Physical Causes of Malnutrition
What are physical causes?
Physical causes are causes that are a consequence of our body function. Malnutrition can be caused by a series of physical problems. Usually metabolic and absorption problems will lead to malnutrition because inadequate or excess nutrients are absorbed by the body. Other physical factors that may include lack of exercise which is needed to maintain good health.
Lack of nutrients is the most obvious physical cause of malnutrition. When a person has not eaten enough food they will become PEM malnourished. Similarly if a person does not consume the required daily intake of micronutrients from foods they will become micronutrient malnourished.
Failure to absorb
First Hand Account
"Soon after my birth I mysteriously began to die. I was thin, bloated, anemic, and in pain from cramping and gastroenteritis. I am one of millions of people worldwide with this lifelong (celiac's) disease. Many know they have it; many more are unaware of its presence. "
One of the physical cuases of malnutrition is the failure of the body to adequately absorb nutrients. This can be due to a range of different things. Malabsorption can be caused by :
- Damage to the absorptive surface in the digestive system which stops vital nutrients from being absorbed and instead sends them down with our faeces.
- Intolerance to certain compounds. This can manifest in celiac disease (gluten intolerance) or lactose intolerance. Both these genetic disorders prevent the absorbtion of vital nutrients (gluten and lactose respectively) in the bowel. This can be a significant problem because other micronutrients such as calcium in lactose rich milk are absolutely essential to the growing child.
However, if properly managed, these diseases will not lead to malnutrition. In developing countries this can be a challenge especially when medical help is often unavailable and variety of foods is low. Malabsorbtion can also be due to problems in the transportation of nutrients around the body. There are many more reasons which can lead to malabsorbtion, these are just a few.
Changing metabolic rate
A persons metabolic rate can change for many reasons. When this happens this shifts the rate at which the body uses energy at rest. This can be due to injury, disease such as cancer and infection among others. The body requires more foods to compensate for the increased activity of the body at rest. In an injury, the body requires nutrients to help speed the healing process, the body compensates by increasing the metabolic rate. If a person does not balance this increase by ingesting more nutrients, they will suffer from malnutrition. In the developed world, relative affluence allows this to be easily acheived. However on the global perspective not all people are as well off and often people just have enough to survive. Also as we get older our metabolic rate changes and we need to eat less or excercise more. Unfortunately we do not always do this leading to overconsumption and obesity.
Changing intake of foods
A persons intake of foods can be reduced due to a range of issues. In the developed world, it can be due to medication, stress, sickness, anorexia and other reaosns. In the developing world however the main cause is usually reduced income or availability of foods. Reducing the intake of foods can have serious implications. It can lead to further medical problems or amplify existing medical issues. It definitely will cause malnutrition in one of its many forms.
A person can also increase his intake of foods due to many reasons e.g. depression. Without adequate physical labor, these extra calories will manifest as extra fat.
Lack of physical activity
Exercise or physical activity is absolutely essential in keeping good health. While lack of it may not cause malnutrition, it often keeps excess consumption in check. Lack of excercise may indirectly lead to malnutrition, it is advised that you do exercise regularly.
Gehri, M. (2006, May 22). Marasmus. In eMedicine. WebMD Database. http://www.emedicine.com/PED/topic164.htm
- L'Heureux, J. (date unknown) HIV Nutrition Education Fact Sheet http://www.apla.org/programs/nutrition/FactSheets/Basics.pdf
- Freeman, H. (2001) BC Medical Journal Volume 43, Number 7, September 2001, pages 390-395