What is the meaning of malnutrition and nutrient deficiency: being overfed but lacking in essential nourishment?

NHS data indicates a threefold increase in diagnoses related to inadequate nutrition in the past decade.

Last year, over 800,000 patients were hospitalized due to malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies, as reported by NHS figures.

Figures obtained by the Guardian from hospital data in England and Wales reveal that poor diet has been linked to a significant rise in diagnoses over the past ten years. These diagnoses include nearly half a million cases of iron deficiencies, hundreds of thousands of vitamin deficiencies, and over 10,000 cases of malnutrition last year.

In order to maintain good health, the body requires a daily intake of food and water, as well as a proper balance of nutrients. A healthy diet should not only prevent hunger but also include carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water. Inadequate calorie consumption can lead to weight loss, muscle and bone weakness, fatigue, and growth issues in children. However, it is possible to consume a high-calorie diet that lacks essential nutrients, resulting in obesity and deficiencies in protein, vitamins, or minerals. Malnutrition also weakens the immune system, making the body less capable of fighting off infectious diseases.

Good sources of iron include red meat, eggs, kidney beans, nuts, and fortified breakfast cereals. Iron is crucial for the production of hemoglobin, the protein responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Insufficient iron can lead to a decrease in red blood cells or cells that are less efficient in transporting oxygen. Symptoms of iron deficiency include a pale complexion, unexplained fatigue or dizziness, headaches, and heart palpitations. If left untreated, iron deficiency can increase the risk of illnesses and infections due to its impact on the immune system. Adolescent girls and women are generally at higher risk of iron deficiency due to heavy periods and pregnancy.

B vitamins, such as thiamin, niacin, B6, B12, folate, and folic acid, are found in various forms. Grains and cereals are sources of B vitamins, while dairy products contain B12 and leafy vegetables provide folate. B vitamins play a critical role in maintaining the health of both the central (brain and spine) and peripheral nervous systems. Deficiencies in B vitamins can cause neurological symptoms like tingling, altered vision, impaired cognition, and confusion. In children, B vitamins are crucial for proper brain development. Older individuals are especially vulnerable to B12 deficiencies since stomach acid declines with age, which affects B12 absorption. Prolonged deficiencies can lead to irreversible nerve damage.

Vitamin D is naturally produced in the skin when exposed to direct sunlight, providing adequate levels during the period between April and September for most individuals. However, in the winter months, dietary sources like oily fish, meat, eggs, or supplements are necessary to maintain sufficient vitamin D levels. In the UK, children up to their fifth birthday are advised to take a multivitamin containing vitamins A, C, and D. Additionally, those with low incomes are eligible for free vitamins. The NHS also recommends that adults consider taking supplements during the winter. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with low mood and depression. It also facilitates calcium absorption, contributing to bone health. Vitamin D or calcium deficiency are the primary causes of rickets, a condition that leads to weakened and deformed bones.

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