Even with the most high quality, natural diet, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can still occur. Because of the way food is grown in our modern world, soil tends to be depleted of many nutrients that are necessary for optimal health.
We require approximately 40 micronutrients for our bodies to function properly, and our bodies can’t manufacture a lot of these nutrients on their own.
Unfortunately, when we lack adequate micronutrient levels, we can become more susceptible to illness. Research shows that many micronutrient deficiencies have been associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, weight problems, cognitive issues, and a weakened immune system.
Here we will examine the most common nutrient deficiencies—calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and vitamin D—and provide you with guidance on how to address them before they become a long-term health problem.
Hypocalcemia—a condition characterized by low levels of calcium in the blood—can lead to long-term health problems, such as osteoporosis, brain alterations, and cataracts.
The first signs and symptoms of a calcium deficiency can include muscle aches, fatigue, osteoporosis, severe PMS, dental problems, and depression.
To correct a calcium deficiency, try including some of these foods in your diet:
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds
Iodine is an essential element that is used in the production of thyroid hormones. Therefore, it is no surprise that an untreated iodine deficiency can lead to goiter (enlargement of the thyroid) and hypothyroidism. In addition, iodine deficiencies in pregnant women can lead to a higher risk of their children developing an intellectual disability. Some common symptoms of iodine deficiency include swelling of the thyroid, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, muscle weakness, slowed heart rate, depression, and more.
- Fish (cod, tuna)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Iodized salt
Iron deficiency is one of the most widely recognized nutrient deficiencies.
In the United States alone, 10 million people are iron deficient and another 5 million suffer from anemia related to iron deficiency. Anemia is a condition where the blood lacks the appropriate amount of red blood cells. This can be problematic as the red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.
As a result, people who suffer from iron deficiency anemia can often feel fatigued, weak, dizzy, or have shortness of breath.
Vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk for developing iron deficiencies since sources of iron in plants (nonheme iron) are not as easily absorbed by the body as sources of iron in animal products (heme iron).
Some of the best sources of iron include:
- Red meat
- Broccoli, spinach, kale, black beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds
Magnesium is considered an essential mineral in regulating muscle contractions, blood pressure, insulin balance, nerve conduction, and neuromuscular signal transmission.
In fact, it is common to have low levels of magnesium and research shows that 75% of Americans have low levels.
Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance/type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, hyperlipidemia, migraine headaches, severe asthma, and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Though a magnesium deficiency can be difficult to detect, it may be time to get your levels checked if you are experiencing symptoms like fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle spasms, or muscle weakness.
To increase your magnesium levels, incorporate more of these foods into your diet:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cooked spinach
- Brown rice
According to the American Academy of Opthalmology, vitamin A has the most important impact on the quality of your vision.
Signs and symptoms of a low vitamin A levels typically include vision problems, such as blindness or trouble with sight at night. An eye exam and a blood test are often recommended in order to issue a formal diagnosis.
You can increase your vitamin A intake by eating:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins)
Vitamin B12 is necessary for the creation of new red blood cells and has been recognized for the role it plays in helping to develop brain and nerve cells.
A vitamin B12 deficiency is slow to develop but can become very serious if uncorrected. Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can include numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, and legs, difficulty walking, anemia, a swollen tongue, memory loss, fatigue, and weakness.
Research has shown that a Vitamin B12 deficiency in humans decreases lymphocytes and suppresses natural killer (NK) cell activity. NK cells are a type of white blood cell that attack cells infected by viruses. People who follow a vegetarian diet are especially at risk since this nutrient is primarily found in sources of animal protein.
Foods that are rich in vitamin B12 include:
Vitamin D is often known as the sunshine vitamin because we get most of our intake from sun rays. However, there are a few ways to increase your vitamin D intake from different food sources if your levels are low.
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include bone pain, muscle weakness, or increased signs of infection. In extreme cases a prolonged, untreated vitamin D deficiency can also lead to rickets and osteomalacia.
As mentioned, there are a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D:
- Fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
How can I discover what nutrient deficiencies I might have?
At Spark Health, we perform functional lab work to measure your levels of micronutrients.
We are able to test levels of nutrients in the blood to see how well your cells are utilizing vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and antioxidants.
After gathering information on your nutrient deficiencies, our team of naturopathic doctors will create a personalized care plan that is tailored to your unique needs. This plan could include recommended dietary changes, lifestyle changes, supplements, vitamin injections, or IV nutrient therapy.
How can I increase my nutrient intake?
One way to reduce your risk of micronutrient deficiencies is to dramatically increase the amount of nutrient-dense foods in the diet.
Decreasing the consumption of processed foods and increasing consumption of whole foods will help to support healthy micronutrient levels. For example, if you are looking to get more magnesium in the diet, you may want to increase your consumption of spinach or nuts, and to get more B12 in the diet, consider increasing your consumption of pastured eggs and grass-fed beef.
Whenever possible, choose organic versions of fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats, and if you have access to farmers markets, you will be able to get produce that has been harvested more recently, which increases the nutrient density. Most produce that is found in the supermarket is picked before its prime, and is transported on boats and trucks for days and sometimes weeks before consumption. It’s best to choose a variety of different colors of fruits and vegetables in order to improve the variety of nutrients you receive.
How can I maximize nutrient absorption?
Another way to increase nutrient levels is to avoid certain substances that are known to drive down the levels in the body, like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
Caffeine tends to bind iron and certain minerals, and can be dehydrating and depleting. Alcohol reduces our levels of digestive enzymes, leaving us depleted of certain vitamins like B1 (thiamine).
One serving of refined sugar has been shown to increase urinary excretion of calcium, and is also known to deplete vitamin C, vitamin D, and chromium levels in the body.
When diet isn’t enough to bring micronutrient levels up, we may employ other natural solutions. Our team of naturopathic doctors are experts in providing nutrient supplementation orally, or through vitamin injections and nutrient IVs.
We can deliver concentrated levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids directly into the bloodstream through an IV. IV nutrient therapy allows our cells to better metabolize these essential elements by delivering them straight into the bloodstream for 100% absorption. Contact us to make an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors today to determine which nutrients would best suit your health needs. Located in Solana Beach in San Diego County, CA, Spark Health Integrative Medicine examines your health using a wider lens. Our team of practitioners take an all-encompassing approach to your heath to reconstruct and restore your body from the inside out.