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The 17 effects of malnutrition on the human body

The 17 effects of malnutrition on the human body

June 11, 2024

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

However, there is a high percentage of the world population that does not have access to enough food to survive or is not able to process and use the nutrients in them. These people are or will be malnourished, something that generates a series of consequences of varying severity. In this article we are going to talk about the effects of malnutrition , as well as its concept.


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Malnutrition: basic definition

As indicated by the World Health Organization, the name of malnutrition is the existence of a lack or lack of food or the amount of calories, nutrients, vitamins and minerals necessary for the preservation of a correct state of health, being said state according to what is expected based on the age of the individual.

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


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Types according to causes

The concept of malnutrition can be easily understood, but it is necessary to bear in mind that we can actually find various types of malnutrition, although the effects on the organism are similar . One of the existing classifications takes into account where the absence of nutrients comes from, generating two main categories.

In the first of them, the so-called primary malnutrition, the person has a deficit of nutrients derived from insufficient food or starvation. This lack of food can happen in different contexts. The most obvious case can be found with people who do not have access to a sufficient amount of food such as in countries with famine and high level of poverty.


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

A second type of malnutrition is the so-called secondary malnutrition, in which the subject does make an adequate intake and as sufficiently but due to some alteration or disease is not able to metabolize nutrients. This implies that these nutrients do not become integrated and used by the body, something that will also generate adverse effects on health.

Effects of malnutrition

The lack of nutrients has considerable effects on the organism, which they can even lead to death in people of any age, race or condition if you do not get enough essential elements to keep the organs functioning. In most humans, malnutrition can cause effects such as the following, although the ones we are going to present are not the only ones.

1. Changes in body weight and volume

One of the most rapidly visible aspects of malnutrition is that there is considerable weight loss. However, if the situation of malnutrition is prolonged and affects hormones such as insulin and glucagon it is possible that certain abdominal obesity appears , derived from the alteration of the metabolism of food.

2. Loss of muscle mass

In the absence of sufficient proteins, the body acts in order to protect its survival by extracting energy from the fibers of the body itself, consuming for example the muscle fibers in the body. the one known as protein catabolism .

3. Hypotonia and lowering of energy levels

Another consequence of the lack of nutrients is the decrease in muscle tone, with less tension and muscle strength. Also also 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 brittle and brittle , the presence of injuries and breaks is more likely.

5. Amenorrhea

The menstrual cycle is also affected by malnutrition, with the lack of nutrients causing irregularities and even the cessation of the rule.

6. Weakening of the immune system

One of the big ones affected by the loss of nutrients is the immune system. A weakness is generated in said system that difficult response to bacteria and viruses , being much easier than infections and diseases appear.

7. Irritation and dental bleeding

The presence of dental problems is also observed, often presenting gum irritation and even bleeding.

8. Edemas

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

9. Cardiovascular disorders

The lack of nutrients weakens the heart muscle and blood vessels, which can generate arrhythmias, hypotension, heart failure and death.

10. Decreased gastrointestinal function

The fact of not having enough nutrients for the body to function properly also affects the digestive tract , causing it to not act correctly. In fact, a person with prolonged malnutrition can not begin to eat normal amounts of blow, and must adapt little by little in order for intestinal motility to recover its normal course.

11. Impaired cognitive ability

Malnutrition also affects, and in large part, the nervous system. At the cognitive level, it is usual to generate alterations in the cognitive capacity, reducing the emission of elaborated answers, the ability to plan and make decisions , the judgment or the ability to concentrate or inhibit behavior.

12. Emotional lability, irritability and mental problems

The lack of nutrients affects the capacity for behavioral inhibition and facilitates attack / flight responses. Emotions come to the surface more easily than usual . Problems of irritability, anxiety or depression are much more frequent.

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13. Affects the respiratory capacity

It can generate problems at the level of our body's ability to oxygenate and expel carbon dioxide.

14. It slows down the metabolism

When the body senses that it does not have enough nutrients to function properly, proceeds to try to reduce the 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 altering the functioning of the digestive system.

16. Kidney problems

The ability of the kidneys to act as a blood filter and that it allows to eliminate waste and harmful elements is also affected. The lack of nutrients hinders its function, not filtering these elements correctly.

17. Anemia

One of the consequences of nutrient deficit is the appearance of anemia, that is, decreased production of red blood cells derived from the lack of basic components such as iron or vitamins. It causes dizziness, fainting, headaches, arrhythmias, pallor, numbness and lack of blood supply in some parts of the body.

Malnutrition in childhood

We have spoken so far of different effects of malnutrition on the human being in general. However, it has been shown that the evolutionary moment in which malnutrition appears is of great importance .

Specifically, the earlier in the evolutionary development greater affectation will generate in the subject. The difficulties due to lack of nutrients during the development will cause it to be altered and not be reached at a rhythm or in a typical way, asking you to remain for life some sequelae.

Child malnutrition is one of the most serious, since it generates a slowdown in physical and intellectual development. For example, usually stops growing at the level of weight and height and it is possible that psychomotor delay and speech problems appear, as well as difficulties at attention level. There is also ventral swelling and hair problems. Brain growth slows down and atrophy, decreased number of glial cells and myelination problems can occur.

Bibliographic references:

  • Martorell, R. (2007). Effects of malnutrition on health and human development and effective strategies for its prevention. Public Health of Mexico, 49: 151.
  • Smith, L and Haddad, L. (1999). Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: ACross-Country Analysis. FCND discussion paper 1999 (60) IFPRI, Washington, D.C.
  • Wisbaum, W. (2011). Child malnutrition. Causes, consequences and strategies for its prevention and treatment. UNICEF.

Effects of Malnutrition in Children - Dr. Vivekanand M Kustagi (June 2024).


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