Nutrient deficiencies - the most overlooked factor in better health?

From a health perspective, nutrient deficiencies in your diet can have a huge impact on your overall wellbeing. Yet this is an area that is often overlooked, as the majority of people have no idea of the signs or symptoms, let alone how much of an influence they can actually have.

So that’s the aim of this --- to highlight why it is so crucial you give this issue the attention it deserves, as well as the most common nutrient deficiencies and how to avoid them.

So why is this such an issue?

Studies have irrefutably shown that a diet rich in both vitamins and minerals can be directly related to preventing, fighting, treating and even reversing diseases, where as a diet filled with deficiencies can lead to a whole host of health problems and development of chronic illnesses.

The problem at hand is imbalance and not providing your body with what it needs leads to the shutting down of various processes and inability to properly function, as your body simply isn’t being given the right tools to optimally perform.

In fact, research is continually starting to support the ideas of Dr. Bruce Ames, who in 2006 presented an award winning idea called the ‘Triage Theory’, which sheds some further light on this notion.

This theory dictates that when the human body is not being supplied with the nutrients it requires, it diverts what little resources it does get towards supporting essential functions for short-term survival, at the expense of the processes vital for long-term health.

For instance, it may prioritise supporting heart function over DNA repair, as that’s the more immediate risk to the bodies wellbeing.

Triage Theory states that micronutrient deficiencies impact your long-term health, and in turn promote age related diseases.

With Western cultures largely processed diets, it can accurately be speculated that a large amount of people are potentially deficient in a range of micronutrients and this is affecting their health in a variety of ways. Whether that’s long-term damage such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia or arthritis, or more short term effects such as low energy, mood, stress, focus or overall happiness will be down to a case by case basis.

How do you know if you have a deficiency?

The only way you can truly tell if you’re deficient in certain vitamins and minerals is through blood tests and other examinations.

There are however certain signs that you can look for depending on how you’re feeling, but the easiest way too avoid them is to ensure you get the full range by eating a diet based around nutrient dense foods, coming primarily from a wide range of whole foods sources.

This is important to take into consideration, as while one food may be high in certain nutrients, it’ll be lacking in others, as no single food contains a sufficient amount of all of your daily requirements. For instance, fruits and vegetables contain a substantial amount of vitamin C, whereas Vitamin B12 is found primarily in meat, dairy and seafood.

This is why it’s essential you have a balanced diet.

Most common deficiencies

Due to the amount of vitamins and minerals, all with varying functions I think going into too much detail on every nutrient will simply just over complicate matters. There’s simply far too much too take in and it’s unnecessary for the average person to know all of it. Especially since while it’s possible to be deficient in almost any nutrient, some are highly unlikely, regardless of your diet.

My advice is to see if what you’re currently eat contains any of the foods listed and if not, then ensuring you find ways in which to incorporate or increase their intake into your diet.

Vitamin D – if you work in an office, spend most of your days indoors, or live in a country that fails to get regular sunshine, then chances are you’re deficient in Vitamin D. It’s essential in almost every cell in your body, with symptoms ranging from fatigue to muscle ache, tiredness and long term deficiency can lead to increased risk of fractures caused by bone loss. It’s an understatement to say that if you want to improve how you feel, then you need to increase your intake. I regularly encounter people who are severely deficient, with clear signs being they are exhausted, moody, depressed, have a lack of energy, feel stuck in a rut and generally overwhelmed and down on life. So if you can’t or unable to find ways to get more sunshine, then ensure you incorporate more oily fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel into your diet at least once a week, as well as whole eggs, milk, seeds and yoghurt.

Calcium – is required for maintaining strong bones, as well as controlling nerve and muscle functions, making it essential for every cell in your body. Signs of deficiency include osteoporosis, fatigue, poor appetite, muscle cramps and abnormal heart rhythms. Although public perception often portrays milk as the best source, other options include dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale or broccoli, nuts and other dairy such as cheese or yoghurt.

Vitamin B12 – is used by every cell in your body, helps neurotransmitters in your brain, as well as aiding in the production of DNA and red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is pretty much only found in animal products such as chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs and dairy. That makes vegetarians and vegans highly susceptible to being deficient and if that applies to you it’s highly recommended that you consider supplementation. Severe symptoms can include problems with walking or balance, numbness in the hands, legs or feet, anaemia, fatigue, paranoia, memory loss, or even hallucinations.

Potassium – is vital to help your heart, kidneys and other organs properly function, as well as controlling fluid levels in the body. Illnesses which cause vomiting, diarrhoea or excess sweating can cause deficiencies and symptoms include weight loss, constipation and muscle weakness. The best sources include bananas, milk, vegetables, whole grains, peas and beans.

Iron – aids in producing red blood cells, meaning low levels make your body unable to effectively transport oxygen. Research shows that up to 25% of people are deficient in iron and symptoms include anaemia, fatigue and low levels of energy, along with possibly pale skin and sparse, thin dull hair. Much like Vitamin B12, vegetarians and vegans are particularly at risk and good sources include beef, beans, chickpeas, spinach and lentils.

Warning: Even with the high levels of people deficient in iron, it’s something you should never supplement with. Too much can be very harmful and instead you should focus on getting enough through your diet.

Magnesium – supports bone health and the production of energy. While most healthy people are unlikely to be deficient, it can be a side effect of certain medications or associated with some health conditions due to issues with absorption. It can also be caused by over consumption of alcohol. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, anaemia, irregular heart rhythms and fatigue. Low levels of magnesium can also cause deficiencies of calcium and potassium in the blood. Good sources include spinach, black beans, whole grains, red meat and nuts.

Iodine – is essential for a normal functioning thyroid, due to its role in the production of various hormones and the most common symptom is an enlarged thyroid gland. Deficiencies are believed to affect up to 1/3 of the world’s population and good sources include fish, yoghurt and eggs.

Final thoughts

Hopefully that helps shed some light on this issue and raises your awareness as to whether or not you may potentially be facing a nutrient deficiency in your diet.

If that’s the case, then I simply can’t stress enough how important it is you get this under control. Whether that’s from improving your diet, or in some cases looking to supplement where appropriate.

So what do you think? Are there any glaringly obvious deficiencies in your diet? And how do you think you can resolve them?

Post your thoughts and comments below.