The 17 Effects of Malnutrition on the Human Body

Nourishing and nourishing is, along with hydration and breathing, one of the most basic needs not only of human beings but of all living things. In the case of our species, we need food to acquire enough nutrients for our bodies to function and survive.

However, there is a high percentage of the world’s population who do not have access to enough food to survive or who are unable to process and use the nutrients it contains. These people are or will be undernourished, which generates a number of consequences of varying severity. In this article we will talk about the effects of malnutrition, As well as its concept.

    Malnutrition: basic definition

    As stated by the World Health Organization, the existence of a is called malnutrition lack or lack of food or the amount of calories, nutrients, vitamins and minerals necessary for the preservation of a correct state of health, this state being in conformity with what is expected according to the age of the individual.

    In other words, we are faced with a lack of nutrients in the body to maintain optimal functioning levels. Lack of sufficient nutrients will generate the consumption of internal energy reserves (and if necessary, the body comes to consume its own tissues to survive), appearing a progressive weakening of the body which can even lead to the death of the subject.

      Types according to causes

      The concept of malnutrition can be easily understood, but it should be kept in mind that we can indeed find different types of malnutrition, although the effects on the body are similar. One of the existing classifications takes into account the origin of the absence of nutrients, generating two main categories.

      In the first of these, called primary undernutrition, the person has a nutritional deficiency resulting from insufficient food or starvation. This lack of nourishment can occur in a variety of settings. The most obvious case concerns people who do not have access to sufficient food, such as in countries where hunger and poverty are high.

      Another type of primary malnutrition situation occurs in people who, although they live in a context in which they can access sufficient food, do not make the intake, being the case with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

      A second type of malnutrition is the so-called secondary malnutrition, in which the subject if he makes an adequate and sufficient intake but which due to an alteration or a disease is not able to metabolize the nutrients. This means that these nutrients do not integrate and are not used by the body, which will also have adverse health effects.

      Effects of malnutrition

      The lack of nutrients has considerable effects on the body, which they can even lead to death in people of any age, race or condition if the essentials are insufficient to maintain the functioning of the organs. In most humans, malnutrition can have effects like the following, although the ones we will discuss are not the only ones.

      1. Changes in body weight and volume

      One of the most quickly visible aspects of malnutrition is considerable weight loss. However, if the malnutrition situation is prolonged and affects hormones such as insulin and glucagon some abdominal obesity may appear, Derived from impaired food metabolism.

      2. Loss of muscle mass

      In the absence of sufficient protein, the body acts to protect its survival by extracting energy from its own fibers, now consuming muscle fibers in the so-called protein catabolism.

      3. Hypotonia and decreased energy levels

      Another consequence of a lack of nutrients is a decrease in muscle tone, with less muscle tension and strength. Likewise a large decrease in physical and mental energy is observed.

      4. Bone fragility

      As with muscles, bones are also affected by malnutrition. They become more fragile and brittle, Be more likely the presence of injuries and breaks.

      5. Amenorrhea

      The menstrual cycle is also affected by malnutrition, and the lack of nutrients can cause irregularities and even menstruation.

      6. Weakened immune system

      One of the grains affected by nutrient loss is the immune system. A weakness is generated in this system which makes it difficult to respond to bacteria and viruses, Facilitating the appearance of infections and diseases.

      7. Dental irritation and bleeding

      The presence of dental problems is also observed, often showing irritation of the gums and even bleeding.

      8. Edema

      It is common that a lack of nutrients and the existence of electrolyte imbalances resulting from insufficient nutrition cause accumulation of fluids in different parts of the body, Generating swelling in the form of edema.

      9. Cardiovascular disorders

      Lack of nutrients weakens heart muscle and blood vessels and can lead to arrhythmias, hypotension, heart failure, and death.

      10. Decreased gastrointestinal function

      Not having enough nutrients for the body to function properly too affects the digestive tract, Making him unable to act properly. This is because a person suffering from prolonged malnutrition cannot begin to eat normal amounts at a time, having to gradually adapt to the intestinal motility resuming its normal course.

      11. Decreased cognitive abilities

      Malnutrition also affects the nervous system to a large extent. At the cognitive level, it is common to generate alterations in cognitive abilities, reducing the emission of elaborate responses, the ability to plan and make decisions, Judgment or the ability to focus or inhibit behavior.

      12. Emotional lability, irritability and mental problems

      Lack of nutrients affects behavioral inhibitory capacity and facilitates attack / flight responses. Emotions come to the surface more easily than usual. Problems with irritability, anxiety or depression are much more common.

        13. Affects respiratory capacity

        This can lead to problems in our body’s ability to oxygenate itself and to expel carbon dioxide.

        14. Slows down metabolism

        When the body realizes that it does not have enough nutrients to function, tries to reduce metabolism in order to save energy.

        15. Pancreatic and hepatic dysfunctions

        The liver and pancreas are also affected by malnutrition, unable to purify the blood or generate insulin and glucagon, and impair the functioning of the digestive system.

        16. Kidney problems

        The ability of the kidneys to act as a filter for the blood and that helps to remove waste and harmful elements is also affected. The lack of nutrients hinders their function, not filtering these elements properly.

        17. Anemia

        One of the consequences of nutrient deficiency is the onset of anemia, i.e. decreased production of red blood cells derived from the lack of basic components such as iron or vitamins. It causes dizziness, fainting, headache, arrhythmias, pallor, numbness, and lack of blood supply to parts of the body.

        Malnutrition in childhood

        We have talked so far about the different effects of malnutrition on humans in general. However, it was demonstrated that the developmental moment in which malnutrition appears is of great importance.

        More precisely, the earlier the evolutionary development, the greater the affectation will be in the subject. Difficulties due to lack of nutrients during development will cause it to be impaired and not achieved at a typical rate or manner, requiring you to stay alive for a few strings.

        Childhood malnutrition is one of the most serious, as it causes a slowdown in physical and intellectual development. For example, growth stops in weight and height and psychomotor retardation and speech problems may appear, as well as difficulty in attention. Belly swelling and hair problems also appear. The growth of the brain slows down and atrophies, fewer glial cells and problems with myelination may occur.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Martorell, R. (2007). Effects of malnutrition on human health and development and effective strategies for its prevention. Public Health of Mexico, 49: 151.
        • Smith, L and Haddad, L. (1999). Explanation of child malnutrition in developing countries: national analysis. FCND Discussion Paper 1999 (60) IFPRI, Washington, DC
        • Wisbaum, W. (2011). Childhood malnutrition. Causes, consequences and strategies for their prevention and treatment. UNICEF.

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