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Nutritional Deficiency

Nutritional deficiency is not getting the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy growth and survival. This can cause digestive upset and weakness. It can also cause weight loss and muscle problems.

Medicine and supplements can help promote proper nutrition. Natural treatments have also been used.

Natural Therapies

Likely Effective

  • Therapeutic food is pre-packaged food for people or children with poor nutritional status. It is likely to improve energy and weight gain.B1, B2
  • Dietary counseling is likely to increase nutritional intake and weight.C1

May Be Effective

These herbs and supplements may help improve nutrition:

  • Lipoic acid is a compound in the body that can be taken as a supplement. It works best when taken with vitamin E to improve nutritional status. (Note: It should not be taken by people with diabetes.)A2
  • Probiotics are good bacteria found in some food products. It may reduce the number of days with diarrhea cause by poor nutrition.A7
  • Vitamin E may improve nutritional status when taken with lipoic acid.A2
  • Whey protein comes from milk. It may improve recovery and growth. (Note: Whey may worsen acne.)A5

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some may get in the way of treatment. They can also make illness worse or cause new problems. Examples include:

  • Lipoic acid may affect blood glucose levels. People who have diabetes should talk to their doctor before taking it.
  • Whey may worsen acne.


A. Herbs and Supplements

A1. Baldwin C, Spiro A, Ahern R, Emery PW. Oral nutritional interventions in malnourished patients with cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012 Mar 7;104(5):371-385.

A2. Ahmadi A, Mazooji N, et al. Effects of alpha-lipoic acid and vitamin E supplementation on oxidative stress, inflammation, and malnutrition in hemodialysis patients. Iran J Kidney Dis. 2013;7(6):461-467.

A3. Stratton RJ, Hébuterne X, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of oral nutritional supplements on hospital readmissions. Ageing Res Rev. 2013 Sep;12(4):884-897.

A4. Collins J, Porter J. The effect of interventions to prevent and treat malnutrition in patients admitted for rehabilitation: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015 Feb;28(1):1-15.

A5. Stobaugh HC, Ryan KN, et al. Including whey protein and whey permeate in ready-to-use supplementary food improves recovery rates in children with moderate acute malnutrition: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103(3):926-933.

A6. de van der Schueren MA, Wijnhoven HA, et al. A critical appraisal of nutritional intervention studies in malnourished, community dwelling older persons. Clin Nutr. 2016 Oct;35(5):1008 14.

A7. Grenov B, Namusoke H, et al. Effect of Probiotics on Diarrhea in Children With Severe Acute Malnutrition: A Randomized Controlled Study in Uganda. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2017;64(3):396-403.

B. Therapeutic food

B1. Lazzerini M, Rubert L, et al. Specially formulated foods for treating children with moderate acute malnutrition in low- and middle-income countries. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 21;(6):CD009584.

B2. Schoonees A, Lombard MJ, et al. Ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) for home-based nutritional rehabilitation of severe acute malnutrition in children from six months to five years of age. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;5:CD009000.

C. Other Therapies

C1. Baldwin C, Weekes CE. Dietary counselling with or without oral nutritional supplements in the management of malnourished patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2012 Oct;25(5):411-426.

Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC  Last Updated: 5/26/2020