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What Causes Malnutrition? Take Note of These Conditions

What Causes Malnutrition? Take Note of These Conditions

When the question of “What causes malnutrition?” comes up, people usually think about hunger. After all, not being able to eat enough food, or not having access to healthy food does indeed cause malnutrition. However, even people who have access to healthy food can sometimes suffer from malnutrition. In these situations, certain health conditions can actually cause a person to become malnourished.

what causes malnutrition

What illnesses cause malnutrition?

Here is a list of some of the health problems that cause malnutrition:


For people with cancer, malnutrition occurs when their bodies are not able to process the nutrients found in food.

For example, cancer that affects the gastrointestinal system can potentially hinder the stomach’s ability to digest food. In addition, certain forms of cancer treatment can tax the body, and increase the body’s demand for protein and energy.

Side effects can also cause a person to not have an appetite. Loss of energy as well as fatigue also contributes to malnutrition for cancer patients.

This is why it is important for people with cancer to try and eat as much healthy food as they can. Vitamin supplements can also provide much needed nutrition that their bodies need to help fight off the cancer.

Liver disease

Another health problem that can cause malnutrition is liver disease. In fact, it is actually common for patients with liver disease to suffer from one form of malnutrition.

This occurs because people with liver disease usually find it hard to process nutrients. In addition, this also affects a person’s metabolism, and can make it hard for their bodies to efficiently process the nutrients in the food that they eat.

It is also possible for people with liver problems to suffer from gastrointestinal blood loss, as well as loss of electrolytes in their body. Both of these things significantly contribute to malnutrition.

The 10 Most Common Nutrient Deficiency Diseases

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD

It’s not uncommon for patients with COPD to suffer from malnutrition. In fact, one of the symptoms of COPD is malnutrition.

This happens because patients with COPD tend to lose their appetite, or feel shortness of breath when eating. Aside from this, their lungs also require more energy to function because their airways have been blocked.

This combination of factors are the reasons why patients with COPD suffer from malnutrition.

In order to address this, nutritional supplements might be prescribed by doctors to help counteract the effects of malnutrition. In addition, some people with COPD might be required to eat high calorie diets so that they have more energy.

Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis

What causes malnutrition in those with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is the fact that both of these diseases affect the gastrointestinal tract.

It’s not uncommon for people with these conditions to suffer from chronic diarrhea which leads to dehydration, and malnutrition. Abdominal pain can also cause patients to lose their appetite, and in some cases rectal bleeding can lead to anemia.

In terms of treatment, a change in diet and medication can help mitigate the effects of these diseases.

Mental health disorders

what causes malnutrition

Certain mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, bulimia, and anorexia can contribute to malnutrition.

In the case of anxiety and depression, it is not uncommon for patients to not eat, or eat very little. The patient might not even be aware that they are hungry, or that they are not eating enough food. Over time, this can result in malnutrition.

Bulimia is an eating disorder wherein a patient binges, or eats a lot of food, and then purges, or tries to vomit it all out. This is usually done in an attempt to lose weight, or to avoid gaining weight.

This can cause malnutrition because when a person vomits all of the food they ate, their bodies are not able to absorb all of the nutrients properly. If a person with bulimia keeps doing it over and over, then they can suffer from malnutrition.

In the case of anorexia, a patient might feel that they are obese or overweight. As a result, they eat very little, or not even eat at all in order to avoid gaining weight. Over time, this causes them to lose a lot of weight, and it’s not uncommon for people with anorexia to look thin and gaunt as a result of malnutrition.

For all of these conditions, the best form of treatment would be to treat the underlying condition. Along with therapy, and in some cases medication, a healthy diet is also important to help bring back the nutrients that were lost because of malnutrition.


When a person gets infected by a disease, their body can suffer various symptoms that cause malnutrition. It could be diarrhea, loss of appetite, malabsorption of food, and their body’s energy gets used up in fighting off the infection.

And when a person is malnourished, their bodies are unable to efficiently fight off infections. This means that they can once again get sick, and the cycle repeats itself.

This is why it is important for people recovering from infections to eat a healthy diet. This helps provide the necessary nutrients that their body needs to bounce back from illness.

Key Takeaways

The health problems that cause malnutrition affect a person differently. Some of these illnesses affect how a person absorbs nutrients. Some affect various organs directly, which causes malnutrition. And some affect a person’s mental health, which causes them to not eat healthy foods.

Regardless of how these conditions cause malnutrition, it is important to know what these problems are, and learn how to deal with it.

Learn more about healthy eating here.


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Cancer and malnutrition | Cancer Council Victoria, https://www.cancervic.org.au/living-with-cancer/nutrition/malnutrition#:~:text=Malnutrition%20in%20people%20with%20cancer,a%20higher%20risk%20of%20malnutrition., Accessed September 10, 2020

Malnutrition and nutrition support in patients with liver disease, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5536776/#:~:text=in%20cirrhotic%20patients.-,Conclusions,encephalopathy%2C%20variceal%20bleeding%20and%20infection., Accessed September 10, 2020

Undernutrition in Patients with COPD and Its Treatment, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705350/, Accessed September 10, 2020

Malnutrition and IBD | Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/diet-and-nutrition/malnutrition-and-ibd#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20intestinal%20inflammation,magnesium%2C%20phosphorus%2C%20and%20zinc., Accessed September 10, 2020

Risk of malnutrition is associated with mental health symptoms in community living elderly men and women: The Tromsø Study, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3173300/#:~:text=In%20contrast%2C%20malnutrition%20may%20also,might%20worsen%20mental%20health%20symptoms., Accessed September 10, 2020

Interaction between Nutrition and Infection | Clinical Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic, https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/46/10/1582/294025#:~:text=Malnutrition%20can%20make%20a%20person,growth%20and%20development%20in%20children., Accessed September 10, 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Dec 17, 2020
Fact Checked by Chris Icamen