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Forms of Malnutrition

By Robin Elizabeth Margolis

The World Food Programme, a United Nations agency, has identified five main types of malnutrition as the most deadly forms: protein energy malnutrition, in which the body lacks sufficient quantities of all major macronutrients, and deficiencies in iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc. If your diet is lacking in important nutrients, you may be malnourished even if your appearance is normal.

Protein Energy Malnutrition

Protein energy malnutrition, also known as starvation, is defined as a diet with insufficient amounts of all the major macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. A starving person becomes skeletally thin and weak and is in danger of death. Protein energy malnutrition usually is seen during famines in Third-World countries and in eating disorders in Western societies. If you or a loved one experiences protein energy malnutrition, seek immediate medical help.

Iron Deficiency

Iron is a mineral that helps red blood cells transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. An iron-deficient diet can result in anemia, a condition in which your body does not make enough red blood cells. “Iron and Iron Deficiency,” an essay from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes anemia symptoms as fatigue, difficulty in maintaining body temperature and a drop in immune-system efficiency, resulting in more infections. Stopping or preventing anemia requires ingestion of more iron-rich foods, such as eggs, nuts, fish, milk products, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A’s most important function is as a building block in the structure of your eyes, according to the Merck Manual. Symptoms of deficiency include seeing poorly at night, blindness, dry skin, respiratory infections and an impaired immune system. Vitamin A deficiency can be reversed or prevented by eating foods that contain a lot of vitamin A, including carrots, green leafy vegetables, colored fruits, such as oranges and papayas, yellow vegetables, such as squash or pumpkin, liver, egg yolks and fish-liver oils, as well as milk and cereals with added vitamin A.

Iodine Deficiency

Iodine is a chemical that your thyroid gland uses to produce hormones that regulate body metabolism. A University of Michigan Health system essay, “Iodine Deficiency,” notes that, when your body does not receive enough iodine, you can develop a swelling on your neck, fatigue, depression and, in severe cases, a drop in body temperature and heart failure. A shortage of iodine can be reversed or prevented by eating foods that are high in iodine, such as seafood and dairy products, or by adding iodized table salt to your foods.

Zinc Deficiency

The mineral zinc is necessary for proper function of your immune system. Zinc also helps cells divide and grow and assists the body in healing wounds. Deficiency symptoms include frequent infections, hair loss, poor appetite, problems in tasting and smelling and long healing times for wounds. Zinc deficiency can be stopped or prevented by eating nuts, legumes, yeast and whole grains. Zinc is also found in beef, pork and lamb, according to the Medline Plus essay, “Zinc in Diet.”

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