VIII. Jaqueline Davis & Brian Yuen

Malnutrition and its Effects on the Body

malnutrition info

Protein malnutrition: Insufficient intake of nitrogen-containing food (protein) to maintain a nitrogen balance or nitrogen equilibrium. Children are particularly prone to develop protein malnutrition. To grow, children have to consume enough nitrogen-containing food (protein) to maintain a positive nitrogen balance, whereas adults need only be in nitrogen equilibrium.[[#_ftn1|[1]]]

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines malnutrition as "the cellular imbalance between the supply of nutrients and energy and the body's demand for them to ensure growth, maintenance, and specific functions." Malnutrition has two forms: protein malnutrition (kwashiorkor) and protein-calorie (marasmus) malnutrition. Marasmus has to do with an inadequate intake of protein the calories while Kawashiorkor includes inadequate protein intake with reasonable caloric, energy, and intake.


Kwashiorkor has more complex symptoms that Marasmus. edema, the increase of interstitial fluid in any organ — swelling[[#_ftn3|[3]]], hypoalbuminemia, a medical condition where levels of albumin in blood serum are abnormally low and dermatitis[[#_ftn4|[4]]], inflammation of the skin. [[#_ftn5|[5]]]
Marked hypoalbuminemia.

  • Anemia.
  • Edema.
  • Muscle atrophy.
  • Delayed wound healing.

Distinguishes Kwashiorkor from Marasmus
  • Massive edema of the hands and feet.
  • Profound irritability.
  • Anorexia.
  • Dermatologic symptoms (desquamative rash, hypopigmentation).
  • Alopecia or hair discoloration.
  • Fatty liver.
  • Loss of muscle tone.
  • Anemia and low blood concentrations of albumin, glucose, potassium, and magnesium.


How is malnutrition treated? Treatment for malnutrition depends on the cause. You will need to work closely with your caregiver during your treatment. Treatment for malnutrition may include increasing the calories and nutrients in your diet.
  • You may need to increase the calories and nutrients in your diet by doing one or more of the following:
    • forsythe.jpgEat large meals and snacks between meals.

    • Eat small meals often throughout the day if you have trouble eating large meals.

    • Eat or drink a nutrition supplement if you have trouble eating the right kinds and amounts of food.

  • You may need to take vitamin or mineral supplements if your body is low in vitamins and minerals. Your caregiver may treat you with medicines if you have a health problem that is causing your malnutrition.

  • If you cannot buy or prepare the right kinds of foods, talk to your caregiver. Ask for information about community programs that can help you.


Malnutrition's Effects on the Body

Different organs and bodily functions are effected by malnutrition. Sometimes these health issues can be reversed with therapy and better eating and nutrition habbits, but others cannot be reversed and stay with the person for the rest of their lives.

The Brain:

  • Certain foods contain the starting materials for some neurotransmitters. If a diet is deficient in certain precursors, the brain will not be able to produce some neurotransmitters. Neurological and mental disorders may occur when the balance of neurotransmitters is upset
  • Protein malnutrition can decrease brain weight which allows scientists to hypothesize that malnutrition may affect the excitatory and inhibitory interaction.
  • Zinc helps to prevent depression
  • The Nutrition Bulletin shows some of the effects of malnutrition on the developing brain

Eyes, Ears, and Nose:

  • Vitamin A Deficiency can cause blindness
  • Lack of Vitamin B 2 causes visual problems such as burning, itching of the eyes, and sensitivity to light
  • Low Magnesium can cause cataracts
  • Diabetes can increase the chance of getting a detached retina
  • Zinc deficiency can cause taste and smell loss

Nervous System, Muscles, and Movement:

  • Lack of Vitamin B 1 can cause a loss of motor coordination and sometimes even paralysis
  • Lack of vitamin B 12 can cause causes blood disorders, pain and abnormal touch sensations and movement problems including weakness, degeneration of white matter in the cerebral hemispheres, optic nerves, spinal cord.
  • Lack of Vitamin E affects peripheral nerves and the nerve supply to muscle,which causes walking and balance problems
  • Magnesium and calcium are both needed for strong bones and healthy muscles


  • When lacking protein, inner organs cannot grow to normal size and cannot do their jobs efficiently ,especially for liver
    lacking vitamins ,they could deteriorate ,leading to chronic diseases, cause cells develop and work depending on so many chemistry reactions that need special enzymes to support and catalyze
  • When severely under nourished, which causes dehydration, horrible blood clots are created in the brain. When the body is severely dehydrated the blood vessels turn to mush and then the kidney and liver crystallizes and shut down and then the heart stops


  • Babies born from mothers with poor nutrition can have some form of mental retardation or behavioral problems
  • In some cases there are not enough nutrients for the organs and brain to properly form
  • Lack of Zinc can cause brain defects in babies
  • A lack of Biotin can cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome