Nutritional Deficiency: A Guide on What You Need to Know


When we hear the phrase nutritional deficiency, two other words come to mind; malnutrition and undernutrition. For you to understand the difference, malnutrition can be eating food with poor nutrients or lacking enough food to supply the body necessities. It could also be a higher intake of nutrients or energy in which case the body discards the excess.

Undernutrition, on the other hand, is mainly caused by lack of food. The results here are what we see in regions where food is scarce, and survival is for more than the fittest. Now, if you are facing food deficiency or attending to someone suffering the same, what you get is slow growth of the victim while too much food that is not well balanced makes you obese. Too much food with low nutrients can also cause undernutrition since the body is only getting a little of what it requires or if the patient has an illness that deters proper absorption of nutrients.

In this broad topic, this article will focus on the following:

  • What is nutritional deficiency?
  • Effects of malnutrition
  • Types of malnutrition
  • 7 nutrient deficiencies you need to be aware of
  • 5 causes of nutritional deficiency
  • 10 diseases brought by nutritional deficiency
  • Nutrient deficiency symptoms
  • Diagnosing nutritional deficiency
  • How to treat nutritional deficiency
  • Preventing nutritional deficiency

We are all looking forward to raising ourselves better and our families too. So, go through this guideline to see how you can adjust what you eat and drink apart from attending to nutritional deficiency victims.

What Is Nutritional Deficiency?

Types of Malnutrition

People lack to eat enough food or maybe overeating of the wrong type of food. Subsequently, this leads to undernutrition and malnutrition respectively. Nutritional deficiencies are attributed to the body not absorbing the essential nutrients or a poor diet. A poor diet may lead to insufficiency of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.

Malnutrition is caused by a specific nutrient deficiency in the diet. For example, an insufficient amount of protein can lead to kwashiorkor which is characterized by loss of muscle mass and an enlarged tummy. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy mainly with symptoms of fatigue.

World Health Organization (WHO), reports that about 462 million people are malnourished globally. Their research shows 159 million children worldwide have stunted growth due to lack of nutrition.

Lack of proper nutrition during childhood not only causes long-term health issues but also leads to learning difficulties and lack of work opportunities later in life. Malnourished children frequently give birth to smaller babies when they attain adulthood.

Malnutrition lengthens the recovery period from illnesses to wounds. More to causing nutritional deficiency diseases, it can also increase measles, malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea complications. In general, lack of nutrition weakens the body’s immune system.

Effects of Malnutrition

The impact of malnutrition especially when combined with starvation can be devastating for both children and adults not to mention pregnant women. Their far-reaching socioeconomic consequences are also very severe.

  • Effects on children: It causes stunted growth, mental retardation, weak immune system, gastrointestinal tract infections, micronutrient deficiency, anemia, and death if there is no remedy.
  • Effects on pregnant women: Apart from the deterioration of the child’s health, the pregnant woman may experience harsh labor, postpartum hemorrhage and also anemia.
  • General impacts: Weak immunity, apathy, depression, inactivity of muscles and kidney function impairment.

4 Types of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can be brought about by lack of nutrients and also excessive intake of the same which is contrary to public knowledge. However, malnutrition caused by lack of nutrition is of primary global concern. There are two major types of malnutrition, namely; protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency diseases. They include:

1)       Growth failure malnutrition

The affected individual fails to grow and develop in stature and weight as expected according to his/her age and gender.

2)      Acute malnutrition or wasting

Severe lack of nutrition causes it. The individual experiences rapid weight loss or fails to gain weight as age progresses. It shows in three nutritional deficiency types;

  • Marasmus: In this condition, the body tries to make up for the lack of nutrition by degenerating the body fats and tissues. Soon the functioning of body systems slows down as the body’s immune system begin to deteriorate as fast.
  • Kwashiorkor: It is characterized by fluid retention in the legs and feet. This condition is referred to as bilateral pitting edema, and it may make an undernourished child seem plump.
  • Marasmic-kwashiorkor: The body experiences both extreme wasting and edema.

