Feeling Off? It Could Be A Common Nutritional Deficiency
Years ago, realizing that their packaged goods were nutritionally thin, manufacturers began to fortify their products with cheap synthetic vitamins and minerals in hopes of tricking consumers into believing that their products provided important nutritional value. It gave processed food consumers a false sense of security that their nutritional needs were covered with their foods. But you can’t just make something healthy by adding some synthetic vitamins to otherwise nutrient-depleted products.
People can easily develop all kinds of nutrient deficiencies. For example a vitamin A deficiency is still one of the top causes of blindness in children. Eating fortified foods alone simply does not provide enough nutrients to avoid deficiencies in both common minerals and vitamins.
A focus on illness prevention starts with identifying nutritional needs individual to your body that are necessary to support a good immune system with healthy cells. Not all nutritional deficiencies are obvious though — they also vary by gender, age, race, and socioeconomic status. So decoding your body’s needs can be a turning point in your health.
How do you know if your body is lacking nutrients?
Cravings are one of your body’s ways of communicating what you’re deficient in. Pay close attention to what foods you crave, including what time of day the cravings occur. A deficiency in B-1, for example may result in fatigue, confusion, short-term memory loss, or weight loss. An iron deficiency may exhibit itself in the body as a weakness, a weakened immune functioning and impaired brain functioning. A strong craving for sweets may suggest serious fluxuations in the blood sugar, while urges for something salty to eat may mean your adrenal glands are being taxed. Next time you feel like impulsively indulging, and you want to know a possible real reason behind a craving, tap into what you’re craving and start asking yourself why. Do some research and find out what these cravings signify. Your craving may point to a nutritional deficiency or something else going on in your body.
So how can you tell which vitamins and minerals your body is lacking?
A good general plan is to eat a healthy diet of whole foods with a lot of colorful variety. For some people, a busy lifestyle, taste preferences, budget, and access to fresh food products can make this inconvenient or even unattainable. Many people buy multivitamins and supplements at the grocery store and trust that they are making up for the lack of nutrition in their diets, but not all vitamins are made with high quality natural ingredients, or they are difficult to absorb, so the body cannot process them efficiently. They can also be filled with potentially harmful fillers and chemicals. Always do your research before investing in multivitamin/mineral supplements.
Common Nutritional Deficiencies
Here are some common general nutritional deficiencies, the symptoms, and easy ways to incorporate more of these nutritional items into your life.
It should not be surprising to see the sunshine vitamin at the top of this list. Vitamin D is essential to immune and mental health. It can be absorbed from 20 minutes of sun exposure through exposed skin, but that’s not always easy to do, and UV damage can cause premature skin aging. It’s most common for people to experience a vitamin D deficiency in winter — especially in areas that receive little to no sunlight for months on end, like the Pacific Northwest, or Alaska, but many people who live elsewhere are still deficient in this vitamin year-round.
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency are hard to detect because they can be subtle, but the most common symptoms to look for are: depression, exhaustion, chronic illness, and muscle aches. Vitamin D can be found in things like mushrooms and salmon. If you’re looking for a vitamin D supplement, make sure you are taking 5,000 IUs. Studies are now showing that this is the dosage that can best help with people with a vitamin D deficiency to lift mood, boost immune system functioning and more. Look for a formula that includes vitamin D3 — this is the active form that is most bioavailable. Also select a formula with vitamin K2 present in the vitamin D supplement to help with efficacy and absorption.
This is a vitamin that isn’t always on people’s radar, but it’s important for our nervous system, blood cells, skin, mental health, and more. Alcohol consumption and certain drugs can cause B6 deficiencies by disrupting absorption. Our bodies can’t make vitamin B6, so we depend on outside sources to supply it. Good sources of vitamin B6 include eggs, spinach, and avocados. If you’re deficient in vitamin B6, you may experience symptoms of depression, low energy, skin abnormalities, and in extreme cases, seizures.
It can be hard to believe that vitamin B12 would be on our list because energy drinks and other processed foods that are designed to give you an energy boost contain such high levels of it. The catch? There are two types of B12 you’ll find in supplements: methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin. The first is more expensive, but it’s also the active form of B12 that is best absorbed by our bodies. The second form simply is not as easily absorbed into the body (most of it is actually expelled through urine) and even contains a small molecule of cyanide, though it has been deemed safe by the FDA. So choose your B12 wisely! A B12 deficiency can cause anxiety, depression, low energy, and weakness. Your body can’t make its own B12 and must get it from outside sources like meat, dairy, and eggs, or through a supplement. As these are the most common sources, many vegans find themselves deficient in B12 — so be sure to supplement if you choose to exclude animal products from your diet.
Turmeric is a superstar superfood because of this active compound found inside it, but there’s only a tiny amount of curcumin itself in turmeric. The scientific community has found that taking curcumin has proven itself to be an ally to your health, as it fights inflammation in the body. This compound was also shown to be important for brain, digestive, and immune health, as well. Bioavailability is important when it comes to curcumin, because it isn’t readily absorbed by our bodies on its own. Curcumin needs a little help from fat to be absorbed, so it’s often taken with a healthy oil, or in a supplement that includes the necessary oil.
The studies on the importance of having enough good bacteria in your gut cannot be overstated. We are now starting to understand the significance of the body’s microbiome to our overall health. The amount of non-human cells of yeast and bacteria outnumber our human cells, so what we do to provide support for those little microorganisms is crucial. Our environment and diet determine whether we are helping or hurting these helpful creatures, and when our lifestyle and diets increase inflammation, we can do a lot to harm them. Antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, other foreign chemicals, high sugar, fried and processed foods can disrupt our gut bacteria. Taking a supplement with probiotics regularly is the best way to correct an imbalance for most people. Consistency is key. Some companies don’t treat probiotics like the living creatures they are and their consumers often end up paying for and taking dead probiotics that are useless to the body. Finding a hearty, soil-based probiotic with long shelf-life is important to making sure you’re putting the best and most effective probiotics in your body.
If you know that you don’t get enough enzymes in your diet from raw fruits and veggies, consider taking an enzyme supplement. Enzymes are important for digestion, and they help the good bacteria too so you can absorb all of those nutrients from the food you take in. Digestive enzymes are especially helpful to people who struggle with GI distress including irritable bowel syndrome, and have been shown to help alleviate bloating and gas.
Many of the symptoms of nutritional deficiencies can be similar to symptoms of other things. So to identify what your body needs, it’s a good idea to visit your health care professional (like a naturopathic doctor) who can run a blood test to see what your body is missing. The results may surprise you! Keep in mind that these numbers can change according to the season, or depending on lifestyle considerations, like new stress and work demands. Treat the information as a snapshot of what’s going on in your body and go from there. Giving your body the nutrients it needs is a great first step toward better health.