Malnutrition is the condition that develops when the body does not get the right amount of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.
Malnutrition occurs in people who are either under-nourished or over-nourished. Undernutrition is a consequence of consuming too few essential nutrients or using or excreting them more rapidly than they can be replaced.
Infants, young children, and teenagers need additional nutrients. So do women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Nutrient loss can be accelerated by diarrhea, excessive sweating, heavy bleeding (hemorrhage), or kidney failure. Nutrient intake can be restricted by age-related illnesses and conditions, excessive dieting, severe injury, serious illness, a lengthy hospitalization, or substance abuse.
The leading cause of death in children in developing countries is protein-energy malnutrition. This type of malnutrition is the result of inadequate intake of calories from proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Children who are already undernourished can suffer from protein-energy malnutrition when rapid growth, infection, or disease increases the need for protein and essential minerals.
In the United States, nutritional deficiencies have generally been replaced by dietary imbalances or excesses associated with many of the leading causes of death and disability. Overnutrition results from eating too much, eating too many of the wrong things, not exercising enough, or taking too many vitamins or other dietary replacements.
Risk of overnutrition is also increased by being more than 20% overweight, consuming a diet high in fat and salt, and taking high doses of:
nicotinic acid (niacin) to lower elevated cholesterol levels
vitamin B6 to relieve premenstrual syndrome
vitamin A to clear up skin problems
iron or other trace minerals not prescribed by a doctor
Nutritional disorders can affect any system in the body and the senses of sight, taste, and smell. Malnutrition begins with changes in nutrient levels in blood and tissues. Alterations in enzyme levels, tissue abnormalities, and organ malfunction may be followed by illness and death.
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