Malnutrition

The malnutrition lab tests include tests for each form of undernutrition: wasting, stunting, underweight, and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.  Ulta Lab Tests provides reliable blood work and secure testing, so order today!


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Serum albumin measurements are used in the monitoring and treatment of numerous diseases involving those related to nutrition and pathology particularly in the liver and kidney. Serum albumin is valuable when following response to therapy where improvement in the serum albumin level is the best sign of successful medical treatment. There may be a loss of albumin in the gastrointestinal tract, in the urine secondary to renal damage or direct loss of albumin through the skin. More than 50% of patients with gluten enteropathy have depressed albumin. The only cause of increased albumin is dehydration; there is no naturally occurring hyperalbuminemia


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Serum calcium is involved in the regulation of neuromuscular and enzyme activity, bone metabolism and blood coagulation. Calcium blood levels are controlled by a complex interaction of parathyroid hormone, vitamin D, calcitonin and adrenal cortical steroids. Calcium measurements are useful in the diagnosis of parathyroid disease, some bone disorders and chronic renal disease. A low level of calcium may result in tetany.

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Decreased levels of ceruloplasmin are found in Wilson''s Disease, fulminant liver failure, intestinal malabsorption, renal failure resulting in proteinuria, chronic active hepatitis and malnutrition. Elevated levels are found in primary biliary cirrhosis, pregnancy (first trimester), oral contraceptive use and in acute inflammatory conditions since ceruloplasmin is an acute phase reactant

A Complete Blood Count (CBC) Panel is used as a screening test for various disease states including anemia, leukemia and inflammatory processes.

A CBC blood test includes the following biomarkers: WBC, RBC, Hemoglobin, Hematocrit, MCV, MCH, MCHC, RDW, Platelet count, Neutrophils, Lymphs, Monocytes, Eos, Basos, Neutrophils (Absolute), Lymphs (Absolute), Monocytes(Absolute), Eos (Absolute), Basos (Absolute), Immature Granulocytes, Immature Grans (Abs)


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Copper is an essential element that is a cofactor of many enzymes. Copper metabolism is disturbed in Wilson's disease, Menkes disease, primary biliary cirrhosis, and Indian childhood cirrhosis. Copper concentrations increase in acute phase reactions and during the third trimester of pregnancy. Copper concentrations are decreased with nephrosis, malabsorption, and malnutrition. Copper concentrations are also useful to monitor patients, especially preterm newborns, on nutritional supplementation. Results of copper are often interpreted together with ceruloplasmin.

Clinical Significance

Copper is an essential element that is a cofactor of many enzymes. Copper metabolism is disturbed in Wilson's disease, Menkes disease, primary biliary cirrhosis, and Indian childhood cirrhosis. Copper concentrations increase in acute phase reactions. Copper concentrations are decreased with nephrosis, malabsorption, and malnutrition. Copper concentrations are also useful to monitor patients, especially preterm newborns, on nutritional supplementation. Results of copper are often interpreted together with ceruloplasmin.


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Useful in the diagnosis of hypochromic, microcytic anemias. Decreased in iron deficiency anemia and increased in iron overload.


Ferritin, Iron and Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC)

  • Ferritin
  • Iron and Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC)

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Folic acid deficiency is common in pregnant women, alcoholics, in patients whose diets do not include raw fruits and vegetables, and in people with structural damage to the small intestine. The most reliable and direct method of diagnosing folate deficiency is the determination of folate levels in both erythrocytes and serum. Low folic acid levels, however, can also be the result of a primary vitamin B12 deficiency that decreases the ability of cells to take up folic acid

Serum iron quantification is useful in confirming the diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia or hemochromatosis. The measurement of total iron binding in the same specimen may facilitate the clinician''s ability to distinguish between low serum iron levels caused by iron deficiency from those related to inflammatory neoplastic disorders. The assay for iron measures the amount of iron which is bound to transferrin. The total iron binding capacity (TIBC) measures the amount of iron that would appear in blood if all the transferrin were saturated with iron. It is an indirect measurement of transferri

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A lipid panel includes:Total cholesterol —this test measures all of the cholesterol in all the lipoprotein particles.High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) — measures the cholesterol in HDL particles; often called "good cholesterol" because it removes excess cholesterol and carries it to the liver for removal.Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) — calculates the cholesterol in LDL particles; often called "bad cholesterol" because it deposits excess cholesterol in walls of blood vessels, which can contribute to atherosclerosis. Usually, the amount of LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) is calculated using the results of total cholesterol, HDL-C, and triglycerides.Triglycerides — measures all the triglycerides in all the lipoprotein particles; most is in the very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).Very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C) — calculated from triglycerides/5; this formula is based on the typical composition of VLDL particles.Non-HDL-C — calculated from total cholesterol minus HDL-C.Cholesterol/HDL ratio — calculated ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C.


