Nutritional Deficiencies: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Nutritional Deficiency: A Short Guide

Nutritional deficiency (malnutrition) involves a lack of one or more nutrients essential for normal body function. Deficiency in food nutrition is more common in children. Risk factors includeunhealthy dieting to lose weightsmoking and alcohol dependence. Also at risk are patients on special diets recovering from gastric surgery, especially those who have undergone bariatric surgery like gastric bypass.

Nutritional deficiencies occur when the body lacks essential nutrients (eg. macronutrients like proteinfatcarbohydrate; or micronutrients like vitamins and minerals) that are obtained from food. In developing countries, such dietary deficiencies are usually the result of poverty and insufficient food supplies. In the developed world, nutritional deficiencies are caused mainly by disorders that limit the body’s intake or absorption of nutrients, or to unhealthy eating, or self-imposed dietary restrictions. These deficiencies may be noticed when nutritional needs increase such as in growth spurts in childhood, teens or in pregnancy.

Types Of Nutritional Deficiency

There are two main types: a general deficiency of calories and all nutrients; and deficiency of specific nutrients. A general lack of nutrition may be caused by poor eating as a result of severe illness or surgery. It may also be due to extreme dieting, general bad eating habits, or deliberate starvation as occurs in the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Some people may neglect their diet because of other psychological problems such as alcohol dependance. A general deficiency of nutrients may also result from poor absorption of food in the small intestine – due to a specific intestinal disorder or a gastric bypass operation. Symptoms of a general deficiency may include weight loss, muscle weakness, tiredness, as well as skin and hair disorders.

Specific nutritional deficiencies may occur if people limit their diets because of certain beliefs. In some cases malabsorption in the small intestine causes deficiency of a specific nutrient. For example, the bowel disorder Crohn’s Disease can affect the last section of the small intestine (ileum) through which Vitamin B12 is absorbed. Specific nutritional deficiencies may result in a variety of disorders. These include iron deficiency anemia and the bone disorders osteomalacia and rickets caused by a lack of calcium or Vitamin DVegetarians who fail to eat a balanced diet may often suffer from a lack of iron and other micronutrients. Vegans will suffer from a deficiency of Vitamin B12 if they do not eat B12 fortified foods.


If your doctor considers that you are suffering from a lack of nutrition, he/she will weigh you and make a full assessment of your diet. You may also have blood tests to look for anemia and to measure levels of specific nutrients. Investigation such as contrast X-Rays of the gastrointestinal tract may be carried out to test for underlying digestive disorders. If the deficiency is severe you will be admitted to hospital where nutrients will be administered using a tube passed through the nose into the stomach or through a drip directly into the bloodstream. If the deficiency is the result of a treatable physical problem, it should be cured with treatment. Changing your diet will resolve the problem if poor eating habits are the cause. In some cases, eg. Crohn’s Disease or gastric bypass, longterm vitamin and mineral supplementation will be required.