Lately, I’ve been collecting articles with a theme, mostly accidentally. I was glancing through my list of articles and noticed that I had come across several studies on vitamin and mineral deficiencies. That got me to thinking about why there are so many nutrient deficiencies today. What is it about our lifestyle that is causing this? I can’t imagine that evolution would have allowed our species to thrive as it has were this a regular occurrence over the past few million years, so I’m assuming it’s a fairly recent occurrence.
So why not look at them all together and try to draw some common threads?
Vitamin And Mineral Deficiency Prevalence
For starters, there are thirteen known vitamins and untold numbers of minerals. The vitamins are classified as either fat-soluble - vitamins A, D, E, and K - or water-soluble - the B vitamins and vitamin C. A few major minerals are calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and iodine. There are far too many trace minerals to list, however.
Unfortunately, I can’t find solid evidence on most of the vitamins and minerals about how many people are deficient. Here are the ones I was able to come up with from this site: [I was hoping to find some stuff on PubMed, but it doesn't seem many studies have been done, which makes sense in an industrialized nation where people are presumed to be well-nourished.]
Vitamin/Mineral Deficiency Prevalence
How Did We Get Here?
Depleted soils. Processed foods. Indoor living. Fear of the sun. Pretty much a complete rejection of the evolutionary lifestyle that sustained us for a couple million years. It all adds up to pretty high levels of vitamin and mineral deficiencies across the population. While most people aren’t deficient enough to get the overt symptoms, such as rickets or bleeding disorders, lots of us have less than recommended levels, which does have an effect over the course of a lifetime. Just look at all of the studies showing that low vitamin D levels, though high enough to stave off rickets, being tied to cancer, cognitive impairment, heart disease, and any number of other diseases.
I think there’s also one other culprit - low-fat diets. Low-fat diets tend to promote processed foods that are fortified with selected vitamins. But there’s one problem. No matter how many IU of vitamins A & D you cram into that skim milk (because skim is what’s always recommended), the body can’t absorb them without fat.
A Toxic Environment
So check out some of the stuff I came across about what specific types of pharmaceuticals do to vitamin and mineral status:
How many people are reaching for the antibiotics at every little illness? Now let’s look at the effects of deficiency of a few of these vitamins and minerals.
The article also points out that even mild zinc deficiency is associated with higher levels of DNA damage. And of course, zinc is incredibly important for testosterone production and for releasing enzymes that inhibit testosterone conversion to estrogen.
But magnesium is only a big deal if you care about having strong teeth and bones, not cramping during your workouts, how effectively your heart pumps, and your blood pressure. Y’know, just a few somewhat important things like that.
Vitamin K Deficiency
Unfortunately, that article recommends the typical plant vitamin K sources like spinach and Swiss chard, completely ignoring even better sources, namely animal foods. I pointed out in this fat-soluble vitamins series, that vitamin K 2 is at least as important as K 1 and showed some great sources like egg yolks, butter, ground beef, and liver.
I won’t run through all of the various effects of vitamin K since I’ve already done so in here. If you didn’t read that series the first time, you might want to check it out to learn more about the oh-so-important fat-soluble vitamins.
Vitamin D Deficiency
I think vitamin D is so important that I can’t really touch on it enough. And I know that I’ve written about it quite a few times. So if you want to know what vitamin D does and how having adequate levels affects you, check out these two articles:
Also, one of my readers sent me this article written by his girlfriend (or fiancee or perhaps even wife) which goes a bit more in-depth than I’ve ever gone: Vitamin D Sources, Supplementation and Toxicity. Unfortunately I can’t recall who sent it to me, but thanks!
Check this out…from Ms. Perciavalle’s page:
So while the media is concerned with a supposed H1N1 pandemic, one-sixth of the people in the world are deficient in vitamin D (and I’m betting a huge number that aren’t “deficient” are sub-optimal). Go check out those links to see all of the various effects of being deficient in D.
How To Resolve Vitamin And Mineral Deficiencies
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, just a high-level view at a few of the vitamin deficiencies that people don’t notice, but which cause numerous effects that are typically chalked up to “aging”. I strongly believe that most of these issues can be resolved pretty simply. And I don’t mean loading up on supplements.
Eat Real Food
For starters, we need to just Eat Real Food. No matter how fortified or enriched your packaged, processed foods are, they will never compare to real, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and meats. So eat your grass-fed meats, poultry, eggs, and wild seafood. Load your plate up with vegetables and fruits. Snack on nuts. And ditch everything that says “Now With Added X”.
Your body needs plenty of healthy fats. Get rid of the highly processed polyunsaturated fats and go with stable fats like coconut oil and palm oil and the fat from grass-fed animals. These the healthy fats that your body craves and that retain all of their vitamins.
Eat Organic And Grass-Fed
Some studies say organic food has more nutrients than non-organic food. Other studies say it doesn’t. Regardless, I think organic is a better bet, if for no other reason than that the pesticides and fertilizers left on the food represent a toxic load for your body to deal with. I’d also imagine, though I’m guessing, that dealing with these toxins requires some level of vitamins and minerals, perhaps exacerbating nutrient deficiencies. Certain produce items have been shown to have higher pesticide contamination levels and should be your first choice for going organic.
I also found some interesting information showing that low vitamin A diets lead to increased intramuscular fat storage (i.e., marbling) in cows (I bet it does the same in humans…). You can bet feedlot farms are using that to their advantage to increase the grading of their meat, while decreasing the vitamin content of the actual meat. There’s yet another reason to eat grass-fed meats.
Should You Take Supplements?
Finally, I do take a few supplements in small amounts (and one in big amounts). I take zinc and magnesium due to my workout load, along with a large daily dose of vitamin D after testing very low, and I take a whole foods-based multivitamin as a cheap insurance policy. Other than that, nothing. I think loading up on vitamin C or E or whatever probably causes more issues than it cures since vitamins need to exist in ratios in the body, not just in mass quantities.
If you do think you need to shore up a few nutrient deficiencies, Vitamin Shoppe carries a wide range of supplements, including zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D. Just remember to look to real food first, supplements second.
What other ways do you see to shore up nutrient deficiencies?