5 Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies and How to Beat Them

Nutritional deficiencies may be the last thing on your mind. After all, if you try to eat a healthy diet, take supplements, choose organic foods whenever possible, and perhaps even grow some of your own, you may appear to be healthier than most people. But insidious nutrient thieves and circumstances, such as your age, health conditions, chronic stress, medication use, where your food is grown, and even how it’s processed and stored, can rob you of the ability to absorb some nutrients or even get them in the first place. You don’t have to let that happen!

Before you can prevent deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients, it helps to recognize them. So here’s a list of the 5 most common nutritional deficiencies and how to beat them.

1. Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin may well be the most common vitamin deficiency. Results of a study appearing in Archives of Internal Medicine noted that more than three-quarters (77%) of adolescents and adults in the United States had serum vitamin D levels of 30 ng/mL or less. According to the National Institutes of Health, levels of 20 ng/mL or higher are considered “sufficient for most people.” Other experts, including the Vitamin D Council, recommend higher levels; for example, 50 ng/mL is “ideal” per the Council. 

Signs and symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include feeling sad/depression, dementia, frequent infections (because of poor immune function), bone pain, weakness, and head sweating. If you have any reasons to suspect you are deficient in vitamin D, you should get a blood test to determine your levels. Your doctor can order the test or you can order one online.

Unlike many other nutritional deficiencies, the best way to beat insufficient vitamin D is not through diet but through sun exposure and/or supplementation. Generally, you should expose large areas of your unblocked (no sunscreen) skin to the sun for half the time it takes for it to burn. This time can vary depending on your skin color, time of day, and latitude. An approximation is 10 to 20 minutes, three to four times a week.

Vitamin D supplementation can complement your sun exposure or handle your needs on its own if necessary. The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommends 600 to 800 International Units for adults, while recommendations from the Endocrine Society and the Vitamin D Council are 1,500 to 2,000 IU and 5,000 IU, respectively. Many experts believe the U.S. dosages are too low.

2Omega-3 Fatty Acids

It’s probably no surprise that a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is fairly common since the main food source is fish, which is not a popular item for many people. Omega-3s, which have potent anti-inflammatory properties and are helpful in cardiovascular conditions including arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, high blood pressure, blood vessel function, and triglycerides, should be consumed in about an equal ratio with omega-6 fatty acids, which are mostly pro-inflammatory. Unfortunately, that 1:1 ideal ratio is more like 1:20 to 1:50 since the typical Western diet is high in vegetable oils as well as fried and processed foods.

You may be deficient in omega-3s if you suffer with dry, flaky skin, dandruff, brittle nails, attention span difficulties, fatigue, and menstrual cramps. You can greatly improve your omega-3 intake by including foods that have high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon (coho and Atlantic especially, but be sure they are wild!), white fish, sardines, and mackerel.

If fish is not your thing, non-fish sources such as flaxseed oil and flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and sprouted radish seeds, for example, have high concentrations but they are provided as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body must convert to the more bioavailable EPA and DHA commonly found in fish. Omega-3 supplements in the form of fish oil or krill oil also are an option, but be sure you choose products from reputable manufacturers and that are toxin-free and environmentally responsible. Vegetarians and vegans can select omega-3 supplements made from algae.

3. Magnesium

It’s been estimated that about half of Americans do not get enough magnesium. This essential mineral plays a critical role in cardiovascular health, migraine, detoxification, diabetes, osteoporosis, asthma, and overall cell function. How can you recognize a magnesium deficiency?

Some of the more common symptoms of a magnesium insufficiency or deficiency include anxiety, irritability, nausea and vomiting, abnormal heart rhythms, confusion, low blood pressure, insomnia, poor nail growth, seizures, sleep problems, hyperventilation, restless leg syndrome, and muscle spasms and weakness. Now, let’s correct it!

First of all, examine your diet. If you’re not including lots of dark green leafy veggies, avocados, seaweed, nuts and seeds in your diet, start right now. Choose organic whenever possible, since conventionally grown produce is often deficient in magnesium and other minerals.

Not a fan of green vegetables? Puree them and add them to soups or juice them (and be sure to use the leftover pulp in smoothies or soups). Add nuts and seeds to your cereal, yogurt, salads, sandwiches, and soups. If you still need a magnesium boost, consider a supplement, such as magnesium glycinate or magnesium threonate, the latter of which seems to have better bioavailability. Be sure you are getting enough vitamin B6, since the level of this B vitamin helps determine how much magnesium your body will absorb.

NEXT>> Read about #4 and #5

[Editor's Note: We recommend quality omega-3 supplements from our sponsor Barlean's.]

[Editor's Note: We also recommend an excellent magnesium supplement like Natural Calm from our sponsor: Natural Vitality.]

Image via: Cathy Russell

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By Deborah Mitchell| July 13, 2017
Categories:  Eat

About the Author

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently she lives in Tucson, Arizona. Visit her at deborahmitchellbooks.com.

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