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Seven warning signs of inadequate nutrition

March 12, 2011
Submitted by Ryan Wille, community health educator for HealthLink Littauer

Having good nutrition is important at any age. Many Americans, young and old, fall short on vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. As individuals age and become less active, they need fewer calories. However, older individuals may need more of certain nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin B.

Nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition can persist for a long time before they show up in physical signs or symptoms. Peter Jaret, of WebMD, has provided seven warning signs of inadequate nutrition.

1). Unexplained fatigue

Fatigue is a common side effect of iron deficiency and can lead to anemia. However, other conditions can cause fatigue. These include heart disease, depression, or thyroid disease. It is important to alert your doctor if you feel unusually weak or tired.

2). Brittle and dry hair

Brittle hair can signal a deficiency of essential fatty acids, protein, iron and other nutrients. Hair loss is usual with aging. However, if hair begins to fall out at an unusual rate, a nutrient deficiency may be the cause.

3). Rigid or spoon-shaped nails

A spoon-shaped nail, in which the nail curves up from the nail bed, is an indicator of iron deficiency. This condition is known as koilonychias and your doctor may recommend iron pills and iron-rich foods such as liver and shellfish.

4). Mouth problems

Cracking or inflammation at the corners of the mouth are warning signs of either riboflavin or iron deficiency. An unusually pale or swollen tongue is a warning sign of iron or B-vitamin deficiency. Burning mouth syndrome is a condition that may arise from iron, zinc or folate deficiency. All of these conditions can be treated with nutrient-rich foods and supplements.

5). Diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea can be a sign of malabsorption. Malabsorption means that nutrients aren't being fully absorbed by the body. It can be caused by infection, surgery, certain drugs, heavy alcohol use and digestive disorders. If you have experienced this, it is important to consult your doctor.

6). Apathy or irritability

Unexplained mood changes, especially feeling apathetic or irritable, can be a sign that your body isn't getting the required energy. These mood changes are often accompanied by another sign of malnutrition, fatigue or weakness.

7). Lack of appetite

As individuals age, their appetite often diminishes and taste buds lose their sensitivity. Older individuals tend to be less active and require fewer calories. Medications can also diminish an individual's appetite. However, nutritional deficiencies can also cause a lack of appetite. Nancy Wellman R.D., past president of the American Dietetic Association says, "Chronic lack of appetite is a serious warning sign that you may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies." If you find yourself skipping meals because you are not hungry, talk to your doctor. The faster you discover the deficiency, the better the chance of stopping the nutritional problem before it causes serious trouble.

For more information, contact your health care provider, Littauer's Outpatient Nutritional Counseling at 773-5413 or HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120.

People can e-mail HealthLink?Littauer at, visit its website at or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.



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