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What are the Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies?

Nutritional deficiencies can cause all kinds of trouble within our bodies. From fatigue and brain fog to more sinister effects like jaundice, osteoporosis and infertility. We all know the importance of a balanced diet, but there are still several nutrients that we are commonly found to be deficient in.

Here are a few of the most common nutritional deficiencies and how you can prevent a deficiency;

Iron

Iron is a vital mineral in order for your body to produce fresh red blood cells. It makes up a large part of those oxygen transporters and is important for our health. As blood is how all of our cells receive the nutrients they need, it’s key that our body can adequately produce blood cells to get those nutrients sent around.

The world health organisation (WHO) has said that iron deficiency is highly common [2] and highlighted it as an important nutrient we should aim to consume more of. They also back the fortification of grains with iron. The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans [1] stated that a large number of fertile women are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia, due to insufficient iron in their diet. Affecting more than 25% of the worldwide population, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies around [3].

There are two types of dietary iron; Heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body – it has better bioavailability – meaning you don’t have to consume nearly as much of it to reach your required intake. Heme iron is found only in animal products – red meat is especially high in this mineral. Non-heme iron isn’t as readily absorbed into the blood. Non-heme iron is more common, found in both animal and plant foods.

Iodine

Iodine is especially important for normal thyroid function and regulating your metabolism. Our thyroid hormones are vital to other bodily processes such as growth, bone maintenance and brain development. So, it’s particularly important for children and adolescents.

Severe iodine deficiency can result in developmental abnormalities and may even cause mental retardation. But the most common symptoms of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland, which can cause weight gain, shortness of breath and a faster heart rate.

Unfortunately, nearly a third of the world is still deficient in iodine [4], in both industrialised and developing nations [5]. Experts have recommended widespread iodised table salt to help combat this.

Calcium

Calcium is another nutrient needed for every cell in the body. It’s vital during times of rapid growth (looking at you, puberty) and is also important for bone health. If your blood becomes lacking in calcium, your bones will release some into the blood, which is why low levels of calcium in the diet can eventually cause brittle bone disease (osteoporosis).

A united states survey found that less than 22% of teenage boys and men over 50 met the recommended calcium intake [9]. With fewer than 15% of teenaged girls and under 10% of women over 50 meeting this recommendation too [9]. That equates to an estimation of over 80% of teenagers and people over 50 consuming less than the recommended intake of calcium on a regular basis.

You can increase your calcium intake by consuming boned fish, dairy products and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach. Supplementation has come under some heavy debate recently, so we are reluctant to recommend this approach.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is used to inform your body’s gene expression and maintain bone health. It’s produced in your skin upon exposure to sunlight, meaning those who live further from the equator a likely to be at risk of deficiency without supplementation.

Vitamin D deficiency is a very common condition with an estimated 74% of UK adults (25 Years or older) having levels below the optimum level for wellbeing. This is more concerning than you might at first expect, as chronic deficiency could lead to adverse health consequences – increasing the risk of many diseases from cancer to diabetes to heart disease [7].

It’s not all bad news though. Research indicates that supplementing vitamin D if you don’t get adequate sun exposure may be beneficial in maintaining optimal blood levels of this essential vitamin [6].

Vitamin B12

Every single cell in your body needs vitamin B12 to function properly. Yet, your body is unable to produce it on its own and the nutrient must be ingested via food or supplements. It is only found in large quantities in animal products – but seaweed may have small amounts of B12.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a condition known as megaloblastic anaemia – a blood disorder that enlarges the red blood cells. Because the body cannot produce this vitamin and it is only available in mostly animal products, risk of deficiency is high. Absorption of the vitamin decreases with age making the elderly especially vulnerable to deficiency.

Because vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal products, vegans and vegetarians should take extra care in ensuring they consume enough vitamin B12. Studies indicate that vegans who do not ingest vitamin B12 supplements are at an especially high risk of becoming deficient [8]. Some researchers have argued that all vegetarians and vegans should be monitored for vitamin B12 deficiency as a precautionary measure [8].

Testing Could Identify Deficiencies

While food deficiencies are something to be wary of – especially if you’re having to cut certain foods out of your diet – it doesn’t have to be something to worry over. There are various tests that can be done to determine whether your body is getting enough of each nutrient. One of these tests is the MyDNA test from MyDNA.

This test analyses your sample to determine what diet is best for your body and least likely to result in any deficiency. If you’re concerned about whether you’re following the optimal diet for your biology, and whether you’re getting enough nutrients, the MyDNA test could lend you a helping hand.

References

[1] https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf

[2] https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/micronutrients/anaemia_iron_deficiency/ 9789241596107/en/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18498676

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22892867

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23472655

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12520530

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18400738

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24667752

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20181782/

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