You may think vitamin and mineral deficiencies are a thing of the past, experienced by sailors on long sea voyages, but they are surprisingly common even today. Children, women, older adults, vegetarians, and vegans seem to be at the highest risk of several deficiencies.
At first, vitamin deficiency may lead to fatigue, low energy levels and overall weakness, however, if left untreated, deficiencies can become severe and may lead to serious health issues such as anemia, osteoporosis or in extreme cases to blindness. In this article we share our opinion on which vitamin and mineral levels are worth paying special attention to in order to get the most out of our own life.
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Why are your vitamin levels important?
Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients that help cells and organs function, support growth and development and boost the immune system. They are so important, that being low in even one nutrient could have an impact on your overall health. The body’s ability to heal, repair, and defend itself from illness depends on a precise mix of vitamins. And even if you don’t get sick, a deficiency in one area (or multiple ones) can affect the way you feel.
The micronutrients your body needs in the right amount to maintain normal function are: vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K; Calcium, Magnesium, Iodine, Selenium, Zinc, Copper and Iron (not to mention trace elements, which we only need in very small quantities).
Checking your level of vitamin D may be of extra importance. Vitamin D, or “the sunshine vitamin” is completely different from other vitamins as it is actually a steroid hormone produced from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to the sun.
However, sun exposure rarely provides adequate vitamin D – especially during the winter period – and only some foods contain significant amounts of this crucial vitamin, such as cod liver oil, salmon and tuna. Thus, its deficiency is one of the most common among all deficiencies making it necessary to obtain vitamin D from supplements.
Who’s at risk of a nutrient deficiency?
You may be at higher risk of developing certain nutrient deficiencies if you:
- Follow a vegan or vegetarian diet – meat is a rich source of micronutrients, so you may not be getting enough of some important nutrients, unless you are replacing your intake
- Are obese – poor nutrition and higher amounts of body fat can impact the levels of nutrients in the bloodstream
- Are not exposed to direct sunlight – due to a lack of sunshine you may not be able to get all the vitamin D you need
- Are elderly – older adults tend to eat a reduced diet due to a decline in physical activity while nutrient requirements remain just about the same and absorption may even decline.
- Are pregnant – during pregnancy most of a woman’s nutrient supply is sent to the developing baby so levels of some vitamins and minerals in the blood may be lower than required
- Have a medical condition that restricts proper nutrient absorption – such as liver failure, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The most common symptoms of vitamin or mineral deficiency
The symptoms of a vitamin or mineral deficiency differ from nutrient to nutrient, but general symptoms that indicate you may have nutrient deficiency include:\
- Low energy levels
- Easy bruising
- Poor wound healing
If you suspect you have a deficiency, get tested sooner rather than later in order to decrease your risk of developing certain diseases and health conditions. Testing your nutrient levels can help you detect low levels so that you can make effective changes to your diet, and introduce supplements into your daily routine if necessary. Moreover, taking multivitamin supplements when you suspect a deficiency without testing your actual levels may result in overdosing the nutrient(s) you already had a high level of, which often cause similar symptoms to that of a vitamin deficiency, resulting in further deterioration of your general well-being.
The best way to prevent deficiency is to eat a balanced diet that includes whole, nutrient-dense foods and live a healthy lifestyle. However, supplements may be necessary for those who can’t obtain enough from diet alone – which is unfortunately true for most of us. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to a number of health concerns, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need either through your diet or a combination of diet and supplements.
The only way to find out what you are deficient in is a blood test, which comes with a little inconvenience, but in return, is reliable and can save you from many unnecessary attempts of trying to steer your life in a healthier direction.