It’s no secret that Americans are over-fed and under-nourished. What does this mean? It means that in spite of having access to and eating a lot of food, we may still have nutrient deficiencies! Even those who are eating a ‘healthy’ diet are at risk for deficiencies due to poor soil quality and growing conditions.
Historically, 94.3% of the US population has not met the daily requirement for vitamin D, 88.5% for vitamin E, 52.2% for magnesium, 44.1% for calcium, 43.0% for vitamin A, and 38.9% for vitamin C. These are huge gaps in nutrition with deleterious consequences!
In this post, I’ll do a deep dive on:
Why micronutrients are important
What causes nutrient deficiency
The difference between macro- and micro-nutrients
What happens if you don’t get enough nutrients
Common nutrient deficiencies
What is a nutrient test and why use it
Why Micronutrients Are Important
Micronutrients are essential for a reason: they play a role in building and preserving bones, muscles and blood, as well as assisting in energy production, immune function, and protection against oxidative stress and cellular damage.
Deficiencies lead to chronic symptoms such as a weakened immune system, neurological symptoms, and digestive problems.
What’s more, nutrients do not work in isolation: most nutrients work together in sync with other vitamins and minerals. Lacking one or two nutrients could result in ineffective processes or have a domino effect causing other deficiencies down the line as a result.
A good example of this is the nutrients needed to create and maintain strong bones. We often think all we need is calcium for good bones, but without vitamin D, magnesium, and protein, calcium cannot be directed to the bones. Meanwhile, vitamin D needs vitamins A and K, zinc, and boron to do its job…And this is just one example of how nutrients depend on one another to maintain a healthy body!
What Causes Nutrient Deficiency
The most obvious reason for nutrient deficiencies is poor quality food, however if you are not absorbing the nutrients you are taking in, deficiency is the result. There are many factors that affect nutrient absorption in the gut including:
Excessive alcohol consumption
It’s not uncommon to experience one of more of these contributing conditions! And if any of the above factors are present, you likely have vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
The Difference Between Macro- and Micro-nutrients
While both types of nutrients are essential, we require larger amounts of macronutrients than micronutrients, hence the terms macro (large) and micro (small) nutrients.
Macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. All are used for energy production however each of them have a unique role in the body.
Protein plays an essential role in making enzymes that break down the food we eat, making hormones, providing structure to hair, skin, and nails, as well as several hundred more functions.
Fats are used as an energy source, help us absorb specific nutrients (such as fat-soluble vitamins), and are used to make hormones and brain chemicals.
Carbohydrates are the bodyʼs preferred energy source. They are important for initiating the blood sugar response to initiate an insulin response - even just a moderate one. Insulin is considered the “master hormone” which turns on and off many other hormones (e.g., estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc.).
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals that are required for cellular function, growth, metabolism, and development, and are found in fat-soluble and water-soluble formats.
Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D, E, and K, which can be stored in the liver and fatty tissues of the body for extended periods of time.
Water-soluble vitamins include the 8 B vitamins (folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) and vitamin C. These cannot be stored in excess in the body - any leftover or excess amounts of these leave the body through the urine - so more regular consumption is required.
Minerals are inorganic substances required for bone structure, hormones, and much more. Minerals include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, chromium, copper, fluoride, molybdenum, manganese, and selenium.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Nutrients
A poor quality diet coupled with malabsorption due to digestive conditions, medications, chronic disease, genetic mutations, or other factors will ultimately affect vitamin status.
Certain medications can cause specific nutrient deficiencies, as shown in Table 1. Common medications such as oral contraceptions, proton-pump inhibitors (e.g. Protonix, Prevacid, Nexium, and Dexilent), steroids and metformin are among those drugs that can cause nutrient deficiencies if used long-term.
Symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies may include skin problems, numbness/tingling in your hands or feet, weakened immune system, depression, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, hair loss, headaches, and impaired cognitive function.
Nutrient deficiencies also increase one’s risk for chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, and age-related eye disease.
Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies
The Standard American Diet (also known as SAD) is generally lacking in the nutrients we need. The 2005–2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) reported that based on a dietary recall (food intake), the U.S. population had inadequate intake of the following nutrients:
Calcium, important for bone and cardiovascular health, is another common deficiency - NHANES data from 2007 to 2014 show that the risk of inadequate calcium intakes (less than 800 to 1,100 mg) is 11.6% higher among adults aged 50. Data also indicates that around 10%–30% of the population are deficient in its co-nutrient, magnesium - like calcium, magnesium is critical when it comes to bone health, cardiovascular health, mood and more. Low levels of magnesium may also make Vitamin D supplementation ineffective.
What is a Nutrient Test and Why Use it?
Often, symptoms offer clues as to what nutrients may be depleted, however testing can give insight that allow for a highly individualized diet and supplement plan.
I like to use the Vibrant America Micronutrients test to determine deficiencies. The Vibrant America Micronutrients Panel provides a direct measurement of nutrient status of common vitamins and minerals, as well as other co-factors, amino acids, and essential fatty acids.
The micronutrients blood test works by assessing the absorption of nutrients at both the extra- and intracellular level:
Extracellular nutrient levels are measured using serum to obtain a person’s most recent nutritional status.
Intracellular nutrient levels are measured using white and red blood cells to obtain nutritional status over a longer period.
Directly measuring micronutrients over short-term and long-term periods is the most comprehensive picture of nutrient status available, and it allows me to identify possible root causes of symptoms that have not responded to diet or conventional treatment alone.
This is important for an individualized, target approach to optimal health - addressing these deficiencies has the potential to resolve many health issues, either in part or in total. If you’ve struggled with chronic digestive issues or have symptoms of nutrition deficiencies, consider nutrient testing for clarity on your next steps! --> Click for more information on nutrient testing