Alp Luachra, an old name for edematous malnutrition

Alp Luachra is a Celtic fairy with a pet newt. It was considered dangerous to fall asleep near a stream. Alp Luachra might climb into the victim’s mouth along with his pet newt. They would live in the stomach and gobble up nutrients while the rest of the accursed person shriveled away. No matter how much the victim would eat they would eventually starve – because Alp Luachra leeches all the nutrition away. I learned of him from my new book, Tarot of the Celtic Fairies. The picture on the Tarot card does resemble edematous malnutrition with a very round belly and thin, starved looking arms and legs. Maybe it does exist outside of the tropics. (The 9 of Cauldrons card from  Tarot of the Celtic Fairies 14)

Kwashiorkor, (that rare tropical form of malnutrition in toddlers weaned from breast feeding too rapidly, and/or from lack of introduction of insects to the diet at the appropriate stage), has been in the news. An insurance billing watch dog group found an increased use of the diagnosis code for kwashiorkor/malnutrition in a group of California hospitals. Prime Healthcare Service’s response to the allegations that a diagnosis of malnutrition was used to increase reimbursement states that the facts were distorted in order to mislead the public and gain concessions. It continues that the “relevant (i.e., where the diagnosis affected reimbursement) malnutrition rate at all Prime Healthcare hospitals was 3.6%,which is much less than the rates referenced in the article. For example, their relevant malnutrition rate at Huntington Beach hospital was 5.3% rather than the 39% reported by California Watch.”

That seems reasonable to me. It continues to review the disturbing prevalence of malnutrition and their screening program that Prime Healthcare hospitals use for improving patient care and decreasing morbidity and mortality rates a nutritional screening for their elderly patients is part of their routine care.

Published studies estimate that up to 15% of ambulatory elderly patients, up to 44% of homebound elderly patients, up to 65% of hospitalized elderly patients, and up to 85% of nursing home patients are malnourished. Hajjar, R.R., Kamel, H.K., Denson, K., Malnutrition In Aging, The Internet Journal of Geriatrics and Gerontology, Volume 1, Number 1 (2004); Chen, C.C-H, Schilling, L.S., Lyder, C.H., A Concept Analysis of Malnutrition In The Elderly, Journal of Advanced Nursing, Volume 36(1) (2001).

** Prime Healthcare sounds like a good place for dietitians to work. A nutrition screening by a Registered Dietitian is vital for quality preventative health care. A multidisciplinary team allows a thorough assessment from multiple viewpoints – a stethoscope or a microscope or a little Celtic sparkle – who knows the health solutions that teamwork can bring. However, I was just reading about albumin on RD411, an information website, today [16]. I learned that low albumin is not considered useful to tell if a patient is malnourished because it is easily influenced by many factors besides dietary protein intake. However, at the same time I learn that it is associated with increased mortality and morbidity – so I am left to assume that  I needn’t consider the elderly person with an albumin of 7 or 8 as ‘malnourished’ but just to consider them at increased risk of morbidity and mortality instead. The recommendation is to continue dietary calculations as normal, but instead of pouring another Health Shake to add to the malabsorbtion mess I would rather consider what is causing the shift in fluid and what might be better absorbed than what we already have been trying.

In research by Yi-Chia Huang et al, the elderly Taiwanese population had an intake range of 573.9 to 3191.9 kcal/day and no association between functional status and intake could be made.  Intake of at least 55 grams protein per day was associated with better function but higher levels of protein intake again could not be correlated to improved status. [7] In cases of malabsorption we can pour in 3000 calories per day and there will be no guarantee that it will be more helpful than 573. It would probably be more harmful than low intake. Anything that passes through the body has to be brought into safe balance with the chemical needs of the intestinal lining. Magnesium is a buffer that is taken from the bones to “fix” over acidic conditions. High protein, dairy and sugar intakes add to acidic conditions and coffee, carbonated beverages, black tea, and fruit juices can be very acidic. For strong bones try choosing an herbal or green tea and pass on the extra large glass of pop or milk and the triple shot of alcohol too probably.

There is controversy over using just the albumin level for a diagnosis of malnutrition and it is true that short term edema – puffiness – will cause low albumin levels while puffy. With less fluid in the blood and more fluid in the spaces between cells and organs there will be less albumin. It is a blood protein that acts a little like a sponge to attract and keep fluid around it but where the fluid goes it is also attracted to follow. Circular paths are the way of nature. The albumin level that remains low for months – rather than during an acute week of an illness – I would strongly consider the possibility that an underlying malnutrition problem is the cause of puffiness and low albumin, the reasons for the initial malnutrition can vary but once the poor absorption starts the problems picks up pace and the body deteriorates from feeding on itself – there isn’t a newt but there is a brain, heart and lungs as long as the fingers, toes and remaining peripherals hold out (reminder Buerger’s vasculitis disease [15]).

