7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common
Many nutrients are absolutely essential for good health. It is possible to get most of them from a balanced, real food-based diet. However, the typical modern diet lacks several very important nutrients.
Here are 7 nutrient deficiencies that are incredibly common.
1. Iron Deficiency
Iron is an essential mineral.
It is a main component of red blood cells, where it binds with haemoglobin and transports oxygen to cells.
There are actually two types of dietary iron:
• Heme iron: This type of iron is very well absorbed. It is only found in animal foods, and red meat contains particularly high amounts.
• Non-heme iron: This type of iron is more common, and is found in both animal and plant foods. It is not absorbed as easily as heme iron.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, affecting more than 25% of people worldwide. Vegetarians and vegans are more at risk of this deficiency. They consume only non-heme iron, which is not absorbed as well as heme iron. The most common consequence of iron deficiency is anaemia. The quantity of red blood cells is decreased, and the blood becomes less able to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Symptoms usually include
• weakened immune system
• impaired brain function
The best dietary sources of iron include:
• Red meat: such as steak
• Organ meat: such as liver
• Shellfish, such as clams, mussels and oysters:
• Tinned sardines:
The best dietary sources of non-heme iron include:
• Beans: such as kidney beans
• Seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame and squash seeds
• Broccoli, kale and spinach
Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron. Eating vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, kale and peppers along with iron-rich foods can help maximize iron absorption.
2. Iodine Deficiency
Iodine is an essential mineral for normal thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are involved in many processes in the body, such as growth, brain development and bone maintenance. They also regulate the metabolic rate.
Iodine deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It affects nearly one-third of the world's population.
The symptoms of iodine deficiency are
• An enlarged thyroid gland
• Increase in heart rate
• Shortness of breath
• Weight gain
Severe iodine deficiency may also cause serious adverse effects, especially in children. These include mental retardation and developmental abnormalities.
There are several good dietary sources of iodine:
3. Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that works like a steroid hormone in the body. It travels through the bloodstream and into cells, telling them to turn genes on or off. Almost every cell in the body has a receptor for vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced out of cholesterol in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. So people who live far from the equator are highly likely to be deficient, since they have less sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiency is not usually visible. The symptoms are subtle and may develop over years or decades.
Adults who are deficient in vitamin D may experience
• Muscle weakness
• Bone loss
• Increased risk of fractures
• Reduced immune function
• Increased risk of cancer
Unfortunately, very few foods contain significant amounts of this vitamin. The best dietary sources of vitamin D are:
• Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or trout
• Egg yolks
People who are truly deficient in vitamin D may want to take a supplement or increase their sun exposure. It is very hard to get sufficient amounts through diet alone.
4. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin. It is essential for blood formation, as well as for brain and nerve function. Every cell in your body needs B12 to function normally, but the body is unable to produce it. Therefore, we must get it from food or supplements. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal food products (with the exception of Nori seaweed and tempeh) therefore, people who do not eat animal products are at an increased risk of deficiency.
Studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans are highly likely to be deficient in vitamin B12. Some numbers go as high as 80–90%. Also more than 20% of elderly people may also be deficient in vitamin B12, since absorption decreases with age.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
• Megaloblastic anaemia, a blood disorder that enlarges the red blood cells.
• Impaired brain function
• Elevated homocysteine levels, which is a risk factor for several diseases
Dietary sources of vitamin B12 include:
• Shellfish especially clams and oysters:
• Organ meat: such as liver
• Meat such as steak
• Milk products: yoghurt
5. Calcium Deficiency
Calcium is essential for every cell. It mineralizes bone and teeth, especially during times of rapid growth. It is also very important for the maintenance of bone. Additionally, calcium plays a role as a signalling molecule all over the body. Without it, our heart, muscles and nerves would not be able to function. The calcium concentration in the blood is tightly regulated, and any excess is stored in bones. If there is lack of calcium in the diet, calcium is released from the bones. That is why the most common symptom of calcium deficiency is osteoporosis, characterized by softer and more fragile bones.
Symptoms of more severe dietary calcium deficiency include
• Soft bones (rickets) in children
• Osteoporosis, especially in the elderly
Dietary sources of calcium include:
• Boned fish: such as canned of sardines
• Dairy products: such as milk
• Dark green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, bok choy and broccoli:
6. Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. It helps form and maintains healthy skin, teeth, bones and cell membranes. It produces our eye pigments - which are necessary for vision.
There are two different types of dietary vitamin A:
• Preformed vitamin A: This type of vitamin A is found in animal products like meat, fish, poultry and dairy.
• Pro-vitamin A: This type of vitamin A is found in plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A, is the most common form.
Vitamin A deficiency can cause
• Temporary and permanent eye damage, and may even lead to blindness. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is the world's leading cause of blindness.
• Suppress immune function
• Increase mortality
Dietary sources of vitamin A include:
• Organ meat: such as liver
• Oily fish: such as salmon
• Sweet potatoes
• Dark green leafy vegetables
7. Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is a key mineral in the body. It is essential for bone and teeth structure, and is also involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions. Low intake and blood levels of magnesium have been associated with several diseases, including type 2 Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and osteoporosis.
The main symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
• Abnormal heart rhythm
• Muscle cramps
• Restless leg syndrome
• Fatigue and migraines
More subtle, long-term symptoms that you may not notice include insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
Dietary sources of magnesium include:
• Whole grains: such as oats
• Nuts: such as almonds
• Leafy, green vegetables: such as spinach
It is possible to be deficient in almost every nutrient, but these 7 are by far the most common. The best way to prevent a deficiency is to eat a balanced, real food-based diet that includes nutrient-dense foods (both plants and animals).