By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Are you at high risk for a micronutrient deficiency?
Micronutrients – more commonly known as vitamins and minerals – are essential to good health. Usually our bodies cannot synthesize them on their own (except for vitamin D), and we must get them from the foods we eat.
We need micronutrients in only small amounts – hence the term micronutrients. They are critical for normal growth and development. Any deficiency can increase our risk for serious health problems as well as reduce our energy levels and mental clarity.
Everyone is at risk for some level of micronutrient deficiency. These risks may be due to factors like diet and lifestyle choices. There are certain groups of people, however, who may have a higher risk of a deficiency or imbalance of these important vitamins and minerals because of genetics, acute or chronic conditions, age, and/or race. If you, or family members, belong to any of these groups, you need to take special care to ensure that you’re getting the micronutrients you need – and in the right amounts – to stay healthy and function at your best.
Here are the more common risk groups along with their corresponding micronutrient deficiencies:
• Adolescents run a high risk of being deficient in micronutrients since many do not follow healthier dietary guidelines. These deficiencies tend to be more pronounced in teenage women compared to their male counterparts. The most common deficiencies are vitamins A, C, D, and E. This group also shows deficiencies in the minerals iron, magnesium, and calcium, with teenage women also having deficiencies in phosphorus and zinc.
• Alcoholics may be deficient in a wide variety of micronutrients in addition to other alcohol-related health conditions, such as liver damage and general malnutrition. These include vitamin A and many of the B vitamins (folate, vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B12). This group may also be deficient in magnesium and phosphorus.
• Breast-fed Infants have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, especially if they have darker skin. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all breast-fed infants (even those that may not be exclusively breast fed) receive a vitamin D supplement. As the infants are weaned, their formulas should be fortified with this vitamin.
• Darker Skin increases the likelihood of vitamin D deficiency since this vitamin is produced by the body in response to sunlight. The pigment in darker skin is thought to block the amount of UV light reaching the body and as a result, less vitamin D is produced when compared to people with lighter skin. There is evidence suggesting that vitamin D is deficient in more than half of non-Hispanic blacks and almost a quarter of Mexican Americans compared to about a tenth of non-Hispanic whites.
• Obese Individuals often consume a diet that is usually high in calories and low in nutritional value, leaving them open to variety of micronutrient deficiencies. These include vitamins A, C, D, and E as well as the minerals calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
• Older Adults are at risk for a wide variety of micronutrient deficiencies that they may not have had when they were younger. This is because of changes caused by aging that make it harder for our bodies to absorb and effectively use the micronutrients in our foods, medical conditions and illnesses, and interactions with medications taken to manage chronic conditions. These deficiency risks include folate; vitamins A, B6, C, D, E, and K; and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
• People with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, are at an increased risk of several micronutrient deficiencies. These include iron (estimates are that up to 90 percent of people with IDB are deficient in this mineral), vitamins A, B9, B12, D, E, and K, along with the minerals calcium and zinc.
• Smokers generally are deficient in vitamins C and E.
• Vegetarians and Vegans have a high risk of being deficient in various micronutrients abundant in animal-based foods. They are especially at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency since it is usually found in animal-based foods. Others include calcium and vitamin D. This group may also have lower zinc and iron levels since these minerals found in plant-based foods are not as readily absorbed.
• Women of Childbearing Age have an increased risk of iron deficiency due to poor diets as well as due to loss of this mineral during their menstrual periods. They also may not have adequate levels of folic acid to reduce the risk of specific birth defects should they become pregnant. Other micronutrient deficiency risks for women include those of calcium and vitamin D. During pregnancy, the increased and combined nutritional demands of the woman and her child can create a corresponding risk of micronutrient deficiencies. These include folate, iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and vitamin C.
As you can see, the above situations do not create a blanket risk for all micronutrients. Rather, each may target a specific micronutrient or group of micronutrients. Knowing which ones will help you make better nutrition and lifestyle choices to address and correct specific deficiencies or imbalances.
How to reduce your risk of micronutrient deficiency
The first step to take in reducing your risk of micronutrient deficiency is to take a nutrient test to determine any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances that you may already have and take steps to correct them. Then you can move forward to ensure you stay nutritionally balanced not only with micronutrients but with the other nutrients you need to stay healthy (together these are vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and water).
When it comes to micronutrients, the good news is that they are plentiful in all the foods you will find and would include in a healthy diet. This means eating a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein.
Try to avoid excess high-calorie, low nutrition foods such as those that are processed, fried and/or full of added sugars. This may mean shifting from a typical “western diet” to more of a “Mediterranean diet.”
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.