One lab test can be supported by other labs and observed signs and symptoms of health or weakness. Several studies have found that assessing frailty factors seems more correlated with a variety of quality of life factors and improved surgical recovery rates than BMI. More than 3 of 5 of the following – unintentional weight loss, weakness, self-reported poor energy, slow walking speed, and low physical activity  was found associated with risks of falls and fractures. Hand grip strength, and calf muscle to fat area, mid arm circumference, sarcopenia were mentioned as measurements of improved muscle mass with improved health status. Sit ups and leg lifts or just a walk in the woods – better muscle mass is associated with longer life.

Based on the sensitivity of the autoimmune gut and my review of kwashiorkor research, I would surmise that a gluten free, lactose free, low calcium to magnesium ratio with an increase in glucosamine and other essential sugars (super starches) and plenty of B vitamins, C, A, zinc, selenium might help the catabolic patient with edema. We need to provide building blocks that readily make a strong glycocalcyx to reduce the leakiness of the intestinal lining.

I am glad that Prime Healthcare has had to stand up for malnourished patient’s rights – the right to a diagnosis that is accurate. An albumin of 7 or 8 is tragic and just because it is from excessive dilution due to malabsorption/mal-retention and not due to lack of protein in the diet – doesn’t mean it isn’t leading to cell starvation. Just because we don’t quite understand edematous malnutrition and don’t seem to know how to stop it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist and isn’t killing people in a very costly and agonizingly slow way.

Names matter and the tropics and kwashiorkor is simply where the problem was studied most. Edematous malnutrition is a better name for the condition in my opinion than protein calorie malnutrition. Over the long term edema means that the cells aren’t being well fed or well detoxified. During edema the movement of fluid is reduced and the movement of nutrients and toxins is slowed. Over the long term edema leads to dysfunction and malnourishment. If the fluid in our toilets backed up regularly we would expect the plumber to repair it not just measure the dysfunction. Puffy abdomen and ankles = overflowing waste = better call a doctor on the Prime Healthcare team in case malnutrition is involved (and remember to ask for a referral to a Registered Dietitian); maybe repair is still in the future but recognition is at least a first step.

Kwashiorkor occurs on the same diet as marasmus malnutrition but the children have different metabolic reactions. Recent infection may be associated with the kwashiorkor susceptible population. Their intestinal lining lacked glucosamine and excess fluid movement both directions was the result. An enzyme deficiency for the conversion of glucose or galactose into glucosamine seemed to be a significant difference between the two groups of children and aldosterone levels were also abnormal in the kwashiorkor children but not the maramus group. Edematous malnutrition exists outside of the tropics.
Glucosamine supplements may be crucial for heart disease and other leaky membrane problems (dementia). Zinc and selenium are low in heart disease and B6 and all of the B vitamins are essential for cell growth and energy demands. Vitamin C is also depleted rapidly. Our “health supplement shakes” and complete feeding formulas are not based on ratios that the critically ill can tolerate – they are more harmful than helpful. We need research and development of an isotonic formula with high levels of beneficial nutrients and low levels of a few things that add to the body burden .

In the meantime more magnesium, B complex, zinc, selenium, iodine, glucosamine, taurine, vitamin C, and beta carotene rich dark green and deep orange fruit and vegetables may be helpful to the chronically ill and obese. Mushrooms, aloe vera, fenugreek, slippery elm powder and ginger also have essential sugars – super fiber for building a strong glycocalyx. The intestinal lining is an organ that protects and nourishes our bodies for miles – literally – do we want junk food littering the way or a strong yet fluid, free-form matrix of super starches, trace mineral ions lighting up the place and plenty of strong white blood cells patrolling for trouble.  Cancer wouldn’t stand a chance – or at least reduced chance.

***11-7-11 BTW I figured out what’s happening with the leaky membrane problem – its complicated – call me or read the [bazillion words, “Cantaloupe, listeria, and sea squirts, oh my,” Oct. 5, 2011]

