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Beat Malnutrition: Quick Healing Tips

In a world where health is vital, recovery from malnutrition becomes a journey of resilience, patience, and dedication. The query that often arises in the people’s minds who are on this progressive quest is, “Will I ever recover from this condition? How long is it going to take me to recover from malnutrition?”

Let us respond to this crucial question to inform you of the recovery time and provide some tips to eliminate this condition from your life.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition is simply the imbalance between nutrient requirement and nutrient intake. It includes both overnutrition and undernutrition, someone with excess or little food and nutrients. Our body needs essential nutrients in specific amounts; deficiency or excess of all or even one nutrient may put the body at risk and developing malnutrition.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese, while 462 million people are underweight globally. Malnutrition includes three broad categories:

1. Undernutrition:

Undernutrition further takes in four categories: wasting, stunting, underweight, and nutrient deficiencies.

Wasting is the recent and severe weight loss due to a disease when a person does not have enough food, usually identified as low weight-for-height.

On the other hand, stunting is chronic undernutrition linked to poor socioeconomic status, illnesses, poor maternal health, and improper feeding practices in infants and children, usually identified as low height-for-age.

Children with low weight-for-age come underweight, while nutrient deficiency refers to a person being deficient in one or more essential vitamins and minerals.

2. Overnutrition:

Overnutrition includes overweight and obesity when a person is overweight for height. It occurs when the nutrient intake is greater than the nutrient requirement and use. It is usually identified by calculating Body mass index (BMI); a person with a BMI of 25 or higher is overweight, and a BMI of 30 is obese.

3. Nutrient deficiencies:

It refers to micronutrient-related malnutrition, which includes severe deficiency or excess of essential vitamins and minerals. Iodine, vitamin A, and iron deficiencies are the most common in the world and are a concern of public health.

Who is more at risk of malnutrition?

Traditionally, malnutrition can affect anyone. The scarcity of knowledge, resources, and education may put anyone at risk of developing this condition. Some of the people who have more potential for malnutrition are:

Poor socioeconomic status:

Poverty, low family income and education, and less access to healthy food and clean water may lead to malnutrition irrespective of the country.

Children:

Infants and children are more susceptible to developing malnutrition, as they have more nutritional needs than adults.

Pregnant and lactating women:

Another vulnerable group, pregnant and lactating women who have to provide nutrition to their fetuses and infants have additional nutrient requirements and, therefore, are more vulnerable to malnutrition.

Elderly:

Due to reduced mobility, appetite, and less nutrient absorption, the nutrition of the elderly can deteriorate.

Chronically ill:

Chronic diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and mental disorders may put a person more at risk of developing malnutrition.

Food choices:

Consuming fatty foods often due to low income, time, or any other reason may lead to weight gain and cause obesity.

Sedentary lifestyle:

A sedentary lifestyle due to work, health, and social factors is another potential factor causing weight gain and leading to malnutrition.

Symptoms and causes:

Symptoms:

The signs of malnutrition may look like this:

  • Low body weight
  • Depleted muscle mass
  • Edema on the face and belly
  • Stunted growth in children
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Dry and coarse skin
  • Brittle hair, hair, and hair pigment loss
  • Irritability
  • Frequent infections
  • Low heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Low body temperature
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance (diabetes)
  • Cardiovascular diseases

Causes:

Let’s discuss what factors lead to malnutrition:

  • Less financial resources
  • Low access to nutritious food
  • Low food intake
  • Medical conditions that make eating difficult e.g. nausea and vomiting
  • Medical conditions that exhaust calories e.g. diarrhea and cancer
  • Mental health
  • Eating disorders
  • Nutrient malabsorption
  • Restricted diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Hypothyroidism, as it slows down metabolism
  • Stress eating
  • Binge eating
  • Overuse of dietary supplements

Diagnosis and treatment:

Diagnosis:

Physical observation and anthropometric assessment including weight, height, BMI, and mid-arm circumference in children, may be assessed to check the nutritional status. For micronutrient deficiencies or overnutrition, the physician may order a few blood tests after checking the physical symptoms for an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment:

Undernutrition is treated by providing appropriate high-calorie nutrition formula, diet, and nutritional supplements. It needs to be done under strict medical observation to manage the complications of refeeding syndrome, as refeeding in the first few days can be critical for the body to have the capability to adapt to different circumstances.

