Over the last couple of months, I have seen more and more patients visit my clinic with health issues that are largely indicative of different types of nutritional insufficiencies. And it is critical that most of us are aware what these insufficiencies are, whether we may have them or may be at risk, the effects they have on our bodies and how we can avoid or remedy them.
The body requires many nutrients for optimal function such as metabolism, hormonal balance, enzyme activity, digestion, detoxification, water balance and more. However more than ever before, we are seeing that many people have deficiencies in many vital nutrients.
If you eat a highly nutritious diet, you’re probably getting adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function. If not (and this applies to the majority of us), there is a good chance you may be lacking important nutrients.
Even if you do eat well, how and where your food was grown can also influence your nutritional intake. Soil quality, storage time, and processing can significantly influence the levels of certain nutrients in your food.
Some of the minor health challenges and even some of the major ones may be simply due to a deficiency in one or more vitamins, minerals or nutrients. In my practice, I continue to see many people with seemingly healthy lifestyles present with these deficiencies. These insufficiencies may be caused by lifestyles such as being indoors a lot, dietary inadequacy, certain medications, some types of medical conditions (like digestive issues), your age and very importantly an ongoing stress lifestyle with many every demands and pressure.
Whatever the cause, these insufficiencies may compromise your health. Unfortunately, in many cases nutrient deficiencies can be difficult to assess, and you may not develop symptoms until the deficiency has become quite pronounced.
Below, I will review 4 of the most common nutrient deficiencies, and how to address them. If you are missing the following four nutrients, learn how to correct them. Eating natural and predominantly plant based food is usually your best bet, but sometimes supplementation may be advisable, especially if you’re showing signs of deficiency.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin because vitamin D is made in the body for the most part following exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for the body. It is best known for its role in regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, two minerals very essential to bone health. Vitamin D is therefore very crucial to bone health, and if you have a deficiency it may affect your bone health significantly. However, vitamin D has also been shown to be useful in strengthening our immune system and in muscle function. It has been demonstrated to play a role in hormone balancing as well.
There have been studies to suggest that it might help prevent colon, breast and prostate cancer and that it might help prevent and treat diabetes, heart disease, and even high blood pressure.
I believe strongly that low vitamin D makes it harder to lose weight.
Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in people of all ages, especially in those who have limited outdoor activity.
Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency, and this percentage rises in higher-risk populations such as the elderly and those with darker skin. In my clinic, I estimate that up to 80 percent of the people tested have vitamin D deficiency. And this is possible considering we spend so much time indoors and even when we are outside; we are all covered up.
I strongly recommend that everyone gets tested for vitamin D. Based on the evaluation of healthy populations, the optimal range for general health appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml.
If you have a deficiency, you could be at serious risk for bone problems, depression, low immunity, and recurrent infections, hormonal imbalances, muscle problems as well as heart disease and some types of cancer.
This is the one nutrient that you cannot afford to be deficient in.
How to get adequate levels of Vitamin D.
I firmly believe that sensible sun exposure is the best way. From the diet, fatty fish are the best source although fortified foods like fortified whole grain cereals are also a source.
I also strongly recommend a vitamin D supplement ranging from 1000 iu to 5000 iu if your levels are below 30ng/ml
Make a plan to spend more time outside in the sun and ensure that a good amount of your body is exposed to the sun
Add more fish to your diet as a replacement for red meat
Get a vitamin D test done immediately. Contact Wellcare if you need it done
Use a supplement if you have significantly low levels of vitamin D
2. Essential Omega 3 Fatty acids
Whenever you see the word essential before any nutrient, it means that the body cannot make that particular nutrient and requires that you obtain it from your diet.
Omega 3 fats are such a nutrient. They are vital for;
Heart health including lowering blood triglyceride and harmful cholesterol levels
Improving memory and brain health
Reducing risk and even treating depression
Management of arthritis
Supporting fetal growth
Regulation of blood pressure and blood sugar
In the management of inflammatory conditions like asthma and inflammation in the gut
With all these benefits, it should be no surprise that low concentrations of the omega 3 fats (which include EPA and DHA) in the body have been associated with an increased risk of death from all causes
Some signs that you may have a deficiency include;
dry or flaky skin
dandruff or dry hair
soft and brittle nails
mood swings and depression
heart problems and even high cholesterol
menstrual cramps and other muscle pain
poor attention span and cognitive decline
allergies and arthritis
How to get adequate levels of Omega 3 fats.
I believe that plant foods offer the best and highest form of omega 3 fats. The highest sources are nuts and seeds and in particular
and other nuts
From animal foods, once again fish is the highest source of omega 3 fatty acids. Sardines, salmon, and tuna are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats. But tilapia fish also has omega 3 fats.
