Nutrition and Aging: 7 Signs of Inadequate Nutrition

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

Unfortunately, nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition can persist for a long time before they show up in physical signs or symptoms. Still, there are a few indicators you — and your doctor — can watch for.

1. Unexplained Fatigue

Fatigue is a common side effect of iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia, indicatedby low levels of red blood cells. Anemia can also show up as abnormal paleness. But remember: Other conditions can cause excessive fatigue, including heart disease, depression, or thyroid disease.

Its wise to alert 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 made up mostly of protein, serves as a useful diagnostic marker for nutritional deficiencies.

When an older persons hair looks brittle, dry, and sparse, its often a sign that their diet is inadequate, says Kathleen Niedert, RD, director of clinical nutrition and dining services for Western Home Communities in Iowa.

Brittle hair can signal a deficit of essential fatty acids, protein, iron, and other nutrients. Some hair loss is usual with age.But if hair begins to fall out at an unusual rate, nutrient deficiencies may be the cause. Once your doctor identifies the deficiencies, you can treat them with nutrient-rich foods and supplements.

3. Ridged 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 from the nail bed like a spoon (a condition called koilonychia) can be an indicator 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 like clams, oysters, and mussels.

4. Mouth Problems

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

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 nutrients are not being fully absorbed by your body. Malabsorption can be triggered by infection, surgery, certain drugs, heavy alcohol use, and digestive disorders such as celiac sprue and Crohns disease.

Its important to consult your doctor if you have persistent diarrhea.

6. Apathy or Irritability

Unexplained mood changes, especially feeling apathetic or irritable, can be symptoms of a serious medical conditionlike depression. But they can also be symptoms that your body isnt getting the energy it needs.

If you have persistent low mood or forgetfulness, its important to get checked out by your doctor.

7. Lack of Appetite

With age, appetite often diminishes. Taste buds lose their sensitivity. If you also becomeless active, tyou may needfewer calories. Medications can also dampen appetite.

Chronic lack of appetite is a serious warning sign that you may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies, says Nancy Wellman, RD, past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you find yourself skipping meals because youre not hungry, talk to your doctor.

Blood tests can indicate if youre deficient in a number of key nutrients. By assessing your food intake, a registered dietitian can also spot nutritional deficiencies.

The important thing is to alert your doctor quickly if your appetite changes or you begin skipping meals, Wellman says. That way, you can head off nutritional problems before they cause serious trouble.



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