Malnutrition refers to the physical state of unbalanced nutrition. It can occur due to an inadequate or excess intake of nutrients, an imbalance of essential nutrients, or impaired nutrient absorption or use by an organism.

Malnutrition often refers to undernutrition — when people do not get enough nutrients. This can lead to various health problems, ranging from weight loss and tiredness to impaired immune function and weakness, making one more prone to infections and disease.

However, malnutrition can also involve overnutrition, where people consume more nutrients than their bodies need. Over-nutrition can lead to obesity and associated diseases.



Both kinds of malnutrition can have severe, lasting impacts on health and may even be fatal. Correct nutrition is a vitally important part of healthy development and lifestyle.

Causes of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can be caused by various factors, usually related to issues with diet, underlying health conditions, and living conditions. Here are some of the main causes:

1. Insufficient intake of nutrients: If a person is not consuming a well-balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, they might become malnourished. This could be due to a lack of food availability, poverty, lack of knowledge about nutrition, or eating disorders.

2. Digestive issues and absorption problems: Various diseases and conditions that affect the body’s ability to digest food or absorb nutrients can lead to malnutrition. These can include conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or cystic fibrosis.

3. Alcoholism: Excessive consumption of alcohol can cause malnutrition by affecting the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients properly.

4. Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, or AIDS can affect the body’s nutritional needs, increase the body’s needs for certain nutrients, or decrease the ability to eat.

5. Age: Older adults may develop malnutrition due to various factors such as reduced appetite, difficulty in eating, and less efficient absorption of nutrients.

6. Socioeconomic factors: Poverty, lack of education on nutrition, and lack of access to nutritious food can all play a major role in causing malnutrition. This is often seen in developing countries.

7. Mental Health Disorders: Conditions like depression, schizophrenia, or dementia can lead to malnutrition due to a lack of interest in eating or forgetfulness.

8. Natural Disasters and Conflict: These can disrupt access to food and healthcare, leading to malnutrition in large populations.

In general, any situation or condition that results in inadequate or unbalanced intake of nutrients can cause malnutrition. It’s important to spot and treat it early, as long-term malnutrition can lead to many serious health problems.

Risk Factors of Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a condition that results from a diet lacking in, or full of, certain nutrients. Here are some risk factors of malnutrition:

1. Age: Children and the elderly are at a higher risk of malnutrition. For the elderly, factors like decreased sense of taste, difficulty in chewing, and less physical activity may limit the intake of nutrients. In children, especially those under five, their rapid growth and development require high nutrition which, if not met, can lead to malnutrition.

2. Low income: Poverty can limit access to nutritious food, leading to malnutrition.

3. Social and mobility problems: People who are socially isolated or have mobility problems may be unable to obtain adequate food, leading to malnutrition.

4. Digestive disorders and stomach conditions: These conditions can prevent the body from absorbing nutrients from food, leading to malnutrition.

5. Alcoholism: Consuming large amounts of alcohol can lead to gastric and liver conditions, which can then lead to malnutrition because of damage to the body’s mechanism to digest, absorb, and distribute nutrients.

6. Eating Disorders: Conditions such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia can lead to malnutrition.

7. Lack of breastfeeding: For infants, lack of breastfeeding can lead to malnutrition, as breast milk contains many of the necessary nutrients for growth.

8. Agricultural and food availability: In regions where there is a lack of access to a variety of foods, or there’s a dependence on single crop diets, this can lead to nutrient deficiencies, resulting in malnutrition.

9. Disease and Illness: People with diseases like cancer, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease are at a higher risk.

10. Malabsorption disorders: Disorders in which the intestines aren’t able to properly absorb nutrients can lead to malnourishment.

Always consult a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about malnutrition.

Signs and Symptoms of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can often present subtle symptoms that might be easily overlooked until it becomes severe. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms:

1. Fatigue: Nutrient deficiencies can cause a lack of energy. A person might feel tired and weak, leading them to be less physically active.

2. Unintentional Weight Loss: One of the most obvious signs of malnutrition is losing weight without trying. This can occur when the body does not get enough calories and nutrients to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.