3)      Chronic malnutrition or stunting

In this case, the consequences are long-lasting, and it usually occurs over an extended period. Often beginning as early as birth, the child experiences stunted growth. It is mainly caused by poor maternal health; Infections, poor breastfeeding and nutrients deficiencies. It is vital to tackle this as early as stunting is irreversible after a certain age. Pregnant women and girls should, therefore, get the best medical treatment.

4)     Micronutrient malnutrition

The individual may experience severe to moderate deficiencies of vitamin A, B, C and D, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Iodine, Folate and Selenium. In time a healthy person becomes malnourished as these minerals and vitamins are crucial in various body processes.

7 Nutrient Deficiencies You Need To Be Aware Of

7 Nutrient Deficiencies You Need To Be Aware Of

Here are some of the vital nutrients that you always need to check on to prevent the haunting malnutrition disorders especially in growing children.

1. Vitamin D: For strong bones

Somewhere along our learning, our biology teachers mentioned something about vitamin D and studying your bones. Lack of this vital vitamin leads to slow muscle aching and general weakness. If it goes on to be inadequate, the bones will eventually soften according to medical research.

Vitamin D deficiency remedies:

  • Yogurt or fortified milk three times a day.
  • Fatty fish such as tuna or salmon two times a week.
  • Basking in the sun in the morning between 7.00am and 10.00am.

2. Iron: For oxygen supply in the blood

Well, it does not supply the oxygen, but iron is essential in producing the red blood cells. They are responsible for transporting oxygen to all body parts, and when there is a deficiency, you become vulnerable to contracting anemia. Symptoms of this complication include having a pale skin, dull hair that is sparse and thin and body fatigue.

Iron deficiency remedies:

  • Cereal with iron as one of the ingredients
  • Beans – concentrate on kidney beans, white beans and chickpeas
  • Beef
  • Oysters
  • Spinach
  • Lentils

3. Calcium: Suitable for strengthening musculoskeletal system

Calcium is another crucial component of the human body since it helps maintain healthy bones making it a vitamin D ally and also the control of how the nerves and muscles function. The inadequacy of this element can lead to having inconsistencies with heart rhythms and muscle cramping.

Calcium deficiency remedies:

  • Yogurt or milk three times a day
  • Dark leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • Cheese
  • Orange juice that is calcium-fortified

4. Vitamin B12: DNA and brain chemicals production

This vitamin is crucial in the making of DNA, and it also aids in the generation of neurotransmitters. According to a health article published by Harvard, vegans are at a higher risk of having vitamin B12 deficiency since plants do not supply it. Also, those of us who have had a weight loss surgery before, your body may become deficient in this vitamin. The procedure involved makes it hard for the body to obtain the B12 from the food sources.

Symptoms that occur as a result of severe deficiency include numb hands and legs, anemia, general body weakness, difficulty balancing as you walk, fatigue, swollen tongue, paranoia, hallucinations and memory loss.

Vitamin B12 remedies:

  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Chicken
  • Yogurt
  • B12-fortified vegan food products like meat substitutes, breakfast cereals and non-dairy milk.

5. Potassium: For proper nerve and muscle functioning

This component gives the body a great deal. It helps in the betterment of the heart, muscles and nerves so that they can all work as intended. According to the US national medicine library, short-term causes of potassium deficiency include sweating excessively, vomiting and diarrhea especially in infants and older children, kidney disease, taking certain antibiotics, or eating disorders which could be a chronic condition.

An individual facing potassium deficiency will appear weak, face mild to severe constipation, and at times have an abnormal heart rate not forgetting feeling numb.

Potassium deficiency remedies:

  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Bananas
  • Milk
  • Peas

6. Magnesium: May help in raising energy levels

The element aids in having healthy bones and producing energy in the body. Healthy individuals may not face the deficiency but taking specific types of medications, too much alcohol consumption, or suffering from particular health complications could lead to affecting the magnesium level in the body.

