.
Mediterranean

Fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and all types of legumes such as beans, lentils and peas. Olive oil enhances the taste many Mediterranean dishes and can be used in place of other fats and oils.

Vegetarian
This diet excludes red meat, chicken and fish. Some vegetarians (vegans) do not eat eggs or milk products. They prefer to eat only grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and products made from these foods. This diet includes moderate amounts of nuts and seeds, egg whites, soy milk and dairy products and plant oils.

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Malnutrition