Malnutrition Stresses our Brain Out

Malnutrition can make us stressed!

This may seem like a random statement, but there is a lot of truth in it unfortunately. Malnutrition therefore does not only have physical impacts but maybe even bigger impacts on our mental state. During childhood, malnutrition can have major impacts on life and can even  lead to impairments in the future, related to mental stress.

Children that are undernourished and have deficiencies in their micro- and macro nutrients have an impaired intellectual capacity. Long term, or really severe malnutrition limits brain growth and may result in mental retardation, which affects the ability of both cognitive and mental functioning, which may lead to the inability to learn and perform daily tasks of living. Thereby, Malnourished children lack energy, so they become less curious and playful and communicate less with the people around them, which impairs their physical, mental and cognitive development, such as decreases in IQ, reading, arithmetic, reasoning, vocabulary, verbal analogies, visual-spatial working memory, simple and complex auditory working memory, sustained attention and information processing.  You may understand that this has a major impact on the lives of these children. It can determine whether they will be able to have a good education and job, which sets their future to be rather uncertain.  

Besides the effects on the child’s developing brain, malnutrition can even have these effects on adults: They have potential risks of long-term effects included impaired cognitive performance. The facts are there! According to a study performed in  2010 in the journal “Social Science & Medicine.” Dr. Zhenmei Zhang and her fellow researchers , adult men who were undernourished during childhood had a 29 percent greater risk of having cognitive impairment after age 65. For women, this number was even higher, namely 35%.

Some other important negative effects of being undernourished are the increased responses to stress and an increased risk of schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. This states for both adults as for children. Chronic or extreme hunger and energy lacks have impacts on mood and responsiveness of the brain, resulting in apathetic, sad, and hopeless feelings. Essential brain functions, hormonal levels, nutrient provision in the brain, the ability to fight infections and other functions that affect the brain are strongly deprived.

On the other hand, high intakes of fats and sugar play a huge role in mental health and emotional state, because it really affects hormone and neurotransmitter levels in the brain too.  High cholesterol and fatty diets may cause clotting in the brain and cause strokes. And then we are not even speaking about the effect of alcohol and tobacco, which have major destroying consequences on the brain nerves. Thereby, it interferes with sleep patterns, which can cause mood swings and rises the risks of developing depression, anxiety and aggressive behavior too.

Undernourishment of pregnant women may have the same effect on the children that they give birth to. So malnutrition does not only have effects on the person itself, but on the mental health of the next generation too. Many malnourished mothers are unable to provide psychosocial stimulation to their children during food crises due to their own poor physical or mental health. A lack of psychosocial stimulation has adverse consequences for children’s development (cognitive, motor, language) and mental health.Recently, the male offspring of nutritionally deprived pregnant women were found to have 2.5 times the normal rate of antisocial personality disorder in adulthood

I think these facts makes it even more clear: Malnutrition, whether being under- or overweight, may have major impacts on everyday life. It is a precaution for an impaired mental health and mental diseases like depression and anxiety. Having a good diet from birth to death therefor is the basis of a good working brain and a healthy mental state. One more reason to address the malnutrition problem!!

Written by Eline


Jeffery, Douglas R., M.D., Ph.D. “Nutrition and Diseases of the Nervous System.” In Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 9th edition. Edited by Maurice E. Shils, M.D., Sc.D., James A. Olson, Ph.D., Moshe Shike, M.D., and A. Catharine Ross, Ph.D. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1999.

Katz, David L., M.D., M.P.H. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. New York: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins, 2001.

Shiveley, LeeAnn R., M.P.H, R.D. and Patrick J. Connolly, M.D. “Medical Nutrition Therapy for Neurologic Disorders.” In Krause’s Food, Nutrition, & Diet Therapy. 10th edition. Edited by L. Kathleen Mahan, M.S., R.D.,C.D.E., and Sylvia Escott-Stump, M.A., R.D., L.D.N. New York: W. B. Saunders Company, 2000.

Westermarck T., M.D., D.Sc. and E. Antila, M.D., Ph.D. “Diet in Relation to the Nervous System.” In Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 10th edition. Edited by J. S. Garrow, M.D., Ph.D., W. P. T. James, M.D., S.Sc., and A. Ralph, Ph.D. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.

American Dietetic Association. 216 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60606-6995. <> .



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s