Deficiency can lead to vomiting and nausea, weakness, loss of appetite and general body fatigue. The severity of being inadequate can result to muscle cramps, abnormal heart rate, numbness, seizures, change in personality not to mention that it could also be a leading factor towards low amounts of calcium or potassium.

Magnesium deficiency remedies:

  • Cashews
  • Spinach
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Edamame
  • Black beans

7. Folic acid: Essential for childbearing women

Also known as folate, it is a vital vitamin to women who are able to give birth. Prenatal visits will have this vitamin recommended in large doses. Its deficiency on the other hand leads to reduced number of cells and enlargement of red blood cells. This can result to neural tube flaws for the fetus. Symptoms to look out for include mouth sores, fatigue, deprived growth (both you and the baby if pregnant) and skin, hair and nails color change.

Health specialists advice all women to always get at least 400mcg of folate regardless of the source.

Folic acid deficiency food remedies:

  • Beans
  • Leafy greens
  • Lentils
  • Fortified cereals

5 Causes of Nutritional Deficiency

1) Inflammation

In this case, the focus is on systemic inflammation, not acute inflammation. In acute inflammation, when you cut your finger, a scab or bruise forms but heals after a few days. In systemic inflammation, it happens throughout the body based on your diet, lifestyle and exercise. In inflammation, the body faces a decrease in its ability to absorb nutrients. Your diet should be free of foods high in inflammatory compounds such as grains and sugar. Our small intestines have finger-like projections called microvilli which are necessary for absorbing nutrients. In inflammation, the microvilli being the vacuum cleaner get clogged and may eventually close up causing the absorption of nutrients to stop.

2)  Medications

It is widely known that drug intake can cause nutritional deficiency. Statin causes the most common medical induced nutritional deficiency. This medication controls the cholesterol produced by the liver but decreases the production of a nutrient, coQ10. Your body needs coQ10 for each heartbeat. Heart issues such as blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure can, therefore, be as a result of lack of the crucial nutrients the heart needs. CoQ10 is also vital for muscle production.  If you are on a statin prescription, you experience extra muscle soreness or infected muscle pain or rhabdomyolysis.

It is advisable to talk to a health care provider if on medication. Seek support if you are on medication that may cause nutritional deficiencies. If you want to get to the root of your condition, seek the doctor for a proper prescription.

3) Infections

Infections in the intestines are like low-grade inflammatory zombies. They can cause a drain in your adrenals as your immune system deteriorates. Infections range from parasitic, fungal and H pylori infection. If diagnosed and located it is easier to create a procedure for its removal.

4) Supplements

Even in the intake of high-quality organic foods, your diet frequently has gaps that need filling. High-quality supplements are essential in filling these holes. As people make mistakes in the food they take, it is crucial to avoid wrong supplementing. It is advisable to make changes in your diet, making sure you reinforce with the right supplements to prevent nutritional deficiencies caused by gaps in your diet.

5) Conventional foods

Conventional foods are not high in nutrition as organic foods. Our diets are filled with foods that we are used to which are often compromised as they are pumped with pesticides and herbicides. Farmers ignorantly put these chemicals in the soil which makes it devoid. Minerals in the ground are needed by the plants to produce a wide range of nutrients. In a study, soil devoid of manganese produced fruits and vegetables with 50-60% less vitamin C. Hence, there is lack of nutrition in foods grown in such conditions.

10 Diseases Brought By Nutritional Deficiency

The human body needs many different types of vitamins and minerals that are crucial for both body buildup and to counter ailments. This can be achieved through the intake of healthy and balanced diet otherwise, malnutrition and insufficiency of these essential elements can result in fatal diseases and conditions. To understand them deeply, you have to look into the cause, signs and symptoms and the treatment of these disorders.

1)       Depression


  • Deficiency of vitamin B7 or biotin

Signs and symptoms

  • Rapid hair loss, skin rashes, and mental illness


  • Consume food rich in biotin which includes dairy products, poultry items, peanuts, and nuts.
  • These must be supplemented with prescribed medication to ensure a full recovery.

2)      Rickets


  • Deficiency of vitamin D along with insufficient calcium and potassium.