3. Muscle Wasting and Weakness: Lack of protein can cause loss of muscle mass and strength, affecting mobility and strength.

4. Higher Susceptibility to Illness: Reduced intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can weaken the immune system, making an individual more susceptible to infections.

5. Delayed Wound Healing: Poor nutrition can affect the body’s healing process, leading to a slower healing of wounds.

6. Dizziness: Lack of essential nutrients can make an individual feel dizzy or lightheaded.

7. Brittle and Dry Hair/Skin: Lack of vitamins and minerals can affect hair and skin health, causing hair to become dry and skin to become dry or rough.

8. Swollen or Bleeding Gums: Vitamin C deficiency is characterized by swollen, bleeding gums, and loss of teeth in severe cases.

9. Changes in Mood: Individuals can become irritable or have difficulty concentrating due to lack of nutrients.

10. Digestive Problems: These may include bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

11. For children, symptoms may include growth problems, learning difficulties, and behavior problems.

If you notice these signs and symptoms, it is important to seek medical advice as malnutrition can lead to serious complications if not addressed. Management and treatment would typically involve increasing the consumption of healthy, nutrient-rich food, or potentially using nutritional supplements.

Diagnosis Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a medical condition that occurs when a person’s diet lacks the right amount of nutrients. This could mean a diet without enough vitamins, minerals, or even calories. It can lead to serious health issues such as a weakened immune system, difficulty in growth and development (particularly in children), problems with vital organs, and poor wound healing.

Malnutrition can be caused by various factors including a diet that does not provide sufficient nutrients, a lack of ability to digest or absorb nutrients from food due to illnesses or medical conditions, certain mental health issues leading to abnormal eating habits, or even socio-economic issues (like poverty) leading to lack of access to nutritious food.

The diagnosis of malnutrition typically involves a thorough medical evaluation – checking medical history, conducting a physical examination, and performing blood tests to help assess the patient’s nutritional status.

Treatment for malnutrition involves replacing the missing nutrients. This may include a nutrient-rich diet, supplements, and in severe cases, tube feeding or intravenous feeding. It is crucial to address any underlying conditions causing malnutrition as part of the treatment plan.

Treatment of Malnutrition

The treatment of malnutrition typically involves a two-pronged approach that aims to increase nutrient levels and treat underlying conditions causing the malnutrition.

1. Dietary Modifications: A healthcare provider, often a dietitian, will create a personalized eating plan that seeks to increase the individual’s intake of nutrients. This often includes foods rich in vital nutrients, such as vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals. In severe cases, dietary supplements might be prescribed.

2. Treating Underlying Conditions: Often, malnutrition is caused by an underlying medical condition. Treating such diseases, such as certain cancers or digestive disorders, often helps to improve the malnutrition. Depending on the underlying cause, this might involve medication, surgical intervention, or other treatments.

3. Hospitalization: Severe cases might require hospitalization. In a hospital, a patient may receive nutrients through a feeding tube or even intravenously.

4. Follow ups: Regular monitoring by the healthcare team is crucial to ensure that the treatment plan is effective. The doctors will check whether the nutritional goals are being met and will adjust the treatment as required.

5. Mental Health Support: In cases where a person’s malnutrition is linked to a mental health condition such as depression or an eating disorder, it’s also important to address the emotional and mental health issues through counseling or other supportive therapies.

Remember, it’s essential to seek professional medical advice when dealing with malnutrition or any other health-related issues. It’s important to work with a doctor or dietitian to ensure that the treatment plan is suitable for the individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

Medications commonly used for Malnutrition

There isn’t a specific medication used to directly treat malnutrition. Malnutrition happens due to lack of enough nutrients in the diet, so the treatment primarily involves providing those essential nutrients that the body requires. However, there might be certain conditions related to severe malnutrition where specific medications are necessary to manage complications.

Here are some approaches to treating malnutrition:

1. Dietary Changes and Nutrition Therapy: The first step in treating malnutrition is to increase nutrient intake. This might involve eating nutrient-dense foods, consuming high-protein and high-calorie meals, or taking specific vitamins and mineral supplements, such as Vitamins A, B, D, E, and K, as well as minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc. A registered dietitian or a healthcare professional can provide a personalized meal plan to meet the nutrient needs of the individual.