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Prealbumin is decreased in protein-calorie malnutrition, liver disease, and acute inflammation. It may be used as an indicator of nutritional requirements and response to therapy during total parenteral nutrition and as a biochemical marker of nutritional adequacy in premature infants.

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The assay may be useful in the diagnosis of nonthyroidal illness (NTI). Patients with NTI have low T3 concentrations and increased concentrations of rT3. RT3 may be useful in neonates to distinguish euthyroid sick syndrome from central hypothyroidism.

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Vitamin A is critical for vision, growth, and many cell functions. High concentrations of vitamin A are seen with renal failure, but this is not associated with toxicity, and excessive ingestion. High concentrations are associated with bone fractures. Low concentrations of vitamin A are consistent with fat malabsorption and rarely due to inadequate diet. Vitamin A, vitamin E, and carotene are always extracted and detected simultaneously. This is a free vitamin A (retinol

Vitamin B12 is decreased in pernicious anemia, total or partial gastrectomy, malabsorption and certain congenital and biochemical disorders


This test is used to measure the bio-active form of Vitamin D. This test is also used in the differential diagnosis of hypocalcemia and to monitor patients with renal osteodystrophy or chronic renal failure.

Measurement of serum 25-OH vitamin D concentrations provide a good index of circulating vitamin D activity in patients not suffering from renal disease. Lower than normal 25-OH vitamin D levels can result from a dietary deficiency, poor absorption of the vitamin or impaired metabolism of the sterol in the liver. A 25-OH vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone diseases such as rickets and osteomalacia. Above normal levels can lead hypercalcemia. This assay employs liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry to independently measure and report the two common forms of 25-hydroxy vitamin D: 25OH D3 - the endogenous form of the vitamin and 25OH D2 - the analog form used to treat 25OH Vitamin D3 deficiency.

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Vitamin K is a required co-factor for the synthesis of factors 2, 7, 9, and 10 and proteins C and S. Deficiencies of vitamin K lead to bleeding. Coumadin® (warfarin) acts as an anticoagulant because it is a vitamin K antagonist


Malnutrition just means ‘bad nutrition.’ This is a condition where a disparity exists between how much food and nutrients a body needs for optimal functions and growth and the actual amount it takes in or absorbs.  This imbalance usually happens with undernutrition, and so that’s the primary emphasis of this content. However, it can be the result of overnutrition, too. 

Chronic overnutrition can result in obesity and even metabolic syndrome, which is a set of multiple risk factors usually characterized by unhealthy levels of lipids, hypertension/high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, and insulin resistance, which is a reduced ability for processing glucose. Those who have metabolic syndrome are known to have higher risks of developing both cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Another unusual form of overnutrition is that of mineral or vitamin toxicity. This usually happens with excessive supplementation, for example, with higher doses of specific fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, coming from supplements instead of food. Symptoms of toxicity depend on the particular substance or substances that are ingested, how severe the overdose is, and whether the situation is chronic or acute. 

Undernutrition happens if one or more crucial nutrients aren’t present or even available in sufficient quantities for normal function and development of the human body. This can happen because of increased levels of demand, an increase in losses, insufficient volumes of intake, or even a disease or condition which lowers the body’s power to absorb and digest nutrients from food. Even though the necessity of adequate nutrition is an eternal constant, the specific demands any human body has will vary over the course of time. 

During the time of pregnancy, sufficient nutritional support is essential for a fetus to grow and develop normally. Folic acid deficiency during pregnancy might result in birth defects and raise the risks of preterm delivery and low birth weight. 

Kids might develop marasmus, which is a condition where the person is severely deficient in protein and calories due to a serious shortage of food consumption. Marasmus often involves stunted growth and a thin body. If a child has enough calories but not enough protein, then they might develop kwashiorkor, which is a condition characterized by delayed development, apathy, an enlarged liver, and edema/fluid accumulation. Deficiencies in particular vitamins might also impact the formation of bones and tissue. For example, vitamin D deficiency impacts bone formation, resulting in rickets. Around the globe, roughly 1 in 3 childhood fatalities are related to malnutrition somehow. Intestinal parasites and food shortages are the primary causes of malnutrition throughout the developing world. In the United States, the majority of instances of malnutrition are attributable to imbalanced and poor diets. 