Signs and symptoms

  • Weak, soft bones
  • Bowed legs and bone deformities


  • Basking in the sun which provides vitamin D.
  • Consistently intake meal rich in vitamin D such as oil, fish, liver and fortified dairy products.

3)      Beriberi


  • Lack of vitamin B1 or thiamine in the body.

Signs and symptoms

  • Modified muscle coordination
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Nerve degeneration.


  • Consumptions of food sufficient in thiamine such as meat, eggs, dried beans, whole grains in proper portions on a daily basis.

4)     Kwashiorkor


  • Lack of protein and energy in the body referred as malnutrition. Mainly affects children suffering from food deficiency.

Signs and symptoms

  • Swollen liver
  • Anorexia
  • Irritability and ulcerating dermatoses.


  • Feed on a healthy and balanced diet enhanced with proteins and carbohydrates like eggs, rice, and lentils etc.

5)      Scurvy


  • Low levels of vitamin c in the body hinder the production of collagen responsible for structural proteins that connect tissues.

Signs and symptoms

  • Decaying of the skin and gums
  • lag and failure to heal wounds
  • irregular structure of teeth and bones


  • Regularly consumption of vitamin c by taking citrus fruits like lemon, oranges, and strawberries.
  • Freshly broccoli is also vital.

6)     Pellagra


  • The absence of Niacin or vitamin B3 in the body which converts food into energy.
  • Also, reduction of amino acids, tryptophan, and lysine or extreme presence of lysine in the body leads to a low percentage of Niacin.

Signs and symptoms

  • Severe diarrhea
  • Dermatitis
  • Dementia and eventually death


  • Frequently eat food enriched with niacin. They include whole grains, peanuts, chicken, tuna, and mushrooms.
  • Vitamin B-3 supplements

7)      Anemia


  • Deficiency of iron resulting in decreasing the red blood cell count or hemoglobin in the body

Signs and Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Body weakness
  • whiteness and dyspnea of the skin


  • Maintain healthy body by occasionally taking iron supplements with food rich in iron such as squashes, tofu, bran nuts etc. It helps your body to make red blood cells.

8)     Xerophthalmia or night blindness


  • Shortage of vitamin A in the body crucial for eyesight

Signs and symptoms

  • Blindness due to the poor development.
  • Dryness and keratinization of epithelial tissue known as the chronic eye infection.
  • In severe conditions, it can result in total loss of eyesight.


  • Highly intake of natural food like, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupes, greens and leafy vegetables which increases the level of vitamin A in the body.
  • For a newborn child, breast milk is the best source of vitamin A.

9)     Goiter


  • Lack of iodine in the body which are essentials for normal cell metabolism. Mostly found in the area with iodine deficit soil

Signs and symptoms

  • Enlarged thyroid glands causing hypothyroidism
  • Reduced growth and development of infants
  • Mental retardation
  • Cretinism


  • Taking iodized salt and saltwater fish regularly

10)  Osteoporosis


  • Deficiency of vitamin D and calcium which are crucial for the growth of bones and spine.

Signs and Symptoms

  • The patient has weak, flaccid and brittle bones that lead to fractures and defects in the spine structure.


  • Consumption of spinach, milk, okra, bananas, soy etc.
  • Not forgetting taking sometime basking in the sun will significantly provide vitamin D and calcium essential for the development of bones and spines.

Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms

Determining whether your child or an adult is suffering from nutritional deficiency we look into the following signs and symptoms:

  • Poor and eventually loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and grumpiness
  • Frequent shivery feeling
  • Impotence during concentration
  • Higher chance of severe complications after surgery
  • Depression
  • Low sexual desire and infertility
  • Slow healing of wounds and cuts
  • Loss of body fat, tissue and muscle mass
  • High risk of falling sick with a more extended recovery period

However, in more critical cases of malnutrition, it can be characterized by the following advance signs and symptoms:

  • Breathlessness and difficulty during breathing
  • Dry, brittle hair which eventually starts falling out
  • Depressed cheeks and sunken eyes due to loss of facial fats
  • The skin appears to be lean, rigid, dehydrated and anemic

