In my last blog post I covered causes of malnutrition that can normally be controlled. This time I’m going to discuss causes that don’t stem from lifestyle, and are more difficult to treat. Please be aware that this post mentions eating disorders and other illnesses. If this is a trigger for you, please don’t read on.

diet-617756_1280Unfortunately, depression and similar illnesses can promote malnutrition. Some people lose their appetite and struggle to eat, or feel unable to cook for themselves and thus eat junk foods. Others turn to food as a source of comfort, again choosing crisps, biscuits or chocolate which lack nutrients. This is more likely to be an issue for people who live alone or who don’t have close friends or relatives to cook for them or encourage them to eat the right things.

It seems obvious to state that eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia can lead to malnutrition, and there is no easy way to treat this source of the condition. However, other medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can also cause malnutrition. These illnesses can prevent absorption of lipids (fats) and carbohydrates. Also, sufferers of these illnesses, particularly if they are undiagnosed, may deliberately eat less to lessen their symptoms. Other chronic illnesses can also lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Age can also be a factor in malnutrition, both in the young and the elderly. Children’s nutritional requirements are different from adults and their energy and nutrient requirements are higher in relation to their body size. So, it is even more important that children don’t eat junk food, or only eat processed foods on an occasional basis. ‘Bulky’ meals can mean that children won’t be able to consume enough nutrients from other sources, and their growth can suffer.

Conversely, malnutrition is common in the elderly, because the appetite tends to decrease with age and foods become increasingly difficult to chew, swallow or digest. For some people, restricted mobility makes it more difficult to shop or prepare healthy meals. This is particularly an issue for elderly people who live alone, especially if they are living on a restricted budget.

The warning signs of malnutrition depend upon which nutritional deficiencies an individual has. However, common signs include excessive tiredness, swollen and/or bleeding gums, tooth decay, lack of concentration, dry, scaly skin, poor growth (in children) and muscle weakness, and low weight in some cases. Frequent illnesses can point to poor immune function which can leave the individual more prone to infections.

Malnutrition caused by lifestyle can be dealt with by a change of diet, though medical supervision is likely to be necessary. If it is caused by illness, seeking advice from a doctor or healthcare practitioner is even more important. In both cases, nutrient supplements are likely to be advised along with a diet that includes, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fish, and fortified food products.