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 /Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./
  1. Olubukola O. Nafiu et al., “The Association of Body Mass Index to Postoperative Outcomes in Elderly Vascular Surgery Patients: A Reverse J-Curve Phenomenon,” Anesthesia & Analgesia 112, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 23 -29.
  2. Ian M Chapman, “Obesity paradox during aging,” Interdisciplinary Topics in Gerontology 37 (2010): 20-36.
  3. S L Miller and R R Wolfe, “The danger of weight loss in the elderly,” The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 12, no. 7 (September 2008): 487-491.
  4. Ian Janssen, “Morbidity and mortality risk associated with an overweight BMI in older men and women,” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) 15, no. 7 (July 2007): 1827-1840.
  5. Kristine E. Ensrud et al., “Frailty and Risk of Falls, Fracture, and Mortality in Older Women: The Study of Osteoporotic Fractures,” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 62, no. 7 (July 1, 2007): 744 -751.
  6. Meei-Fang Lou et al., “Nutritional status and health outcomes for older people with dementia living in institutions,” Journal of Advanced Nursing 60, no. 5 (December 2007): 470-477.
  7. Yi-Chia Huang et al., “Nutritional Status of Functionally Dependent and Nonfunctionally Dependent Elderly in Taiwan,” J Am Coll Nutr 20, no. 2 (April 1, 2001): 135-142.  (free article)
  8. Matteo Cesari et al., “Frailty syndrome and skeletal muscle: results from the Invecchiare in Chianti study,” The American journal of clinical nutrition 83, no. 5 (May 2006): 1142-1148.  (free article)
  9. H K Vincent, K R Vincent, and K M Lamb, “Obesity and mobility disability in the older adult,” Obesity Reviews: An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity 11, no. 8 (August 2010): 568-579.
  10. Heppenstall, et al, “Frailty: dominos or deliberation?,” N Z Med J. 2009 Jul 24;122(1299):42-53. http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/122-1299/3710/.
  11. Fred Chau-Yang Ko, “The clinical care of frail, older adults,” Clinics in Geriatric Medicine 27, no. 1 (February 2011): 89-100.
  12. Stephane M Schneider et al., “Lack of adaptation to severe malnutrition in elderly patients,” Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland) 21, no. 6 (December 2002): 499-504.
  13. Lilian Liang et al., “Nutritional issues in older adults with wounds in a clinical setting” 1: 63-71.
  14. McElroy, Mark, Tarot of the Celtic Fairies, artwork by Eldar Minibaev, (2010, Lo Scarabeo, Via Cigna 110 – 10155 – Torino- Italy _www.loscarabeo.com_ (I hope this will be viewed as a brief extract and recommendation rather than copyright infringement.  I find Tarot cards a meditative cognitive therapy aid – solitaire for the brain.)
  15. http://www.hopkinsvasculitis.org/types-vasculitis/buergers-disease/ ***I discussed it in my article Vasculitis – Withering from Within.The main cause of this type is smoking and the best treatment is to quit smoking. Smoking depletes oxygen and antioxidants and magnesium – malnourishment from within – second best to quitting smoking would be of course to replenish with extra vitamin C and magnesium supplements and foods and some oxygen would help also vitamin A foods – supplements have not been helpful but the food has helped . . . carrots, peaches, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli and V8, mangos, apricots and cantalope.
  16. http://www.rd411.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=393:albumin-as-an-indicator-of-nutritional-status&catid=105:professional-refreshers&Itemid=400
  17. see my previous blogs Angelina please don’t risk the knife, and We are what we eat, for more Bibliography on kwashiorkor, insects and perimenopause.
  18. see my previous blogs on the glycocalyx and Electrolytes R Us, for more on leaky membranes and hydration.
  19. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-250812435.html . “Prime Healthcare Services Review of State Health Data Confirms Normal Malnutrition Rates Among Its Medicare Patients; Recent Studies Debunked.(Clinical report).” PR Newswire. PR Newswire Association LLC. 2011. HighBeam Research. 9 Apr. 2011 http://www.highbeam.com.

From a different list of reading:
7. Yi-Chia Huang et al., “Nutritional Status of Functionally Dependent and Nonfunctionally Dependent Elderly in Taiwan,” J Am Coll Nutr 20, no. 2 (April 1, 2001): 135-142.  (free article)

Excerpt from Conclusions section:
“There were approximately 36% of functionally dependent subjects who consumed energy less than 75% of the Taiwan RDNA in our study. The elderly with functional dependence might have more difficulties in accessing food. However, we could not find an association between energy intake and functional status. This might be due to large variations of energy intake among individuals ranging from 573.9 to 3191.9 kcal/day.
Consistent with Payette and Gray-Donald [24], the elderly had sufficient mean protein intake, but these authors’ association between protein intake and serum albumin concentration was not found. Morgan et al. [6], however, indicated a positive relationship between protein intake and serum albumin concentrations. It is worth noting that the association was valid only up to protein intake of 55 g/day. Since our subjects had a varied protein intake ranging from 23 g/day to 122 g/day and half of the subjects had a protein intake .55 g/day, the dietary protein intake might no longer have an effect on serum albumin concentration. Another possibility was that chronic conditions play a determinant role in affecting the albumin concentration.”

***Note on vitamin D – The chronically ill may have depressed 25-D levels because they have elevated 1,25 D levels resulting in more than enough of the active hormone for preventing fractures even though the vitamin level seems insufficient for the average person.