In time, the person may become unresponsive as a consequence of breathing problems and heart failure. During this severe stage, complete deprivation of food should be avoided to boost the immune system for the healing process. In children, it affects the growth rate by slowing it down drastically, tiredness and the hot-tempered mood is strongly seen. Also, the intellectual, social, mental and physiological simulation may be very slow which culminate in being a primary cause of learning handicap. A few among different cases, the probability of lasting effects on the brain and digestive system functionality may persevere even after a series of proper cure, however, under different conditions, these may prolong a lifetime. Moreover, adults with relentless malnutrition that initiated at a later stage of their lives are occasionally restored back to their healthy life after medication and healthy diet.

Diagnosing Nutritional Deficiency

Immediate diagnosis followed by correct treatment can help cure and prevent further malnutrition disorders.

Adults and children need to use different measures since the only recognized ways to detect nutritional deficiency are for the older generation – the use of Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool abbreviated as MUST among other screening instruments and methodologies.

For the grownups, here is a five-step procedure that healthcare specialists use to detect and rectify the complications.

  • Measure overall weight and height and calculate the BMI (body mass index) score.
  • Check for unintended weight loss percentage and give a score depending on the results. If for example, the unexpected loss is between 5-10%, the patients receive one as the score. A 10% weight loss, on the other hand, would yield a score of 2.
  • Look for any physical or mental health issues and provide the appropriate score. Achieving a score of 3 implies that the patient is intensely ill and has not taken any food for the past five days or more.
  • Calculate the overall score to determine the risk level. The specialist involved adds up the values availed in the first three steps.
  • Utilize the local care guidelines to formulate an appropriate repair plan. Low-risk malnutrition will have zero as the overall score. One implies that the risk is medium while 2 denoted a higher risk than the middle.

For children, they have a specialized formula for detecting cases of nutritional deficiency since using the MUST is not recommended. Studies in the UK resulted in the development of an NST; a nurse administered pediatric nutrition screening tool. During the initial test, the instrument had nutritional intake, clinical diagnosis and anthropometric measures as the determining elements. An overall score of three implied a nutritional risk.

The best advice is to talk to your physician so that you can find the best way to diagnose a child suffering from nutritional deficiency before designing a care plan.

How to Treat Nutritional Deficiency

How to Treat Nutritional Deficiency

Now, after screening the patient together with other procedures conducted during diagnosis, the following happens depending on the findings:

  • High-risk deficiency: The patient will receive the necessary treatment under a nutritionist’s supervision and maybe other specialists too. Here, ongoing care and monitor is vital.
  • Medium risk deficiency: Apart from screening once in a while, the patient will undergo a detailed observation which will result in 3-day documentation of his or her dietary approach.
  • Low-risk deficiency: There will be a constant screening schedule at home and hospital.

In all risk sets above, the specialist monitoring the progress needs to advise the victim about the right dietary approach.

The diet solution

Now, to prevent overeating with low nutrients or encountering a food deficiency, the nutritionist will tell you what is healthy to eat and when. Choosing the number of calories is essential so you can also get tips about measurements. If you are facing undernourishment, you might need more calories as a start.

Checking the progress

As we said earlier, calories and other nutrients need to be monitored so that changes can be done to pave the way for more improvement. If the patient is receiving artificial support, the progress should lead to eating normally soon afterwards.

Preventing Nutritional Deficiency

The answer is only one here, consume a balanced diet and go for a broad range of sources. Having the appropriate amount of fats, carbohydrates, minerals, proteins and vitamins in your meals leads to better health and also give the body ability to fight ailments.

Taking many fluids is also essential since the body needs it for the blood and overall bodybuilding. If you have a health issue that is leading to nutritional deficiency, it also needs addressing for a full recovery.

Relevant Topics:

10+ Healthy Food You Should Eat When Pregnant 

Pregnancy Diet: Highly Nutritious Foods to Eat

7 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Eat Better 


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