wrinkled hands of a malnutritioned person

5 Adverse Effects of Malnutrition

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Malnutrition refers to when a person’s diet does not supply enough nutrients or the correct mix of nutrients for optimal health. Malnutrition is a frequent, under-recognized, and under-addressed problem that affects a large portion of the world’s population, and it is not only the result of but also the cause of many diseases. Malnutrition can be caused by poor dietary choices, a lack of finances, trouble accessing food, and a variety of physical and mental health issues. When a person consumes insufficient food, has a restricted diet, or suffers from a condition that prevents their body from attaining the proper nutritional balance, it can have a serious influence on their health. This can be life-threatening in some circumstances. Malnutrition has a number of negative impacts on the body including:

  1. Impaired immune responses

Malnutrition increases risks of infection. Children who are severely stunted are five times more likely to die before reaching the age of five. Malnutrition is responsible for about half of all fatalities in children under the age of five, amounting to roughly 3 million children per year. Chronically malnourished children are more likely to die from common infectious diseases such as diarrhea, malaria, or measles because nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life influences immune system development and function. Contrary to popular belief, persistent malnutrition in early childhood increases the risk of adulthood obesity and associated non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

  1. Reduced muscle strength and fatigue

Malnutrition causes increased muscular fatigue as well as a change in muscle contraction and relaxation patterns. Muscle plasticity works as a compensation strategy for the body in the event of starvation, allowing the metabolic balance to be adjusted. Sustained protein-calorie malnutrition, on the other hand, affects not only the muscle’s structural activities but also its metabolic processes, making it difficult to regain nutritional and functional status if not treated adequately. Even before changes in mass are noticeable, malnutrition impacts muscular function, thus changes in nutritional intake, digestion, or absorption can have a substantial impact on muscle health.

  1. Reduced respiratory muscle function

As a result, breathing and expectoration become more difficult, increasing the risk of chest infection and respiratory failure. Malnutrition, in particular, can have a negative impact on lung function, resulting in decreased ventilatory drive, lower respiratory muscle performance, modifications to the lung parenchyma, and weakened lung defense mechanisms. If a patient has a severe chronic pulmonary disease or an acute respiratory disease, nutrition supplementation should be considered. Malnourished patients have lower respiratory muscle strength, and nutritional intervention can restore muscular ventilatory performance to normal levels. Furthermore, dietary intake of amino acids and glucose appears to have a significant impact on ventilatory drive.

  1. Impaired thermoregulation

Malnutrition causes a predisposition to hypothermia. In children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM), hypothermia is a risk factor for increased mortality. Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) kills almost one million children each year around the world. Hypothermia is a well-known significant consequence of SAM and is linked to an increased risk of death. In order to save calories, the metabolic rate is slowed, resulting in an inability to generate enough heat. Hypothermia is exacerbated by hypoglycemia and infection, both of which are linked to malnourished children. Because malnourished children have less insulating body fat and a higher body surface area to weight ratio, they lose heat more quickly than well-nourished children. Hypothermia has a negative impact on malnourished children because it causes a reduction in cardiac output and reduced cerebral perfusion.

  1. Poor libido, fertility, pregnancy outcome, and mother-child interactions

Low testosterone levels mediate the majority of impacts on libido in the context of starvation. Significantly low testosterone levels, according to clinical investigations, can cause the following symptoms:

  • Sexual dysfunction can range from a lack of sexual desire, stamina, and libido to more serious sexual problems including erectile dysfunction.
  • Physical symptoms: Low testosterone levels can lead to a loss of muscle and bone mass, which can lead to decreased stamina and energy, muscle and bone aches, the risk of muscle and joint injury with minor effort or pressure, and poor endurance. All of these issues frequently result in a lack of libido.

Poor pregnancy outcomes, such as obstructed labor, early or low-birth-weight babies, and postpartum hemorrhage, are all increased by maternal malnutrition. Severe anemia during pregnancy has been related to a higher risk of death during childbirth.

The effects of dairy, alcohol, caffeine, saturated fats and sugar have been linked to lower fertility in both women and men. Obese women and men [body mass index (BMI) 30 kg/m2] are also at a higher risk of infertility. Women who are underweight (BMI 20 kg/m2) are at increased risk. To learn more with regard to malnutrition, its causes, and treatment, register for our Food Security & Nutrition in Emergencies course today for a 10% discount!


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