2 Effective Treatments Of Protein Energy Malnutrition

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Those of you who thought protein was only for athletes, it is time to think again. Protein constitutes a rather important part of your daily diet and is needed for the normal functioning of our body. A deficit of protein in the human body can often give rise to many ailments.

Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM) or Protein Calorie Malnutrition is a common condition across the world, which affects both the children and the adults. It contributes to 6 million deaths every year. It is found in children in developing countries, especially in places where the staple diet is carbohydrate based. The reduced protein intake, especially among kids, leads to Protein-Calorie Malnutrition (PCM). Even in certain parts of the industrialized world, PCM is seen among those who already have a medical condition and also among the elderly.

How Much Protein Does Our Body Need?

But how much protein does our body need? Here’s a simple guide to help you to get an idea:

Calories: Roughly, an average person requires 2000 calories per day. In fact, most of the food labels show energy content in percentages, which are based on this requirement. However, every individual has energy needs as per:

  • His basal metabolic rate
  • The thermal effect of the food he consumes
  • The amount of physical activity he engages in

Protein: Protein is an important nutrient in our body. The protein requirement of the human body changes with age. The requirements are:

  • For babies it is nearly 10 gm a day
  • Male teenagers need about 52 gm of it per day
  • Female teenagers require 46 gm per day
  • Adult males require 56 gm of protein per day
  • Adult females need 46 gm of protein per day
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 71 gm of protein per day

Types Of PEM:

There are several types of PEM found across the world. These are:

1. Primary PEM:

Primary Protein Energy Malnutrition is found mostly in children and the elderly. This is because their protein intake is less than adults and often, less than their daily requirements. Primary PEM is common among the elderly people who suffer from depression. Fasting or anorexia nervosa may also lead to this condition.

2. Marasmus:

This is the dry form of PEM. In fact, it is the most common form of Protein Energy Malnutrition among children, especially in developing nations. It leads to weight loss as well as significant depletion in fat tissues and muscles.


This is the wet and swollen form of PEM. This is usually seen in children who are deprived of breastfeeding prematurely, often due to the birth of another child. That is why Kwashiorkor is seen in children older than kids who have Marasmus. Those kids who have already developed primary PEM, an illness of the GI tract or an infection may tip their condition to Kwashiorkor. This condition is confined to some pockets of the world, such as the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean and rural Africa, where the staple diet consists of high carbohydrate and low protein foods. In this condition, cell immunity is reduced and the affected children become more susceptible to bacterial infections.

4. Starvation:

Complete lack of nutrients brings on this level of PEM. This happens in times of crises like famines or being stranded in difficult places or at times of war.

5. Secondary PEM:

This condition is the result of some other medical condition like:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders (enteritis, pancreatic insufficiency, milory disease etc.)
  • Wasting disorders (AIDS, COPD, cancer, anorexia, cachexia etc.)
  • Increased metabolism (hyperthyroidism, endocrine disorders, pheochromocytoma etc.)

Managing PEM In Primary Stages:

To manage primary PEM, primary health care facilities are crucial. Qualified nutritionists can help those who suffer from PEM to get their daily protein requirements.

Free medical supplies, available at the health care facilities can help in combating PEM in the primary stages.

Children under 5 years should be regularly checked up by primary health care institutions and screened for the signs of PEM. People affected by PEM are recommended to have protein rich food that is available locally and affordable too.

Managing Severe PEM:

The severity of PEM defines the intensity of the actions that are taken to curtail it. For those affected by severe PEM, the main objectives are:

  • To restore normal eating pattern by refurbishing appetite
  • To treat hypoglycemia and infection caused by PEM
  • To rehydrate and restore balance of electrolytes
  • To treat septic shock that may have developed
  • To treat any other condition that has resulted from the severe case of PEM

Severe cases of PEM may be caused by cardiac, pulmonary or renal diseases. In such cases, it is not possible to treat the condition simply by supplementing the protein and energy deficit in the patient’s diet. Attention by proper medical staff, even hospitalization, is necessary at least for two weeks.

Treatment For PEM:

The treatment of cases of PEM takes place in two phases:

1. Stabilization:

This stage involves seven days of treatment. It consists of the following medical routines:

  • Treating and preventing hyproglycemia
  • Rehydration
  • Eliminating hypothermia
  • Treating infection
  • Restoring electrolyte balance in the body
  • Filling in micronutrient deficits
  • Careful feeding regimen

2. Rehabilitation:

At this stage, the patient is usually prepared for the restoration of normal lifestyle. In this stage, the patient is allowed to catch up on the average growth, provided with care and support, both emotionally and medically. A follow up regimen is also handed out in this phase of treatment.
For the patients whose problems require further attention, special guidelines are there for medical practitioners.

Preventing PEM:

Prevention of PEM is quite easy, no matter what the staple diet of a region consists of. The following measures have to be followed to do away with this condition:

  • Wherever possible, babies should be exclusively breastfed for at least six months before easing into other kinds of food while keeping breastfeeding as a secondary source of nutrition for up to two years.
  • Before switching a kid’s dietary habit drastically, like turning vegan, vegetarian, low carbohydrate etc. it is important to consult a doctor first.

Protein Energy Malnutrition can cause serious health issues and need to be treated immediately. A proper diet is all that you need to prevent PEM. So, watch what you eat and feed your kids!

Do you know someone who is suffering from PEM? What symptoms do they have? Share with us in the comment section.

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