Four Common Nutrient Deficiencies and What to do about Them

A whopping 92 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in at least one micronutrient. Unless you’re very fastidious about your diet, there’s a good chance you fall into this group.

Listed below are four of the most common nutrient deficiencies, along with tips on how you can increase your nutrient consumption to achieve optimal health.

#1. Iron

Iron is a primary component of the body’s red blood cells. Dietary iron comes in two different forms: heme iron, and non-heme iron.

Heme iron is found exclusively in animal foods, especially red meat. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, is generated in both plant and animal foods. The body tends to absorb heme iron more efficiently than non-heme iron.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron is between 19.3 and 20.5 milligrams per day for adult men and between 17 and 18.9 milligrams per day for adult women.

Approximately 25 percent of people globally are deficient in iron. Preschool-aged children, menstruating women, pregnant women, vegetarians, and vegans are especially prone.

Iron deficiency symptoms include fatigue, feeling weak, poor immune system functioning, and impaired cognitive abilities (brain fog, poor memory, etc.).

To increase iron levels, consuming red meat (especially organ meat) and shellfish like oysters and clams can help. Beans, seeds, and leafy green vegetables are also good sources of non-heme iron.

Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin C can also help the body absorb iron more efficiently.

#2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D acts like a steroid hormone and plays an important role in many different bodily functions. In fact, nearly every cell in the human body contains a vitamin D receptor.

The RDA for vitamin D is between 10 and 20 micrograms per day.

Vitamin D is found in many different foods, but the cholesterol in the skin produces vitamin D when it’s exposed to direct sunlight. About 42 percent of people in the U.S. are vitamin D deficient. The elderly and people with darker skin are most likely to be deficient.

Vitamin D deficiency is often asymptomatic. But, some people experience muscle weakness, decreases in bone density, poor immune system functioning.

Good food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Cod liver oil

  • Fatty fish like salmon and sardines

  • Egg yolks

Sun exposure and/or supplementation are generally considered the best way to increase vitamin D.

#3. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for proper blood formation and brain and nerve function. All cells in the body require vitamin B12, and the body cannot produce it on its own. Therefore, it must come from food or supplements.

The RDA for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms. Some studies suggest that nearly 40 percent of the country is on the brink of vitamin B12 deficiency, and another 9 percent are already deficient.

Common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Fatigue

  • Poor balance

  • Enlarged red blood cells (megaloblastic anemia)

  • Impaired cognitive abilities (brain fog, poor memory, etc.)

  • Elevated homocysteine levels (which have been linked to increased heart attack and stroke risk)

Vegetarians and vegans are often deficient in vitamin B12, as it only is found in animal products and certain types of seaweed. Elderly individuals are also prone to vitamin B12 deficiency since absorption rates tend to decrease with age.

Good sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Shellfish

  • Organ meats

  • Red meat

  • Eggs

  • Full-fat dairy

  • Nori seaweed

#4. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is essential for brain health, cholesterol balance, and protection from free radical damage. Vitamin E also plays a major role in preventing prostate cancer in men. That’s why it’s abundant in most multivitamins for men.

The RDA for vitamin E is 15 milligrams. Only 25 percent of the population in the U.S. and U.K. meet this requirement.

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Poor coordination or difficulty walking

  • Nerve damage

  • Poor vision

  • Decreased immune system functioning

Good food sources of vitamin E include:

  • Hazelnuts

  • Almonds

  • Pecans

  • Walnuts

  • Olive oil

  • Legumes

  • Spinach

  • Broccoli

If you’re supplementing with vitamin E or buying a multivitamin that contains vitamin E, make sure you’re buying one that lists vitamin E in the “d” form (d-alpha-tocopherol or d-beta-tocopherol) for maximum absorption.

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