Health & Medicine

Malnutrition

Malnutrition, dietary condition caused by a deficiency or excess of one or more essential nutrients in the diet. Malnutrition is characterized by a wide array of health problems, including extreme weight loss, stunted growth, weakened resistance to infection, and impairment of intellect. Severe cases of malnutrition can lead to death.

Deficiency diseases are usually associated with lack of vitamins or minerals. The effects of a vitamin or mineral deficiency on the body depend on the function of the particular nutrient lacking. For example, vitamin A is important for good vision, and severe deficiency of this vitamin may cause blindness. Because some vitamins and minerals have many functions, prolonged nutritional deficiencies can therefore have wide-ranging effects on health.

Diets that lack a wide variety of foods may result in vitamin deficiency diseases. For example, in countries where people eat maize as the staple food and only few other foods, diets may lack niacin, a B vitamin. Such diets may cause pellagra, a deficiency disease characterized by dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia.