According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (2016), only 10% of Americans consume a healthy diet, as outlined by federal recommendations.
Nutritional diseases occur when your body doesn’t get the appropriate amount of nutrients (i.e. getting too much or too little of certain vitamins and minerals). Poor nutrition (regardless of the reason) can cause acute and chronic health problems. More specifically, according to the Mayo Clinic (2016), poor nutrition can lead to immune system dysfunction, lethargy, confusion/disorientation, generalized weakness, and skin conditions. In addition, nutritional diseases can cause birth defects and long-term health problems in fetuses, babies, and children.
The good news is that in some cases these conditions improve once the body receives the correct amount of nutrients. In fact, a balanced diet can provide the nutrients your body needs to function at an optimal level. A healthy diet consisting of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, and legumes can ward off many nutritional diseases. But, before you can correct any nutritional deficiencies, it’s important to know what caused your condition. Listed below are common causes of nutritional diseases.
Nutritional diseases, caused by a vitamin deficiency, are rare in developed countries like the U.S. However, in many third-world countries, these diseases run rampant. One such nutritional disease is rickets. Rickets is caused by a vitamin D deficiency. It can cause a variety of health problems like bone abnormalities and weak bones.
Rickets is not as common as it once was, due to the influx of vitamin D fortified foods (i.e. breakfast cereals, milk, orange juice, and eggs). Another nutritional disease, caused by a vitamin deficiency, is scurvy. Scurvy occurs when your body doesn’t receive an adequate amount of vitamin C. As a result, your body heals at a slower pace, you experience internal bleeding/hemorrhaging, and/or your immune system malfunctions.
Low levels of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, while a vitamin B-12 (folate) deficiency can lead to pernicious anemia. Low levels of protein can also cause anemia – protein-deficient anemia. Anemia occurs when your body is unable to produce enough red blood cells or your body attacks your red blood cells (i.e. autoimmune disorder). When your body is unable to produce or maintain a healthy red blood cell count, it becomes nutrient and oxygen-deprived. In other words, red blood cells transport oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.
Moreover, a calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, especially if the deficiency is long-lasting. This condition can cause you to have thin, weak, and fragile bones – that fracture (break) easily. Note: Most people experience bone growth up to and during puberty. Once puberty is over, they stop growing (between the ages of 15 (females) and 16 (males)). Later in life, your bones naturally begin to thin and weaken (the aging process). Therefore, a lack of calcium can prevent your body from developing bone mass before and during puberty, which can then lead to nutritional diseases like osteoporosis later in life.
Vitamin deficiencies can severely affect bodily functions, such as: healing sores and wounds, fighting off diseases and illnesses, maintaining healthy teeth, skin, and hair, and improving your mood. In addition, vitamin deficiency anemia can cause lower levels of nutrients and oxygen, which is necessary for wound healing. Low calcium can lead to fragile tooth enamel, making your teeth more prone to breakage and decay. And, low levels of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and proteins can cause hair loss, dry, brittle hair, and hair breakage.
Another common cause of nutritional diseases is genetics. Genetic-based nutritional diseases consist of a range of “defective genes” that prevent your body from producing and/or metabolizing certain nutrients (from foods). An example of a genetic-based nutritional disease is hereditary fructose intolerance. People with this condition are unable to metabolize and absorb fructose (a plant-based sugar). Note: Table sugar contains some fructose. Those, who have this inherited nutritional disease must eliminate fructose-based products from their diets, or risk experiencing unpleasant and possibly dangerous side-effects.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (2016), one-third of premature deaths (across the nation) stem from poor nutrition. A sedentary lifestyle, along with unhealthy eating habits can increase your risk of diabetes, some cancers, gastrointestinal distress (i.e. gallstones, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, vomiting, etc.), heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and strokes.
In addition, an unhealthy diet consisting of large amounts of sugar, salt, saturated fats, and calories can lead to a host of chronic diseases (i.e. congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolisms, infertility, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), fatty liver disease, hernia, cholelithiasis (gallstones), colorectal cancer, breast cancer, erectile dysfunction, and chronic renal failure – just to name a few).
In addition, a recent study found that infants, suffering from poor nutrition, developed learning disabilities later in life (Gross, 2006). Although the children looked like other children in their age groups, they experienced low IQs and poor learning experiences throughout life. And, according to a Food Nutrition Bulletin study, children, who experienced poor prenatal nutrition typically presented with lower-than-average motor skills and cognitive functioning, starting at 6 months of age and extending into early childhood. This gap was most noticeable during the children’s first year of life, and began to worsen as they aged. Many of the children, who participated in the study, eventually dropped out of school.
Lastly, congenital anomalies can lead to nutritional diseases. Congenital anomalies are a group of diseases, typically characterized by structural malformations. It is important to note that a mother’s nutrition definitely plays a significant role in the health and development of her unborn baby. Research suggests that maternal nutrition is linked to some congenital anomalies.
For example, according to World Health Organization (2015), if a mother does not receive an adequate amount of nutrients, while pregnant, her baby’s risk of developing neural tube defects skyrockets. These prenatal nutritional diseases (brain, spinal cord, and spine birth defects) typically present during the 1st month of pregnancy. Disclaimer: Not all congenital anomalies or birth defects stem from a nutritional deficiency.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2016). National health priorities. Retrieved from https://cspinet.org/
Gross, L. (2006). Accelerated growth following poor early nutrition impairs later learning. Journal of Public Library of Science Biology, 4(8). Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0040270
Medline Plus. (2016). Neural tube defects. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/neuraltubedefects.html
Uche, E. (2016). Inborn errors of metabolism. University of California-San Francisco. Retrieved from https://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/inborn-errors-of-metabolism/deck/2643997
Weininger, J. (2016). Nutritional diseases. Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/nutritional-disease
World Health Organization. (2015). Congenital anomalies. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs370/en/