Malnutrition occurs when an individual doesn’t have the nutrients they need to function, which includes the amount of protein and calories they need to give their body energy, though it also means micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.
When someone’s diet is unbalanced, they might get enough calories without getting enough nutrients. Overnutrition is also a form of malnutrition and occurs when an individual takes in too many nutrients, causing their body’s metabolism and functioning to become unbalanced.
Different types of malnutrition present with different symptoms. Certain vitamin deficiencies have hallmark symptoms that might present even if an affected individual is taking in enough calories.
Symptoms and Signs of Malnutrition
Everyone needs to understand the signs of malnutrition so they can adjust their diet accordingly. Get the full details now.
1. Reduced Appetite
A reduced appetite is one of the most common signs of malnutrition. When the body isn’t getting the calories it needs, the individual’s metabolism will slow down. This means they will expend less energy and require fewer calories to maintain their body.
Though this protects against starvation, long-term shifts in metabolism like this will make individuals more likely to gain weight in the long run, which is why crash dieting and highly restrictive diets are unlikely to result in long-term weight loss.
Affected individuals might lose interest in food and drink. It might become difficult to eat large portions because the stomach has reduced the amount of matter it can hold at one time.
Trying to eat the same amount as the average person may cause intestinal distress. Children who have a reduced appetite due to malnutrition are at a higher risk of stunted growth.
Children need to take in a certain number of calories for their bodies to develop healthily. An unexplained reduction in appetite can also be a sign of an underlying health problem.
2. Chronic Fatigue
Malnutrition can lead to chronic fatigue, which is one of the most common signs of malnutrition. When individuals don’t consume enough calories and protein, their muscles and brain don’t have the energy they need to function.
It’s common to feel physical fatigue and pain in the muscles. It’s also common to sleep more than the average person, take naps, and constantly feel exhausted. Various micronutrient deficiencies can also lead individuals to tiredness and an inability to concentrate.
They can experience impaired cognitive function and even potential brain damage if the nutrient deficiencies last for too long.
Fatigue can be caused by other underlying medical conditions as well, some of which can be potentially life-threatening if left untreated.
Some of the most common nutritional deficiencies that lead to fatigue are lack of iron, vitamin B12, folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. Iron is the most common nutritional cause of fatigue.
Individuals are more likely to suffer from an iron deficiency if they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, so it’s important to make sure they have some iron sources in their diet.
3. Weight Loss
Weight loss is a common sign of undernutrition. When an individual stop taking in as many nutrients as they need, they often experience a sudden and dramatic loss of weight, though this typically happens unintentionally.
Most researchers agree a loss of five to ten percent or more loss of an individual’s body weight over three to six months is indicative of malnutrition. Even if an individual is dieting, losing this much weight can be a sign they aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals they need.
Such a dramatic shift in body weight will slow down an individual’s metabolism, which means they’re more likely to gain excess weight in the long term.
Malnutrition is sometimes caused by an underlying health condition that causes malabsorption of nutrients. If an individual’s body isn’t absorbing all the calories and vitamins in their food, they can experience malnutrition symptoms even if they eat a balanced diet.
If individuals experience dramatic weight loss without changing anything about their diet or exercise habits, they should talk to a doctor.
4. Increased Length and Frequency of Illness
Malnutrition can have a serious effect on an individual’s immune system. When their immune system is impaired, individuals can’t off illnesses as easily.
They’ll be more likely to get sick because viruses and other infections will have an easier time taking root in their body, and they’ll have a longer recovery time. This can make individuals feel even more fatigued than they already do.
It’s a vicious cycle since fatigue also impairs the immune system. Researchers have drawn correlations between immune function and malnutrition that suggest immune suppression can both cause and be caused by malnutrition.
Undernourished children who die typically perish from common infections. Immune deficiencies have been reported systemically in cases of both overnutrition and undernutrition.
When a parent is malnourished during pregnancy, it can affect their infant’s metabolic and immune system genes.
Malnutrition can also be made worse by inflammation and recurring infections because these alter the function and structure of the gut. Malnutrition impairs certain vital immune cells from functioning properly.
5. Feeling Cold Frequently
Many individuals who are malnourished also feel cold frequently. They might feel like they can’t retain body heat. If they aren’t by a source of warmth like a heater, they might constantly feel cold, even if they’re covered in insulating clothes and blankets. Individuals may also not get hot on hot days.
Feeling cold can also be a sign of other issues, one of the most prominent being thyroid dysfunction.
One of the reasons individuals might feel cold because of malnutrition is due to anemia, which occurs when individuals don’t have enough red blood cells, or the red blood cells they have aren’t functioning adequately.
Iron deficiencies are among the most common causes of anemia, with B12 deficiencies being right behind.
Anemia can be diagnosed through blood tests. In addition to anemia, malnutrition can cause other mineral and vitamin deficiencies that might affect an individual’s ability to regulate their body temperature.