Overnutrition is managed by helping the patient lose weight and manage lifestyle changes. The treatment includes a customized diet plan, exercise, and medications. It is easier to lose weight than to maintain that weight, so for long-term lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy and counseling are done to prevent the individual from relapsing.

Time to recover from malnutrition:

Now that we have discussed the background of malnutrition, let’s come to our main topic. How long does it take to recover from this condition?

Malnutrition recovery depends on the severity of the disease, underlying conditions, and the person’s overall health. Typically, mild cases take a few weeks to a couple of months to resolve, while it takes months to reverse the effects of severe malnutrition and regain the depleted nutrients and physical condition. However, the combination of nutrient-dense whole foods and medications can certainly help the body recover from this severe condition.

Studies have exhibited variable timeframes required to recover from undernutrition. Malnutrition affects all groups of people, but infants and young children are more susceptible and require extra care in treatment. Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) has affected 24 million children under the age of five years and at least 1 million deaths every year.

A study carried out in Northwest Ethiopia on the recovery time of SAM in children between 6-59 months showed that out of 100%, only half of the children with no other disease symptoms regained nutritional recovery within 16 days (1). Another study reported similar findings, where therapeutic feedings showed recovery within 16 days in SAM children (2).

Another retrospective cohort Ethiopian study revealed that moderate to mild acute malnourished children recover in 16 weeks with proper nutrition and nutritional supplements (3). Moreover, children with SAM start to show low physical activity that starts 8 to 10 days after admission to the hospital (4).

The data on the nutritional status of children post-discharge is scarce; more prospective studies are required to assess the vulnerability after nutritional care, morbidity and mortality risk, and stunting.

Coming towards the recovery time in adults, MAM and SAM in adults take more time to heal than children. A retrospective study carried out on malnourished adults with infection showed a high recovery rate with 65 days recovery in moderate acute malnourishment and 145 days recovery in severe acute malnourishment (5).

Managing and treating malnourished children and adults is a critical job, as malnourished children have poor mental health, low school achievement, and behavioral abnormalities. The undernourished child often leads to an adult with fat accumulation, low energy expenditure, insulin resistance, hypertension, dyslipidemia, or other abnormalities.

The literature regarding the long-term effects of malnutrition in children is scarce, however, a handful of studies done on this topic revealed that with proper nutritional and medicinal care in malnourished children, it is possible to live a healthy life as an adult.

Tips to recover from malnutrition:

Let’s come towards the strategies or tips that can be beneficial in addressing malnutrition.

Consult a doctor:

Consulting a physician both for children and adults, should be the first step to take in treating malnutrition. They are the ones who will further refer you to a nutritionist or other health care providers after diagnosing your disease.

Eat a balanced diet:

Consuming a balanced diet by includes all the major nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water, fortified foods for extra nutrients, and energy-dense nutrients should be our priority in treating this illness. Follow the recommended calorie count for your age and include:

  • At least 8 servings of whole and starchy grains
  • 5 servings of vegetables and fruits in your everyday diet
  • 6-8 servings of protein from chicken, beef, and fish
  • 3 servings of dairy per day

Choose a nutritional supplement:

To ensure the intake of all essential nutrients, it is necessary to discuss with your doctor a suitable nutritional supplement aside from your usual balanced diet.

Stay hydrated:

Drink at least 8 glasses of water and other liquids per day to avoid dehydration.

Medications:

Take your medications seriously if you wish to recover from malnutrition. Take your prescribed medications and IVs daily as per the required time for quick healing.

Ultimately, malnutrition is a multifaceted condition with unique healing durations for every individual. Depending on the intensity of the disease, overall health, socioeconomic status, and following a personalized health plan, the recovery is different for every person. Consulting a physician on time, following a diet plan, and having a healthy lifestyle can help ease the pathway toward a healthy and nutritious life.  

References:

  1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-018-0224-0
  2. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12887-023-04144-5
  3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2022.914837
  4. https://doi.org/10.1111/tmi.13022
  5. https://doi.org/10.2147/HIV.S366655
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