Nutritional Deficiencies: How Common Are They?

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that nearly 10% of the U. S. population is deficient in at least one nutrient. While most of us are aware of the benefits of eating a balanced diet, many people are still not getting the key nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Nutrient deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems, including fatigue, night blindness, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and even acne. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms and have ruled out other health conditions, you may be suffering from a nutrient deficiency. The prevention and detection of the most common types of deficiencies, such as calcium, essential fatty acids, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, B12, C and D, can be achieved by monitoring and adjusting your diet, considering taking dietary supplements, and talking to your healthcare provider if you suspect you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Folic acid is one of many B vitamins that plays a role in maintaining healthy red blood cells and is particularly important during pregnancy.

Women with low folic acid stores are more likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect (such as spina bifida). Outside of pregnancy, folic acid helps prevent anemia and heart disease. People who don't eat enough fruits and vegetables (or who cook them too much) are at greater risk of developing a folate deficiency. People who consume large amounts of alcohol or who take certain medications (such as phenytoin, methotrexate, sulfasalazine, triamterene, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, and barbiturates) have a higher risk of developing folic acid deficiency.

Symptoms may be similar to those caused by iron deficiency, such as fatigue, lethargy, hair loss, and shortness of breath. Iron deficiency anemia can cause general fatigue, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, pale skin, and chest pain. In pregnant women, iron levels should be routinely monitored as they are at greater risk of developing this condition. Magnesium is an essential mineral that affects hundreds of metabolic reactions in the body including the regulation of muscle and nerve function. Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, abnormal heart rhythms, unexplained numbness or tingling and high blood pressure. Vitamin A is essential for the replacement of skin cells and for maintaining optimal vision and a healthy immune system.

For this reason people with vitamin A deficiency are at greater risk of getting a serious infection. Because children are prone to infections it's crucial that children under 5 get enough vitamin A in their diets or through supplements. In adults one of the main warning signs of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness. Vitamin B12 is one of eight types of B vitamins that helps form red blood cells improves neurological function and provides building blocks for DNA. People most at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency are vegans people with intestinal problems that limit vitamin absorption older adults and people who take long-term heartburn medications.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are similar to those of anemia and include weakness pale skin shortness of breath and mood swings. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the body helping to prevent damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin C also helps in the formation of hormones and amino acids; it also helps in the absorption of iron. The best-known effect of vitamin C deficiency is scurvy a deadly disease if left untreated that causes swelling and bleeding of the gums easy bruising weakness fatigue skin rashes and difficulty healing wounds. While scurvy is rare today adequate vitamin C intake is still crucial for optimal health as vitamin C regulates collagen production. Vitamin D is unique in that most vitamin D can be produced in our bodies when exposed to adequate amounts of UVB radiation from sunlight.

The key function of vitamin D is to regulate calcium absorption; people with vitamin D deficiency cannot absorb that calcium and in turn strengthen bones. However vitamin D plays other important roles for overall health such as supporting bone health cardiovascular health testosterone and immune function. Vitamin D deficiency is especially common as we age as few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. Getting enough sunlight for our skin to convert to vitamin D may be easier in the summer months but we must balance that benefit with problems related to skin cancer. Signs of deficiency include fatigue bone pain mood changes muscle aches and weakness.

Foods high in vitamin D include cow's milk and fortified cereals soy milk mushrooms canned tuna shrimp and salmon. The recommended daily intake is 600 IU for adults up to 70 years old and 800 IU for those over 71; a daily supplement of 1000 IU of vitamin D provides extensive coverage. In addition our body stores small amounts of additional vitamins and minerals that would help us endure several weeks of poor diet meaning that our levels would have to be extremely low before a problem appears; a vitamin D deficiency for example could only manifest itself in a broken bone. Now however a Harvard study suggests that vitamin D and fish oil supplements may offer adults over 50 years old protection against the development of autoimmune disorders. All these conditions which number more than 80 occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells tissues or organs; your symptoms vary but may include pain fatigue skin problems and other chronic problems. The randomized controlled trial considered the reference standard for research included 25 871 racially diverse adults over 50 years old who were divided into four groups; people in one group took 2000 IU of vitamin D3 a day; those in the other 1000 milligrams of fish oil (which contains marine omega-3 fatty acids); those in the third group both; and the rest two placebos; none knew what group they were in. The dose used in the trial was more than double the recommended daily intake which is 600 IU; it's important to note however that taking too much vitamin D can lead to toxicity so it's best to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.