2. Supplementation: Oral nutritional supplements may be used. These are nutrient-dense, often liquid, but also in the form of snack bars or puddings. They provide protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals.

3. Tube Feeding and Parenteral Nutrition: In severe cases where the person is unable to eat or the nutrients are not properly absorbed by the body, nutrients might be provided through a feeding tube directly into the stomach or small intestine (“enteral nutrition”), or even directly into a vein (“parenteral nutrition”).

4. Treating Underlying Conditions: If the malnutrition is caused by a disease or condition — such as a digestive disorder or cancer — that disease will also need to be treated. In such cases, specific medications might be introduced.

Remember, it is important to consult healthcare professionals for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Not everyone will need all of these treatments, but most will need a combination of few.

Prevention of Malnutrition

Preventing malnutrition is a crucial component for the overall health and wellbeing of a person. Below are ways in which malnutrition can be prevented:

1. Balanced diet: Consuming a balanced diet that contains all the required nutrients is crucial. This includes a blend of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.



2. Regularly eating meals: Skipping meals can lead to malnutrition over time. It’s important to have regular meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs to function.

3. Staying hydrated: Drink plenty of water to maintain good hydration levels. Dehydration can lead to nutritional deficits.

4. Education: Educate people, particularly in areas where malnutrition is prevalent, about the importance of a balanced diet and how to achieve it with available foods.

5. Access to nutritious food: Ensuring communities have proper access to nutritious and affordable food can significantly help in preventing malnutrition.

6. Regular health check-ups: Regular health assessments can help in early detection of malnutrition or any other health conditions and act as a preventive measure.

7. Prenatal care: Pregnant women must receive adequate prenatal care, including nutrition counseling, to ensure mother and baby both receive essential nutrients.

8. Breastfeeding: For infants, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life is recommended. From 6 months, appropriate complementary foods should be introduced along with continued breastfeeding.

9. Immunizations: Keeping up with the required immunizations can prevent certain diseases that can lead to malnutrition.

10. Improving sanitation and hygiene: These measures can prevent infections which can lead to malnutrition.

Remember, if malnutrition is suspected, it is crucial to seek medical advice immediately to prevent further health issues. A healthcare professional can provide a detailed analysis and solution by creating a personalized diet plan.

FAQ’s about Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a serious condition that can result from a lack of proper nutrients or an inability to absorb them from food. Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers:

1. What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition is a state of nutrition wherein a deficiency, excess, or imbalance of energy, protein, and other nutrients causes adverse effects on the body, functionality, and clinical outcome.

2. What causes malnutrition?
Malnutrition is usually the result of a lack of access to high-quality, nutritious food, or an inability to use or absorb nutrients due to a disease or medical condition. It can also be caused by an increased need for nutrients due to growth, pregnancy, or illness.

3. What are the symptoms of malnutrition?
Symptoms can vary but may include: fatigue, dizziness, and weight loss. Other physical signs could include dry skin, thinning hair, bloated stomach, and decaying teeth.

4. How is malnutrition diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider can diagnose malnutrition. They would look at your physical appearance, ask about your medical history, perform a physical exam, check body measurements including weight and height, and may order laboratory tests.

5. How is malnutrition treated?
Treatment involves consuming more nutrients and calories. This can be accomplished by eating nutrient-rich foods or taking oral, enteral, or parenteral nutritional supplements. In severe cases, patients may need to be hospitalized.

6. Can malnutrition lead to other health problems?
Yes, chronic malnutrition can lead to a variety of health problems, including a weakened immune system, difficulty healing wounds, difficulty recovering from illnesses, decreased organ function, and physical and mental development issues in children.

7. Who is most likely to be affected by malnutrition?
While anyone can suffer from malnutrition, certain groups are particularly vulnerable. This includes older adults, particularly if they’re unwell or recovering from surgery, people with long-term conditions, people who are socially isolated or economically challenged, and those with increased nutritional needs, such as pregnant women or growing children.

8. Is malnutrition preventable?
Yes, in many cases, malnutrition is preventable. Access to nutritious food, maintaining a healthy diet, and early detection and treatment of diseases and conditions that might affect nutrition are key ways to prevent malnutrition.

