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Causes of Kwashiorkor

By Gianna Rose

Kwashiorkor is a type of severe malnutrition caused by insufficient protein intake. Sufferers of kwashiorkor exhibit muscle wasting, a protruding abdomen, swelling and protruding ribs and facial bones, according to MedlinePlus. Although this disease is seen more frequently in poor countries with a limited supply of food, protein intake can be inadequate for other reasons in wealthier nations.

Changes with Aging

At least 50 percent of elderly people in hospitals and up to 59 percent in nursing homes do not have their nutritional needs met, according to Merck Manual of Geriatrics. Changes in appetite and hormones, dental problems, difficulty swallowing, strokes, dry mouth and certain medications all can cause a risk of malnutrition. Depression is the major cause of inadequate food intake, Merck says. Approximately 16 percent of the elderly living in the community also have an inadequate diet, sometimes because of difficulty affording, obtaining and preparing food. Kwashiorkor may develop if protein intake is insufficient for any of these reasons.

Weight Loss Surgery

Weight loss surgery procedures create alterations in the stomach and small intestines that restrict the amount of food that can be consumed and that change the digestive process, causing a reduction in the amount of calories and nutrients absorbed by the body. Malnutrition is a possible complication of bariatric surgery if the patient doesn't adhere to post-surgical dietary guidelines, notes the Department of Health and Human Services. Kwashiorkor may occur and cause permanent damage to the neurological system.

Lack of Nutritional Knowledge

Lack of knowledge about proper nutrition also can lead to inadequate protein in the diet. A diet made up mainly of carbohydrates can cause kwashiorkor. Twelve percent of total calories in the diet should come from protein, MedlinePlus says.

Inappropriate Infant Feedings

Kwashiorkor can occur in infants who are given beverages low in protein, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documenting severe malnutrition among children in the state of Georgia in 1999. One child in the report suffered kwashiorkor from being fed a rice beverage low in protein instead of an appropriate baby formula or breast milk.

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