Malnourishment Symptoms and What to Do About Them

December 3, 2020 • By Benjamin Wilson
The estimated reading time is 5 minutes

With so much in the news about obesity, it's easy for Americans to forget about the possibility of becoming malnourished. But bad eating habits can be intentional and unintentional.

Around 12 percent of Americans are food insecure. That means they don't have access to the right amount of nutrition to maintain good health.

Are you suffering from malnourishment symptoms, too? Take a look at this guide to understand what malnourishment is and what it isn't.

What is Malnourishment?

Malnourishment doesn't happen when you skip lunch. It's a condition that happens gradually over time.

Most people suffering from malnourishment have been eating poorly for a while. Their bodies are deprived of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help organs function properly.

Keep in mind that being deprived doesn't always mean the person isn't eating at all. Dietary imbalances are usually the culprit as a person relies on a few foods for nutrients instead of multiple food groups.

Consider people who live in food deserts who have to rely on local convenience stores for groceries. Their chances of being malnourished are high because they don't have access to a healthy assortment of whole foods.

A person is considered malnourished when the nutrients from the food they eat are excreted more quickly than they get replaced. This can happen when a person eats too much and doesn't exercise enough.

But it can also happen after taking too many vitamins and dietary supplements. Overnutrition is usually an issue for people who are more than 20 percent overweight.

It can also happen when you're eating too much salt and fatty foods. This means that even if your food labels reveal that nutrients are in the foods you eat, it doesn't mean your body is absorbing them.

What Are Malnourishment Symptoms?

Most malnourishment symptoms appear after you eat too little food overall. When you're malnourished, you sometimes lose your appetite and interest in eating overall.

Being malnourished can also make you tired and irritable. If you notice you have trouble concentrating, it's another possible symptom of being malnourished.

A lack of nutrients can also lead to poor circulation in the body making you feel cold all the time. Depression can also set in when you're feeling malnourished.

Sometimes symptoms of malnourishment are visual. If you notice a severe loss of muscle mass and body tissue, you could be malnourished.

Losing fat suddenly without working out or changing your diet can be a sign of you missing out on functional nutrition

What's Wrong With Being Malnourished?

There are obvious issues with being malnourished. You'll likely end up underweight and not feeling good overall.

But the most important thing to watch out for if you're malnourished is health issues. You could have difficulty breathing and possibly heart failure.

This is on the more serious end of malnourishment cases. Being malnourished can also mean you're recovery from illnesses is much slower than normal.

For example, if you get a cut, it might not heal at a normal rate because your immune system is weakened. Your body needs a minimum amount of nutrients to ward off diseases.

Expect a higher risk of infection when you're malnourished and for your body to respond slowly to treatment. It takes time to recover from a lack of nutrients if you've suffered from malnutrition for a long time.

What to Do If You're Malnourished

If you're malnourished, it might be a good idea to see a nutritionist. Malnourishment treatments happen gradually just like the condition itself.

If you're severely malnourished, you'll need to be under the care of a doctor during your treatment plan. Treatment options include:

  • screening sessions
  • dietary plans and supplements or prescriptions
  • treatments for symptoms like nausea
  • treatments for infections in the body
  • screening mouth for throat and swallowing issues
  • finding alternative eating solutions

These are basic treatments for mild malnourishment. If your condition is more severe, expect a more involved plan.

Some people with severe malnourishment need to be hospitalized. Hospital treatments can involve hooking you up to an IV to rehydrate your body.

The IV can also deliver vital nutrients like potassium and calcium. You'll need to remain under close monitoring so doctors can see how the treatment is going while you're admitted.

In most cases, your body gradually begins to build up its ability to absorb nutrients again from the foods you eat.

How Do I Avoid Becoming Malnourished?

Becoming malnourished isn't usually due to typical circumstances. Food insecurity and poverty are two common risk factors for malnourishment.

There aren't easy solutions to either situation. Preventing malnourishment means having access to a variety of food types.

If you have to eat fast food, make sure you supplement your meal with a salad or side vegetable. Request to have your vegetables steamed when you go out to eat and always order vegetables in assorted colors.

The different colored veggies correspond to different vitamins. Supplements help prevent malnourishment but it's important to know the right doses so you don't overindulge.

Can Weight Loss Lead to Malnourishment?

Healthy weight loss isn't included in malnourishment symptoms. Weight loss should be gradual to be healthy.

If you have a chronic illness or are an older adult, you'll need a special plan to ensure you always get the nutrients you need. Look for signs of malnutrition or undernutrition in your body so you can fix them early.

Malnutrition is avoidable, but not for everyone at all times. Luckily, the condition is reversible so you don't need to be afraid if your doctors tell you you're missing out on certain nutrients.

For more information and tips, visit our blog for updates.

Benjamin Wilson

He is a fitness trainer and part-time blogger interested in nutrition and in leading a healthy lifestyle. He writes smart and inspirational articles on nutrition supported by scientific research and his own personal experience in the healthcare industry.
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