9. What are the different types of malnutrition?
There are primarily two types of malnutrition: undernutrition (which includes wasting (low weight-for-height), stunting (low height-for-age) and underweight (low weight-for-age)) and micronutrient-related malnutrition (which includes micronutrient deficiencies or excess).

Remember to consult a healthcare provider for professional advice and treatment if you think you or someone else might be suffering from malnutrition.

Useful links

Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. It can lead to serious health issues, including stunted growth, eye problems, diabetes, and heart disease. Malnutrition can be categorized into undernutrition, micronutrient-related malnutrition, and overweight, obesity, and diet-related noncommunicable diseases.

Here are some useful links from journals for malnutrition:


Please note, some of these sources may require subscriptions or purchase to access the full articles.

Also, this is not an exhaustive list, and there are many more scholarly journals and articles available online that provide additional information on the consequences, management, treatment, and prevention of malnutrition.

Complications of Malnutrition

Malnutrition refers to the physical state resulting from an inappropriate or insufficient diet and can either mean undernutrition or overnutrition. Here are the potential complications of malnutrition:

1. Weakened Immune System: Upon not receiving enough nutrients, the immune system weakens, raising the risk of infections and diseases, and making it harder for the body to recover from illness.

2. Delayed Wound Healing: Without necessary nutrients, the body’s ability to heal itself slows down significantly, and wounds may take longer to heal.

3. Muscle Weakness: Insufficient protein intake can lead to decreased muscle mass and strength.

4. Bone Fragility: Lack of calcium and vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteoporosis and fractures.

5. Organ Failure: Severe malnutrition can lead to the failure of vital organs such as the heart or liver.

6. Digestive problems: Malnutrition often leads to various gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea and constipation.

7. Growth and Development Issues: In children, long-term malnutrition can impact growth and development, both physically and cognitively.

8. Psychological Problems: Malnutrition can result in depression, anxiety, and eventually lead to social withdrawal and isolation.

9. Anemia: Lack of iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12, can cause a shortage of red blood cells in the body, causing anemia.

10. Fatigue and Lower Energy: Without sufficient nutrients, the body can’t produce enough energy, leading to persistent fatigue.

Treating malnutrition typically involves addressing the underlying causes and improving diet, sometimes with the help of dietitians, therapists, and other medical professionals. It’s crucial to understand that these complications can be severe and life-threatening, especially if left untreated.

Home remedies of Malnutrition

Malnutrition occurs when a person does not get enough nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are all critical for healthy body function. This can be addressed by improving diet and lifestyle. Here are some home remedies for malnutrition:

1. Balanced diet: Consuming a diet that includes all the necessary nutrients in their required quantities is the ultimate solution for malnutrition. Include ample amounts of proteins (from sources like eggs, lean meat, dairy), carbohydrates (like whole grains, potatoes), healthy fats (like nuts, avocados, fish), and fiber-rich foods (like fruits, vegetables, nuts).

2. Eating smaller, frequent meals: Instead of having large meals three times a day, having smaller, frequent meals can help in enhancing nutrient absorption and digestion.

3. Consumption of fruits and vegetables: These are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fibers that bring about overall physical health and well-being.

4. Hydration: It is essential to keep the body well-hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Water aids the absorption of essential nutrients and eliminates toxins and waste products from the body.

5. Vitamin Supplements: You can take oral vitamin and mineral supplements after consulting with your doctor.

6. Nutritious Snacks: Eat nuts and dried fruit as snacks, they are nutritious and energy-dense.

Though home remedies for malnutrition can help, clinical or medical intervention may be needed in severe cases where weight loss is drastic or life-threatening or if the individual is unable to eat due to illness. Cash Transfer Interventions and Food aid programs are also other effective ways to combat malnutrition in low-resource settings.

Note that all these remedies should be in line with one’s age, body weight, health condition, allergic responses and the intensity of malnutrition. Also, they should be taken under the guidance of a nutritionist or a healthcare professional. Regular exercise and healthy lifestyle choices are also recommended for overall health and wellness.

Categorized in:


Last Update: January 3, 2024