Acute conditions, including trauma, infections, serious burns, and surgery, all have the capacity to seriously increase a human body’s nutritional requirements for a short while. Those who are malnourished for a stretch of time might have a poorer prognosis and weakened immune systems. They often need more time to heal from their surgical procedures, and so they need more days of hospitalization. Given this, quite a few doctors screen and also monitor the specific nutritional status of any hospitalized patients. Patients that have surgery typically have evaluations both in advance of their surgery and also during their recovery. 

Chronic diseases might be related to nutrient loss, heightened demands for nutrients, and/or malabsorption. Malabsorption might happen in the event of chronic diseases, which include pernicious anemia, pancreatic insufficiency, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease. Higher rates of nutrient loss can happen with excessive bleeding, diarrhea, and chronic kidney disease. There are times that both conditions and their respective treatments can result in malnutrition because of lowered intake. One instance of this would be cancer and chemotherapy that result in lower appetite, nausea, and difficulty swallowing. Those who are chronic abusers of alcohol and/or drugs might get insufficient nutrition, fail to absorb sufficient nutrition, and just lose nutrients. 

Senior citizens don’t need as many calories, but they still need proper and sufficient nutritional support. They’re often less capable of absorbing nutrition, given how they have lower production levels of stomach acid. They might also have one or even multiple chronic ailments that might impact their nutritional status at the time. Simultaneously, they might even have a hard time making meals and even have lower access to various nutritious foods. Older individuals also commonly eat less given a lowered sense of smell, not as much appetite, and mechanical complications with chewing and/or swallowing. 

Symptoms/Signs 

General malnutrition is something that usually develops quite slowly over the course of many months, if not years. As the stores of nutrition in the human body are depleted, there are changes that start happening down at the very cellular level, which impacts biochemical processes, negatively influencing the ability of the body to fight infections.

In time, various symptoms might start emerging, including but not limited to, the following: 

  • In children and youth, listlessness, bloated abdomen, and slow/delayed growth 
  • Anemia 
  • Joint/bone pain 
  • Brittle, malformed (spooned) nails 
  • Brittle and thinning hair 
  • Chronic diarrhea 
  • Dry, scaly skin 
  • Goiter, or enlarged thyroid gland 
  • Edema, or fluid accumulation 
  • Mental changes including irritability and confusion 
  • Slow healing of wounds 
  • Weight loss, weakness, and less muscle mass 

Certain nutrient deficiencies might result in characteristic symptoms. For example, a lack of vitamin B12 might lead to nerve damage resulting in numbness, tingling, and burning in the extremities. On the other hand, insufficient vitamin A might result in higher sensitivity to light and night blindness, whereas not enough vitamin D might trigger osteomalacia, bone malformation, and bone pain. How serious the symptoms are usually depends on how long the deficiency transpired and how intense it was. Certain changes, especially to the nerves and bones, might not be reversible. 

Tests for nutritional deficiencies and current status: 

  • Iron tests include ferritinserum iron, and transferrin and iron-binding capacity. 
  • Trace minerals and vitamins tests include magnesiumcalciumB vitaminsB12 specificallyvitamin Dvitamin A, and folate
  • Prealbumin is frequently used as a malnutrition marker, but the levels of this particular protein might be impacted by several conditions aside from malnutrition. Research is ongoing to understand further what roles prealbumin plays in the human body, particularly for reasons behind changes noticed during a time of illness, as well as the clinical utility of any and all prealbumin testing. 
  • Albumin was used previously alongside or even in lieu of prealbumin for the evaluation of nutritional status. Currently, it’s more frequently employed to screen for and assist with the diagnosis of kidney or liver disease. 
  • Leptin: Suppressed levels of this might indicate patients with malnutrition, but this test isn’t available widely just yet. 
  • Celiac Disease blood tests measure the amount of particular antibodies that are present in the blood. 

Laboratory tests for general screening and monitoring include: 

Non-laboratory tests 

  • Imaging and radiographic sans may be utilized to gauge internal organ health and bone/muscle growth and development: 
  • X-rays 
  • Computed Tomography (or CT) 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (or MRI) 

Undernutrition treatment modalities include: 

  • Reestablishing missing nutrients by eating nutrient-rich foods and taking supplements for specific deficiencies.  For people with severe malnourishment, reestablishing missing nutrients needs to be done slowly while the body adjusts. 
  • Regular monitoring of people with chronic malabsorption disorders or nutrient-losing or protein-losing conditions.  A treatment plan is critical to prevent a recurrence.