The most important factor to prevent malnutrition is the availability of nutrients from food. Food is a major source of energy, protein, and vitamins that help keep metabolism active and maintain good health. Here you will know more about diet plan for malnutrition in detail.
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Malnutrition is when a person’s diet does not provide enough nutrients or the right balance of nutrients for optimal health.
Causes of malnutrition include:
- unsuitable dietary choices
- having a low income
- difficulty obtaining food
- various physical and mental health conditions
Undernutrition is one type of malnutrition. It occurs when the body does not get enough food and enough necessary nutrients. It can lead to:
- delayed growth
- low weight
If a person does not get the right balance of nutrients, they can also have malnutrition. It is possible to have obesity with malnutrition.
When a person has too little food, a limited diet, or a condition that stops their body from obtaining the right balance of nutrients, it can severely impact their health. In some cases, this can become life-threatening.
This article looks at malnutrition in detail, including the causes, symptoms, and treatments.
What is Malnutrition?
Malnutrition is an imbalance in dietary intake. It occurs when a person has too much or too little food or essential nutrients. A person with malnutrition may lack vitamins, minerals, and other essential substances that their body needs to function.
People may become malnourished if they do not eat enough food overall. However, people who eat plenty but do not have enough variation in their diet can also become malnourished.
Malnutrition can lead to:
- short- and long-term health problems
- slow recovery from wounds and illnesses
- a higher risk of infection
Some deficiencies can trigger specific health problems. For example:
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Lack of vitamin A
Around the world, many children develop vision problems due to a lack of vitamin A.
Lack of vitamin C
A lack of vitamin C can result in scurvy.
Scurvy is rare in the United States (U.S.), but it can develop if a person does not have a varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables all contain vitamin C.
People who are particularly at risk of scurvy include:
- older adults
- young children
- those who consume a lot of alcohol
- some people with certain mental health conditions
An overall deficiency
Malnutrition can lead to marasmus, which is a severe form of malnutrition. Marasmus is a deficiency of protein and overall energy intake.
A person with marasmus will have very little muscle or fat on their body.
Overnutrition is another type of malnutrition. It occurs when a person takes in more nutrients than they need. The result may be an accumulation of body fat from the excess nutrients, resulting in overweight or obesity.
Overnutrition has several health implications. People who have overweight or obese are at greater risk of:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
The rate of overnutrition is growing worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2020, 5.7% of children under 5 were overweight, an increase from 5.4% in 2000.
In addition, the number of adults with obesity almost tripled worldwide from 1975 to 2016.
Some signs and symptoms of malnutrition include:
- weight loss
- a lack of appetite or interest in food or drink
- tiredness and irritability
- an inability to concentrate
- always feeling cold
- loss of fat, muscle mass, and body tissue
- a higher risk of getting sick and taking longer to heal
- longer healing time for wounds
Eventually, a person may also experience heart failure.
Symptoms in adults vs. children
Children may present with different malnutrition symptoms than adults.
In children, there may be:
- a lack of growth and low body weight
- tiredness and a lack of energy
- irritability and anxiety
- slow behavioral and intellectual development, possibly resulting in learning difficulties
Treatment is possible. In some cases, however, malnutrition can have long-term effects.
Malnutrition can occur for various reasons. The sections below outline these potential causes in more detail.
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Low intake of food
Some people develop malnutrition because there is not enough food available, or because they have difficulty eating or absorbing nutrients.
This can happen as a result of:
- liver disease
- conditions that cause nausea or make it difficult to eat or swallow
- taking medications that make eating difficult — due to nausea, for example
Mouth problems such as poorly fitting dentures may also contribute to malnutrition.
Mental health conditions
Undernutrition or malnutrition can affect people with:
- anorexia nervosa
Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.
Many other resources are available, including:
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness
- F.E.A.S.T., provide support and educational resources to friends and family who want to help someone living with an eating disorder
Social and mobility problems
Factors that can affect a person’s eating habits and potentially lead to malnutrition include:
- being unable to leave the house or go to a store to buy food
- finding it physically difficult to prepare meals
- living alone, can affect a person’s motivation to cook and eat
- having limited cooking skills
- not having enough money to spend on food
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Prevention of malnutrition
A healthy balanced diet is recommended for the prevention of malnutrition. There are four major food groups that include:
- Bread, rice, potatoes, and other starchy foods. This forms the largest portion of the diet and provides calories for energy and carbohydrates that are converted to sugars which provide energy.
- Milk and dairy foods – Vital sources of fats and simple sugars like lactose as well as minerals like Calcium
- Fruit and vegetables – Vital sources of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and roughage for better digestive health
- Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and other non-dairy sources of protein – form the building blocks of the body and help in numerous body and enzyme functions.
In addition, all hospital admitted patients, children, pregnant women, and elderly in care facilities need to be evaluated for malnutrition.
In children prevention of malnutrition includes practicing exclusive breastfeeding and adequate nutrition for the mother while she is pregnant with the child.
Digestive disorders and stomach conditions
If the body does not absorb nutrients efficiently, even a healthful diet may not prevent malnutrition.
Examples of digestive and stomach conditions that may cause this include:
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- celiac disease
- persistent diarrhea, vomiting, or both
Alcohol use disorder
Consuming a lot of alcohol can lead to gastritis or long-term damage to the pancreas. These issues can make it hard to:
- digest food
- absorb vitamins
- produce hormones that regulate metabolism
Alcohol also contains calories, so a person may not feel hungry after drinking it. They may, therefore, not eat enough healthful food to supply the body with essential nutrients.
Treatment of malnutrition at home
This is suitable for patients who are able to eat and digest food normally. Treatment at home involves:
- The diet planner and advisor discuss the diet with the patient and makes recommendations and diet plans to improve nutrient intake.
- In most patients with malnutrition, the intake of protein, carbohydrates, water, minerals, and vitamins needs to be gradually increased.
- Those with protein-energy malnutrition may need to take protein bars or supplements to correct the deficiency.
- The Body Mass Index is regularly monitored to check for improvement or responsiveness to dietary interventions.
- Occupational therapists and a team of physicians of different specialties may be necessary for people with disability who cannot cook or shop for themselves or those who have mental disorders, dementia, or long-term illnesses.
- Those who have difficulty swallowing, chewing, or eating may need to be given very soft or pureed food for easy eating.
Treatment of malnutrition at the hospital
The team of physicians and health care providers who manage malnutrition patients includes a gastroenterologist who specializes in treating digestive conditions, a dietician, a nutrition nurse, a psychologist, and a social worker.
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Treatment of malnutrition for those who are unable to take food by mouth
Some patients are completely unable to take food by mouth. These patients may be treated by feeding with artificial tubs that are inserted via the nose into the stomach. This is called the nasogastric tube and special nutrient preparations in liquid form are given via these tubes. Nasogastric tubes are designed for short-term use and may be used for up to six weeks.
In some patients, a tube may be surgically implanted directly into the stomach. It opens outside over the abdomen. This is called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, or PEG, tube. Nutrients in the form of liquids may be given via PEG tubes. This is useful in patients with esophageal cancers or other pathologies that make feeding via the mouth and esophagus difficult. These last for around two years and may be replaced thereafter.
Some individuals may need to be given nutrients in the form of injections via infusion directly into the veins of the arms. This is known as parenteral nutrition. This can be done at home under supervision but more often than not, hospital admission may be needed.