Early symptoms of any type of malnutrition are very general and include fatigue, irritability, and lethargy. As protein and calorie deprivation continues (leading toward starvation), one sees growth failure, loss of muscle mass, generalized swelling (edema), and decreased immunity. A large, protuberant belly is common. Skin conditions such as dermatitis, changes in pigmentation, thinning of hair, and vitiligo are seen frequently. Shock and coma precede death.

Improving calorie and nutrient intake will correct symptoms provided that treatment is not started too late. However, for children, full height and growth potential will never be achieved. Severe malnutrition may leave a child with permanent mental and physical disabilities. There is good statistical evidence that malnutrition early in life permanently decreases IQ.

Though most often seen in very poor areas, or during famines or droughts, one US government estimate suggests that as many as 50 percent of elderly persons in nursing homes in the US suffer from protein-calorie malnutrition. (source: MEDLINE)

There are also specific diseases caused by malnutrition:

MEDLINE Plus Health Information: A service of the National Library of Medicine, http://medlineplus.adam.com

Something which many may find interesting..
Have you ever noticed that in many of the commercials aimed at earning donations to help people in developing countries show kids with huge stomachs? When I was younger, I thought, why do they need help when their stomachs are so full? Well, here's the answer.
The big stomachs are a direct result of severe malnutrition. Most if not all of us will never experience that kind of hunger. Blood plasma contains a multitude of plasma proteins. These proteins must be manufactured in the body.
Normal person
When blood runs through the arteries, they eventually reach the capillaries where the actual nutrient exchange occurs. This occurs by a mechanism that doesn't seem to make sense. At the beginning of the capillary bed, most of the plasma leaves the blood vessels into the tissue. This is due to the osmotic pressure gradient. This oxygenated blood is able to both supply oxygen and carry away carbon dioxide. Many hormones and nutrients are also filtered into the tissues this way. At the end of the capillary bed, the blood in the veins is very concentrated. This is because many of the larger plasma proteins are unable to pass through into the tissues and stay in the capillaries. This osmotic pressure, causes the plasma which has left the capillaries to go back into the veins. Not all of the plasma returns. Some of it goes into the lymphatic system. The returned blood goes from the veins eventually go back to the heart and the cycle starts again.
Malnourished person
The cycle is the same for the most part. However, when you are in a state of starvation, your diet would not contain adequate amounts of proteins. Hence, the large plasma proteins which would be present in the blood are not there. This lessens the osmotic pressure gradient that is responsible for the return of plasma back into the blood vessels. The lymphatic system is not able to handle this increase in fluid volume and so the tissues retain much of the plasma. This causes swelling, and so an enlargement of tissues.
I hope this clears up any misconceptions and conspiracy theories going around about world vision and such. The people in those countries do really need help. Eventually the swelling of the tissues is offset by the lack of tissue to swell and eventually death.

Mal`nu*tri"tion (?), n. [Mal- + nutrition.] Physiol.

Faulty or imperfect nutrition.


© Webster 1913.

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