Effects of Malnutrition

When your body is deficient in important vitamins, nutrients and minerals, your body will suffer from the effects of malnutrition. Whether for the short or long term, a diet void of the healthy elements you need to survive can result in damage to your vital organs.

If you suffer from malnutrition, all your organs are affected. Your brain, liver, kidneys and heart are in danger of irreversible harm. Whether you are underweight already, at normal weight or are overweight makes little difference since your nutritional health is based on calories and nutrients.

Overall Effects of Malnutrition

1.      Body Mass Changes

Lean body mass is naturally lost as you age but it can also be lost when you are malnourished. If you suffer from over nutrition, your internal organs will have excess fat surrounding them. Undernutrition leads to a weak immune system, making you more vulnerable to disease and infection.

2.      Reduced Wound Healing

If your body does not receive the nutrients it needs, it cannot properly heal itself. This leads to a longer recovery time and susceptibility to infection. Over nutrition negatively affects wound healing because it impedes white blood cells, oxygen and nutrients' abilities to get where needed.

3.      Severe Weight Loss

Severe weight loss is also known as cachexia. This is one of the effects of malnutrition that is quite evident in a person’s appearance. Your muscles will shrink and your bones will protrude. You will have an increased chance of a hip fracture or pressure ulcers. Your hair will fall out and your skin will be rough and dry.

4.      Failure of Organs

If you suffer from malnutrition, you have an increased risk of organ failure. You will be more susceptible to jaundice, edema, liver failure, anemia, pneumonia, heart failure, gastroenteritis, kidney failure, sepsis and urinary tract infections. If you suffer from obesity, also known as over nutrition, you have a greater chance of suffering from a stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers and diabetes.

5.      Stress

Malnutrition can lead to loss of concentration, memory and focus, which can result in increased stress. Certain diagnostic tests should be avoided, such as ADHD, until a person's nutritional health can be evaluated.

6.      Emotional Instability

Some of the effects of malnutrition are behavioral. When your body's organs are affected, it disturbs your mental balance. You can experience several emotional irregularities including depression, irritability, rigidity, overwhelming sadness and anxiety. If you suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, your symptoms may become worse.

Effects of Malnutrition on Children

Children suffering malnutrition can develop ailments, disorders and diseases that may affect them for the rest of their lives.

Short-Term Implications

  • Immune System: When children suffer from malnutrition, they also suffer from a weakened immune system. Because of this, they have an increased risk of developing infections or contracting contagious diseases. If their living conditions are unsanitary, they are more apt to get infections from others in the home. These children tend to have a deficiency in vitamin A, zinc and iron.
  • Poor Growth: When children do not receive a sufficient amount of nutrients while they are growing, they may suffer from growth retardation. Because they are malnourished, they have a greater chance of getting gastrointestinal infections. This can make their condition even worse because while they are not getting enough nutrients, they also cannot properly absorb the ones that they do get.

Long-Term Implications

  • Poor Growth: Long term growth complications can arise because of deficiencies in vitamins A and D, magnesium, zinc, magnesium and iron. This can lead to disorders like anorexia or a protein deficiency resulting in poor bone development. If they remain in their current living conditions and do not receive proper nutrients, they will never be able to recover to their full growth potential. Often these children suffer from stunted height.
  • Brain Development: If a child is malnourished, the brain is negatively affected and can suffer from insufficient development. This can result in ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), learning disabilities, low IQ scores, poor language development, memory and focus problems, low problem-solving and weakened school performance.

Treating Malnourished Children

If caught early enough, several of the effects of malnutrition can be reversed. This is especially so if the situation was only short term.

A child suspected of being malnourished should be evaluated by a doctor. The doctor will be able to conduct a physical exam and check for underlying conditions that lead to malnutrition. He will ask questions about the child's diet and eating habits. In addition, the doctor may also order blood tests, measure the child's body mass index, check height and weight and order other tests as deemed necessary.

If an underlying condition is causing the child's condition, the doctor will recommend ways to help combat the malnutrition, which may include a referral to a specialist. If the problem lies with the amount and type of food the child eats, a dietitian will come up with a food plan and may recommend vitamin and mineral supplements.


The best way to treat malnutrition is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. A balanced diet is needed to maintain good health. Consumption of a variety of foods will help you accomplish this goal. The food groups in a healthy diet include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, dairy, fruit and vegetables.

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