Malnutrition is physical state of unbalance

By Lindsay Adams
Oct. 11, 2016 at midnight

Lindsay Adams

Lindsay Adams   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

When you hear the word "malnutrition," the first thing that probably comes to mind are those sad commercials with children from parts of the world with protruding bellies.

While these often are truly examples of malnutrition, what exactly does malnutrition mean? By definition, malnutrition is a physical state of unbalanced nutrition. Malnutrition is more common than you may think and can cause very severe issues. It can even ultimately lead to death if not addressed. Undernutrition or overnutrition are both considered types of malnutrition.

Undernutrition can be caused when an individual has an overall lack of calories, protein or other nutrients in his or her diet. Overnutrition, on the other hand, can be caused when someone eats too many calories.

You do not have to be underweight to be considered malnourished. It is possible, and common, to be both obese and malnourished, or you may even maintain an appropriate weight but be malnourished, as well.

This can occur when a person consumes excess or adequate calories but is not obtaining proper nutrients from the foods being consumed. For example, a diet comprised of minimal fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or nuts, and more focused on processed snack foods, is likely to lead to deficiencies of a number of nutrients that results in overall malnutrition.

The term "clinical malnutrition" occurs when a hospitalized patient becomes malnourished. Estimates show a potential 15 to 60 percent of hospitalized patients are malnourished. When the body is ill or in a state of physical stress as it commonly would be in the hospital, we are more likely to become malnourished. Examples of reasons a person may become malnourished in the hospital include poor intake due to decreased appetite from being sick, malabsorption because of certain medical conditions such as gastrointestinal obstructions or bleeds, or increased nutritional needs for healing after an injury or procedure.

It is crucial to diagnose malnutrition quickly and provide appropriate interventions, two of the primary goals of registered dietitians in hospitals.

Malnutrition in hospital patients increases the risk of death, delayed recovery, length of stay and health care costs. Registered dietitians assess malnutrition status by investigating weight history, dietary intake, lab values, as well as physical exams to look for muscle and fat losses, fluid accumulation and hand grip strength. A dietitian would then implement interventions as part of a patient's medical nutrition therapy plan to help improve nutritional status, and therefore overall healing and recovery.

Other common causes of malnutrition can be eating disorders, severe infections or injury.

Whether hospitalized or not, if you think you or someone you know may be malnourished, contact a registered dietitian to help assess the situation and make recommendations to be sure nutrition needs are being met. You'd be surprised how much better you may feel with the proper nutrition.

Lindsay Adams is a registered dietitian with. Detar Healthcare System. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.


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