Kwashiorkor is severe protein malnutrition among infants and children from poor countries where famine and food shortage still occurs. Before, kwashiorkor is only related to protein deficiency but recent findings show that antioxidant and micronutrient deficiencies also play a major role. Children with kwashiorkor are found low of iron, iodine, folic acid, vitamin C, and selenium. Anti-oxidants such as glutathione and vitamin E are also deficient as well as albumin and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The condition is rampant during drought, natural disaster, and war in poor countries where the incidence of poverty is very high. It's also observed among weaned children whose main diet consist of starchy foods like corn and root crops only. Kwashiorkor is only observed in developed countries on abused or neglected children.
Causes of kwashiorkor
The cause of kwashiorkor is lack of protein in the diet. The condition is rampant in poverty stricken countries like sub-Saharan Africa, and in some parts of Asia. Recently weaned children fed with high calorie, low protein diet in these countries are prone to develop the condition. The low education level of parents in these countries also played a major role in perpetuating the disease. Parents just don't know the importance of balance diet and they don't know where to get alternative source of protein within their reach.
Symptoms of kwashiorkor
The most prominent symptom of kwashiorkor is low muscle mass; sufferers appear very thin and light. Children with kwashiorkor also appear to be stunted, indifferent, irritable, weak, and lethargic. They have big, protruding bellies, pigmented skin, dermatitis, and thin hair. A thorough physical examination will also show signs of liver inflammation. In severe cases, the victims could show signs of shock which may lead to coma and eventually death.
Treatment of kwashiorkor
Kwashiorkor is treated by aggressive replenishment of protein and calories in the body through high protein, high calorie diet. Victims are given simple sugars and essential fatty acids first and then high quality protein is then added to the diet after the much needed energy is provided. This sequence is important because the body needs energy to digest protein and convert it into energy and muscle mass. If proteins are given first, they may not be properly digested and used in the body. It can even lead to further loss of energy. In severe cases where patients are almost unresponsive, blood products is also given through transfusion to restore blood pressure.
Prevention of kwashiorkor
The best way to prevent kwashiorkor is to educate parents in countries with high kwashiorkor incidence about proper nutrition. Children must be given enough carbohydrates, fats (about 10 percent of total calories, and protein (about 12 percent of total calories). Education on alternative source of protein and micronutrients is also important to promote balance diet in low level income countries.