Should you supplement?
If you have a diet high in omega 3 fats, you may not need to supplement. However, if you have any signs or health problems linked to a deficiency in omega 3 fats like cardiovascular or inflammation, I do recommend supplementation.
In all honesty, there is no harm to supplement with omega 3 fats, even if you feel well because the benefits are so important to overall health that you will only be enhancing your wellness.
If you decide to take omega-3s in supplement form, I believe krill oil is superior to fish oil. The omega-3 in krill is attached to phospholipids that increase its absorption, which means you need less of it.
Krill oil also contains almost 50 times more astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant, than fish oil, which prevents the highly perishable omega-3 fats from oxidizing before you are able to integrate them into your cellular tissue.
I use a krill oil supplement for at least 3 months in a year
Make a plan to add more chia or flax seeds to your diet
Eat more nuts as a snack food and add them to your smoothie or your vegetables
Choose high-quality fish as your choice of protein
Use an omega 3 supplement if you have any health problem or symptom linked to omega 3 fat deficiency
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, yet the number of people who have a magnesium insufficiency is increasing. Without sufficient amounts of magnesium your body simply cannot function at its best.
One of the important roles magnesium plays in your body is the management and regulation of blood pressure. People who have high blood pressure usually have an insufficiency or deficiency of Magnesium.
Magnesium plays a critical role in your body's detoxification processes and therefore is important for minimizing damage from environmental chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins. Magnesium also plays roles in preventing migraine headaches, cardiovascular disease (including strokes, clots and other heart diseases).
Interestingly, people who have elevated insulin (mainly people with type 2 diabetes) have been consistently found to have low magnesium levels. Research now suggests that magnesium intake may help reduce your risk of developing diabetes if you’re at high risk and may also contribute to improving blood sugar control.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to test for magnesium levels, and even the preferred test (red blood cell level of magnesium rather than serum magnesium) is not easily available in Uganda. However, if you have any sign that may point to magnesium deficiency, you may want to consider increasing your magnesium intake.
How to get adequate levels of Magnesium
It is recommended to get most if not all of the magnesium you need from the diet. Fortunately, there are many readily available foods rich in magnesium. One of the foods most abundant in magnesium is Spinach. Aim to get a lot of spinach in your diet if you want to boost your magnesium levels.
Other good sources of magnesium include;
Nuts – Almonds, cashews, and groundnuts
Legumes – Beans or soy
Whole grains like oats and whole grain bread
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds
Should you supplement?
Always keep in mind that the foods rich in nutrients may not be as rich as they were many years ago, mainly due to nutrient depleted soils and agricultural methods.
About magnesium, we see reduced amounts of magnesium in the foods that were originally very high sources. This does not mean we should supplement. However, if you have any health condition that is linked to magnesium deficiency I strongly recommend that you supplement with at least 400 mg per day.
In particular, anyone who has high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and migraines should try at least two months of supplementation to see if that helps.Magnesium is also useful in management of constipation.
Ensure to eat as much spinach as possible
Use legumes and nuts as your choice of sauce when eating foods
Eat plenty of bananas
Consider a magnesium supplement if you have any signs of deficiency or insufficiency or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, and migraines
One deficiency that may be almost reaching epidemic proportions is zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is ranked as one of the top 7 risk factors to disease causation globally.
Zinc is very essential to health, and yet so many do not get enough zinc to sustain a healthy body. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that plays a role in more than a hundred enzymatic reactions in the body. It’s needed for healthy cell division, and it acts like an antioxidant, fighting free radical damage and slowing the aging process.
Unfortunately, millions of people are zinc deficient and are completely unaware of their condition. Thankfully, if you keep a look out for some key indicators, you can catch it early before things get out of hand. The ten most common zinc deficiency symptoms that you should be aware of include:
Poor brain function including poor memory, difficulty concentrating and attention problems
Low immunity as evidenced by getting sick all the time. If you have signs of low immunity like recurrent infections, you may have a zinc deficiency
Chronic low appetite
Thinning of hair
Dry scaly skin and dandruff
Acne or skin problems
Low libido and erectile dysfunction
Chronic or recurrent diarrhoea
Problems with sensation especially hearing
The people with the following health conditions are at most risk for zinc deficiency;
If you have any of the above, you should look at checking the zinc level in your body. Zinc can be tested with blood and urine. If you suspect a deficiency, you can get tested.
How to get adequate levels of Zinc
Good sources of zinc include
Should you supplement?
Once again, supplementation is a question of whether you have a known deficiency or if you suspect you have one based on your health status. Because Zinc is so essential, if you have a known or suspected insufficiency, I recommend you consider a zinc supplement. A 30 to 50mg per day dose is a good starting point.
5. Other nutrient deficiencies