The enzyme to activate the vitamin to the steroidal hormone is made by white blood cells as part of the stress/inflammation response and in some cancer cell strains. An active D level above 45 means the bones are losing calcium stores. My five year 1,25-D average, while actively avoiding vitamin D foods, supplements and much time in the sun, was 59 pg/ml and my five year average 25-D was 20 ng/ml. The range was 51-71 pg/ml, 1-25-D and 8.0-26.7 ng/ml for 25D. Ex: 3-31-2009 25-D of 9.0 and 1-25D of 53 pg/ml. If I spend a day on the beach I am hurting two days later from the calcium that is drawn out of the bones – muscle spasms, fatigue and irritability symptoms primarily for me but ringing in the ears and a twitching eyelid have been reduced with magnesium. B vitamins and zinc tend to be involved to – magnesium rich foods would provide those as well as iron and iodine only if it was grown in iodine rich soil.

Kwashiorkor Bibliography

  1. http://www.ajcn.org/content/89/2/592.long ***Reduced production of sulfated glycosaminoglycans occurs in Zambian  children with kwashiorkor but not marasmus also good –
  2.  http://www.icmr.nic.in/ijmr/2009/November/1128.pdf  Tahmeed Ahmed, Sabuktagin Rahman and Alejandro Cravioto, Oedematous malnutrition,  Indian J Med Res 130, November 2009, pp 651-654
  3.  http://www.pe.com/localnews/stories/PE_News_Local_D_malnutrition20.27e2afa.htmlWilliams, L., Jewett, C., and Doi, S. K., Hospital chain, under scrutiny, reports rare illness (The Press Enterprise Local News)
  4. http://www.pe.com/localnews/opinion/editorials/stories/PE_OpEd_Opinion_D_op_27_ed_primehealth.1816fbc.html  Shady billing? (The Press Enterprise)
  5. http://www.sacbee.com/2011/02/20/v-print/3414850/medicare-billed-for-exotic-illness.html
  6. Prime Healthcare Should Be Denied New Hospital Licenses Until Federal, State Investigations into Extraordinarily High Septicemia, Malnutrition Rates and Risk to Patients are Complete.Business Wire. Business Wire. 2011. HighBeam Research.
  7. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703293204576106072340020728.html  Marcel Dicke, Arnold Van Huis are professors of entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.  (2-19-11, The Wall Street Journal, pC3)  The Six-Legged Meat of the Future
  8. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1525-139X.2010.00705.x/abstractEffect of Diabetes Mellitus on Protein–Energy Wasting and Protein Wasting in End-Stage Renal Disease, Nazanin Noori1, Joel D. Kopple1,2Article first  published online:13 APR 2010DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-139X.2010.00705.x
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19121473  Semin Nephrol. 2009 Jan;29(1):39-49. Causes and prevention of protein-energy wasting in chronic kidney failure. Dukkipati R, Kopple JD. Division of Nephrology and Hypertension, Los Angeles Biomedical  Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Torrance, CA 90509, USA.
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19121477 Semin Nephrol. 2009 Jan;29(1):75-84. Nutrition support for the chronically wasted or acutely catabolic chronic kidney disease patient.Ikizler  TA.Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, Vanderbilt University School of  Medicine,Nashville, TN 37232-2372, USA.
11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129200Am J Kidney Dis. 2005 Sep;46(3):387-405. Multinutrient oral  supplements and tube feeding in maintenance dialysis: a systematic review and meta-  analysis. StrattonRJ, Bircher G, Fouque D, Stenvinkel P, de Mutsert R, Engfer M, Elia  M.Instituteof Human Nutrition, University of Southampton, UK.

12.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2891019/?tool=pubmed New Insights into the Role of Anabolic Interventions in Dialysis Patients with Protein Energy Wasting Jie Dong and T. Alp Ikizler1 Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2009 November; 18(6): 469–475.doi: 10.1097/MNH.0b013e3283 31489d.

 “Economic Implications of Nutritional interventions It is also important to assess the impact of nutritional supplements not only in terms of changes in nutritional parameters, but to extrapolate these observations to potential improvements in hospitalization, mortality, and cost-effectiveness. In a recent study, Lacson et al showed that a hypothetical increase in serum albumin concentration in the order of 2 g/L in 50%  of the United States dialysis population would be associated with  projections of approximately 1400 lives saved, approximately 6000 hospitalizations  averted, and approximately $36 million in Medicare cost savings resulting  from a reduction of approximately 20,000 hospital days over one year[68]. This is a reasonable estimation since 2 g/L increase in serum albumin is the average improvement reported in most nutritional intervention studies.”

***The above paper is suggesting that giving them growth hormones  and other anabolic steroids along with protein will help them to stop catabolizing and start building albumin. They have had success with the strategy, but wouldn’t magnesium plus protein (ideally combined within the same magnesium foods) be cheaper than hormones and protein?

Alp Luachra, an old name for edematous malnutrition by

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