7 signs of insufficient nutrition

Getting enough nutrition is not always easy. And that’s especially true for older adults. You may not be as active as you were when you were younger, so you may need fewer calories. Still, research shows that older people may need more of certain key nutrients, such as B vitamins and calcium.

Unfortunately, nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition can last a long time before manifesting into physical signs or symptoms. Still, there are a few indicators that you — and your doctor — can look out for.

1. Unexplained Fatigue

Fatigue is a common side effect of iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia, which is indicated by a low red blood cell count. Anemia can also manifest as abnormal paleness. But remember: Other conditions can cause excessive fatigue, including heart disease, depression, or thyroid disease.

It is wise to tell your doctor if you feel unusually weak or tired. Your doctor may prescribe supplements if you have anemia.

2. Brittle and Dry Hair

Hair, which is primarily made up of protein, serves as a useful diagnostic marker for nutritional deficiencies.

“If an elderly person’s hair looks brittle, dry, and thin, it’s often a sign that their diet isn’t adequate,” says Kathleen Niedert, RD, director of clinical nutrition and dining for Western Home Communities in Iowa.

Brittle hair can indicate a deficiency in essential fatty acids, protein, iron and other nutrients. Some hair loss is common with age. But if the hair starts to fall out at an unusual rate, a nutrient deficiency could be the cause. Once your doctor identifies the deficiencies, you can treat them with nutrient-rich foods and supplements.

3. Ribbed or Spoon-shaped Nails

Like hair, nails serve as an early warning sign of an inadequate diet. A spoon-shaped nail, in which the nail curves up out of the nail bed like a spoon (a condition called koilonychia), can be an indication of iron deficiency anemia.

If you have iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend iron pills and iron-rich foods, such as liver and shellfish such as clams, oysters, and clams.

4. Mouth Problems

Cracking or inflammation at the corners of the mouth (a condition called angular cheilitis) can be a warning sign of riboflavin (B2) deficiency or iron deficiency. An unusually pale or swollen tongue is a warning sign of iron or vitamin B deficiency. A condition called burning mouth syndrome that continues to amaze researchers can occur when iron, zinc, or B vitamin levels fall below required levels.

Again, once you’ve confirmed your specific nutritional deficiencies, they can be treated with nutrient-rich foods and supplements.

5. Diarrhea

Chronic diarrhea can be a sign of malabsorption, which means that nutrients are not fully absorbed by your body. Malabsorption can be caused by infection, surgery, certain medications, heavy alcohol use, and digestive disorders such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.

It is important to see your doctor if you have persistent diarrhea.

6. Apathy or Irritability

Unexplained mood swings, especially feeling apathetic or irritable, can be symptoms of a serious medical condition such as depression. But they can also be symptoms that your body is not getting the energy it needs.

If you have persistent bad moods or forgetfulness, it’s important to get checked out by your doctor.

7. Lack of Appetite

With age, appetite often decreases. Taste buds lose their sensitivity. If you also become less active, you may need fewer calories. Medications can also reduce appetite.

“Chronic loss of appetite is a serious warning sign that you are at risk for nutritional deficiencies,” says Nancy Wellman, RD, former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you find yourself skipping meals because you’re not hungry, talk to your doctor.

Blood tests can indicate whether you are deficient in a number of important nutrients. By assessing your food intake, a registered dietitian can also detect nutritional deficiencies.

“The most important thing is to alert your doctor quickly if your appetite changes or if you start skipping meals,” Wellman says. That way you can prevent nutritional problems before they cause serious problems.

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