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The 5 Signs of Malnutrition a ‘Healthy’ Body Might Be Hiding

sports woman surrounded by various healthy food lying on the floor

When we think of the word, ‘malnutrition,’ the idea of starvation or general lack of food often springs to mind but the truth is, malnutrition is often far more insidious and most often refers to a lack of the right foods rather than any at all.

This, OneWelbeck Digestive Health’s consultant metabolic & bariatric surgeon Mr Sanjay Purkayastha says, couldn’t be further from the truth, as “patients generally become malnourished because they are eating the wrong food groups or because they are dieting or excluding certain nutrients from their diet, making it unbalanced.”

With the release of the 2020 Global Nutrition Report came worrying findings – that there is now a ‘global burden of malnutrition’ and that 1 in 3 people now suffer from obesity or another diet-related disease.

Signs of Healthy Body Malnutrition

According to Mr Purkayastha, there are five easily dismissed signs of malnutrition that you should be looking out for – particularly as they can be well hidden within a ‘healthy-looking’ body.

1. Fatigue or extreme tiredness

“This would be due to iron deficiency, which is common amongst women who are still in the menstruation phase.”

He points out that though food and supplements are a source of iron, some people need more intervention than this.

“For various reasons, some patients aren’t able to really extract iron from supplements or food so may need to be infused with iron intravenously.”

2. Muscle or joint pain

“This is very much connected to Vitamin D, which many people lack.”  Vitamin D can be found in oily fish, mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereals, beef, liver and fortified milk. 

3. Poor sleep and concentration

There are a number of nutrients that can contribute towards poor sleep but I typically find patients are low in B complex vitamins which I would recommend getting from food sources such as leafy greens, eggs, beans, poultry and salmon. 

4. Breathlessness

“Some of the symptoms all lead back to the same nutrient deficiency and in this case that would be iron,” Mr Purkayastha explains.

Those experiencing a tight chest or shallow breath on a regular basis should, he believes, seek a medical consultation.

5. Hair loss / brittle nails / poor skin condition

Mr Purkayastha points out that this is not always related to age or genetics. “This symptom is the result of a more sever iron deficiency which can lead to anaemia.

It’s important you seek medical advice as soon as you begin to notice this issue.”  

A multi-disciplinary approach

Bespoke London healthcare facility OneWelbeck has an entire department dedicated to patients with digestive health and diet-related issues, with treatments including screening and day surgery across gastroenterology and hepatology – all of which can be arranged and diagnosed via a virtual consultation. As a leading consultant at OneWelbeck Digestive Health, Mr Purkayastha observes that not all malnutrition related issues he sees stem from overeating. 

“You can be overweight because you have eaten the wrong things for so many years, certainly, but also because you haven’t taken the right level of supplementation.

For example, in the UK, thanks to a lack of sunlight, many people seem to be depleted of Vitamin D. Another common deficiency I see in patients is Iron and Vitamin B. 

As the world is moving towards plant protein, I am finding a growing number of vegan and vegetarian patients that have anaemia – especially women who are still menstruating. 

This is where individual education about how your body is responding to your diet is key.”

Mr Purkayastha stresses the importance of clinicians being “more understanding” so that patients do not “spend years suffering with worsening symptoms” and encourages them to take a multi-disciplinary approach when it comes to treating nutrition related issues.

“One female patient at OneWelbeck Digestive Health came with an abdominal wall problem which would normally require surgery.

I wanted to investigate her condition from an holistic viewpoint to ensure healing post-surgery wound be efficient.

Looking at her lifestyle and by undergoing blood tests, we discovered that she deficient in Iron and Vitamin D, was suffering from Sleep Apnea and had Type 2 Diabetes. 

As a vegetarian with a sedentary lifestyle who also dealt with heavy periods, she was experiencing fatigue and poor sleep.

Via a virtual consultation we decided to manage some of these symptoms.  Through a non-medicated treatment plan to manage those symptoms, the patient has already noticed significant improvement in her symptoms.”  

This, he says, is where OneWelbeck’s multi-disciplinary team becomes so important.

“We use the expertise of dieticians and psychologists and make sure we ask the right questions.  Essentially you can look at your body as a high performance vehicle – it needs the best fuel in order for it to perform at an optimum level and needs to be driven – i.e. exercised – regularly.”  

For more information on OneWelbeck Digestive Health, visit the website here.

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