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Malnutrition: The Risks, Symptoms, and Treatment

In this article

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition happens when your diet does not contain the right amount of nutrients for optimal health. “It is a state of nourishment in which a deficiency, excess or imbalance of nutrients causes adverse effects on body form and physiology, function, and clinical outcome.” [1] Even though malnutrition also includes overnutrition, this article will focus on undernutrition; not getting enough nutrients.


With undernutrition, there is a lack of adequate energy, protein, and micronutrients to meet the basic requirements for body maintenance, growth, and development. It can be caused by insufficient food intake (undernourishment), poor absorption or poor use of consumed nutrients. [2]


11% of the world’s population are undernourished. [3] Malnutrition can lead to short- and long-term health problems, slow recovery from wounds and illnesses, a higher risk of infection, and difficulty focusing.


Symptoms of Malnutrition

When people are malnourished their bones will protrude, their skin becomes thin and dry, and muscle and fat tissue will waste away. Common signs of malnutrition include: [4]

  • Low body weight and unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weakness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Delayed wound healing

Malnourished people may have one or several of these symptoms. Some types of malnutrition related diseases result from a combination of nutrient deficiencies. However, most common deficiencies are on micronutrient level, meaning there is mainly a deficiency regarding one particular nutrient.



Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies

In the most severe cases, malnutrition can lead to illness and diseases. With so many different situations leading to malnutrition, there are all kinds of nutritional deficiencies, which can manifest in different ways.


Malnourished people may experience one or several of the symptoms mentioned before. Some types of malnutrition related diseases result from a combination of nutrient deficiencies. Whoever, most common deficiencies are on micronutrient level, meaning there is mainly a deficiency regarding one particular nutrient. [5] One study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, studied over 16,000 individuals and found that many are not meeting the minimum recommended thresholds for micronutrient intake. [6]


Nutrient                  % of Americans Deficient                     Nutrient             % of Americans Deficient

Vitamin D                93%                                                          Calcium                49%

Vitamin E                 91%                                                          Vitamin A             45%

Magnesium            55%                                                           Vitamin C             37%

Source: Fulgoni et al. (2011)


Symptoms of the most common deficiencies include:

  • Iron: Iron helps your body make red blood cells. When you are iron-deficient, you lack red blood cells, and the few that you do have, are less efficient at delivering oxygen to your tissues and organs. Symptoms may include extreme fatigue, pale skin, and dizziness. [7]
  • Vitamin A: Vitamin A is crucial for eye health and functioning and plays a part in strengthening the immune system. Symptoms may include dry eyes, night blindness, increased risk of infection. [7][9]
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for bone health and helps the body maintain the right levels of calcium to regulate the development of teeth and bones. Symptoms may include mood changes, bone & joint pain, and fatigue. [9]
  • Calcium: Calcium helps develop strong bones and teeth, as well as helping your heart, nerves, and muscles work the way they should. A lack of calcium in your diet, may cause the body to use the calcium from your bones instead, which leads to bone loss. Symptoms may include muscle spasms, memory loss, and numbness in hands, feet, and face. [10]


Malnutrition & surgery

Up to 50% of patients are malnourished at the time of surgery. Patients who are malnourished have poorer outcomes; they will not heal as effectively as a well-nourished patient. During trauma, the body’s nutritional needs significantly increase. The body enters a higher metabolic state and requires more energy. Malnourished patients have a 5-7 times greater rate of complications. [11]


Surgery itself leads to inflammation and metabolic stress response. The patients lean on existing nutrition reserves to manage the demands of surgery and to activate the recovery process. If nutrition reserves are already low and there is poor eating after a surgery, the body may start breaking down existing muscles and tissue for energy to support the healing process. [11][12]


Nutritional deficiencies impede the natural progression of healing, including elevating the risk of infection and lengthening recovery periods. Better nutrition leads to better healing and less readmissions; a patient that is nutritionally optimized will heal better and faster, and have better long-term outcomes. [13] When taking MEND Repair & Recover daily, your body is supplemented with clinically studied nutrients to support tissue repair and optimize healing. 


Studies have shown that supplementation of Essential Amino Acids reduces muscle atrophy and weakness, and supports muscle cell growth, leading to lower costs and less complications. That is why MEND Joint Replacement contains a blend of EAAs; to preserve muscle and help you recover faster after surgery [14]


Similarly, MEND Cosmetic contains ingredients like arnica, collagen, and bromelain to help you recover faster from cosmetic procedures. When the patient is nutritionally optimized, they will experience enhanced tissue healing and less bruising. [15][16]



Treatment of Malnutrition

The best way to prevent malnutrition is by eating a varied diet that includes enough carbs, protein, fats, vitamin, minerals, and water. Depending on the severity of the deficiency, your doctor or dietitian can help you put together an inclusive diet, based on your specific needs.


If you are unable to meet the body’s nutritional needs through your regular diet, it might be beneficial to take medical nutrition products to supplement your diet. [17] However, with so many supplement products on the market, how are you to know which product is best for you? It is important to note if there is clinical evidence supporting the products and if the nutrients are in sufficient doses to be clinically efficacious.


MEND products meet the clinical and quality standards, and are being used by the leaders in orthopedics and physical therapy. MEND’s clinical nutrition for daily use is designed to combat chronic conditions, improve overall health, and fuel human performance. With 33 nutrients, MEND Regenerate is the best daily nutrition product for peak health. 


[1] Malnutrition screening in the elderly population
[2] Undernutrition
[3] Hunger and undernourishment
[4] Malnutrition symptoms
[5] Global burden of maternal and child undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies
[6] Food, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients?
[7] Nutritional deficiencies
[8] Vitamin A
[9] Vitamin D deficiency
[10] Calcium deficiency disease
[11] General nutrition & targeted nutrition
[12] Optimizing your nutrition status for a successful surgery
[13] Physical therapy and nutrition
[14] Essential amino acid supplementation associated with improved TKA recovery
[15] Arnica montana and tissue healing
[16] The critical role of nutrition in facial plastic surgery
[17] Disease related malnutrition