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What is malnutrition? What are its symptoms, causes and treatment options?
Malnutrition refers to a condition of either shortage or excess of nutrients in the diet so that it eventually leads to health issues. The nutrients involved are carbs, vitamins, minerals, protein and calories. Types • Undernutrition: It results from the lack of sufficient protein, calories or micronutrients and can cause low height-for-age (stunting), weight-for-age (underweight) and weight-for-height (wasting). • Overnutrition: It results from too much protein, calories or fats, and may lead to obesity. Symptoms • Undernourishment: It is indicated by signs, such as weight, fat and muscle loss, hollow cheeks, dry hair and skin, sunken eyes, slow wound healing, swollen stomach, tiredness, loss of focus, anxiety, irritability and depression. • Overnourishment: It is indicated by obesity and in some cases may lead to nutrient deficiency. This is due to the tendency of overweight people to consume less vitamins and minerals than those with normal weight. The reason is that obese and overweight people eat lots of processed and fatty foods that are full of calories, but low in nutrients. Causes • Lack of Enough Food or Food Insecurity: Food insecurity in many developing and developed countries often give rise to malnutrition. • Digestive Issues: Conditions that prevent nutrient absorption in the body (celiac disorder, Crohn’s disease, bacterial overgrowth in intestines etc.) may lead to malnutrition. • Excess Alcohol Intake: Too much of alcohol makes you consume less calories, proteins and micronutrients, thereby increasing the risk of malnutrition. • Mental Health Conditions: Depression and other mental health disorders increase the risk of malnutrition. • Inability to Acquire Nutritious Foods: Feeling reluctant to cook, eating unhealthy foods from outside and related factors can cause malnutrition. • Shortage of Dietary Protein and/or Energy/Calories: This causes a particular form of malnutrition called protein energy malnutrition. The condition results from deficiency of any or all nutrients due to severe lack of food or chronic deprivation. Prevention • Focus on consuming a variety of nutrients from a range of food types. Your diet must have a balance of carbs, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals, along with plenty of fluids. • Patients of celiac disorder, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, alcoholism and other conditions should seek immediate medical help. Treatment Treatment methods will be determined as per the severity of malnutrition and whether there are any underlying conditions or complications involved. The healthcare specialist will suggest a special feeding program or planned diet along with a few additional nutrition supplements. In case of severe undernourishment or absorption issues, artificial nutritional support through a tube or intravenously may be prescribed. In case of acute malnourishment in children, energy-rich, fortified foods prove effective. Therapeutic foods work as dietary supplements for emergency feeding in malnutritioned children or to supplement diets in case of special nutritional requirements, like in the elderly.
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