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7 Vital Nutrients You May Be Missing & Why You Need Them

Are You Nutrient Deficient?

Taking your supplements can be tough; even the most diligent wellness warriors get tired of unscrewing their 20-something red-capped bottles every day. If you count yourself among the stubborn folks who tend to turn up their noses at handfuls of health-boosting supplements (even we do sometimes), you may have already perfected the art of prioritizing. For those yet to rank-order their supplement regimen, the CDC routinely publishes a nutrition report highlighting the nutrients that Americans are most deficient in. We’ve compiled our own list of seven nutrients that the U.S. population is sorely lacking, and uncovered exactly why they are so essential to overall health.

 

1. Vitamin B12

Data from Tufts University suggests that up to 40% of the population between the ages of 26 and 83 have vitamin B12 levels in the below normal range. Of the eight B vitamins, B12 is the only one produced solely by bacteria. Because the body can’t manufacture vitamin B12 on its own, humans must rely on dietary sources or supplements to bulk up their vitamin B12 stores.

What it does

  • Plays a major role in producing red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying red blood cells throughout the body, and in keeping homocysteine (a compound often implicated in heart disease and stroke) levels in check.
  • Converts homocysteine to methionine, a precursor to the mood-boosting molecule SAMe, thereby encouraging healthy moods and helping to fight migraine and depression symptoms.
  • Supports a healthy metabolism.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • Anemia, fatigue, or weakness.
  • Constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
  • Neurological problems including difficulty balancing, numbness, depression, memory loss or confusion, or dementia.
  • Soreness of the mouth or tongue.
  • Depression or mood imbalance.

Dietary sources

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in many animal products, including fish, shellfish, meat (the richest sources being the liver, brain, and kidneys), poultry, eggs and dairy, as well as fortified breakfast cereals. Some nutritional yeasts (which have a cheesy flavor perfect for sprinkling on chips or popcorn) also contain vitamin B12.

 

2. Iodine
Iodine is critical to thyroid function, though about 74% of the population does not consume adequate levels of this mineral. Some publications deem widespread iodine deficiency a “silent epidemic.” However, it is important to adhere to recommended daily intake levels of iodine, as high doses may have adverse effects similar to deficiency. The maximum daily intakes by age are as follows:

  • 1–3 years: 200 mcg
  • 4–8 years: 300 mcg
  • 9–13 years: 600 mcg
  • 14–18 years: 900 mcg
  • Adults: 1,100 mcg

What it does

  • Needed to make thyroid hormones, which convert food into energy for your cells.
  • Supports healthy bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy.
  • Thought to help maintain cardiovascular health.
  • Iodine deficiency has been linked to various forms of cancer, including breast, stomach, and thyroid cancer.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • In pregnant women, iodine deficiency may cause physical or mental development issues in the fetus.
  • Weight gain.
  • Low energy, depression, or cognitive decline.

Dietary sources

Iodized salt is the chief source of dietary iodine, though analysis reveals that many brands of table salt no longer contain adequate amounts of this essential mineral. Saltwater fish, seaweed, shrimp, and other seafood, as well as dairy products and some grain products also contain iodine. Depending on the amount of iodine in the soil in which they were grown, some fruits and vegetables may also contain iodine.

Fast Facts: The Japanese, known for longevity, consume about 12 mg of iodine daily (close to 50 times more than Westerners) — with no harmful effects and a host of health benefits. Iodine is known to make cholesterol more liquid and support lubrication of eyes, mouth, and throat tissues. Iodine also is in special demand by breast, prostate, thyroid, and brain tissues, so deficiencies lead to competition for scarce iodine.

 

3. Vitamin C

You may not be surprised to hear that around here, we’re big fans of vitamin C. Many of you know that our top-selling Heart Plus product is based on Linus Pauling’s groundbreaking work with vitamin C and the amino acids L-lysine and L-proline, a powerful combination for preventing cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels. Specifically, vitamin C works to maintain healthy collagen production, the molecule responsible for arterial elasticity. While the average American consumes the recommended daily dose of vitamin C, data from the American Journal of Public Health suggests that 14% of men and 10% of women are nonetheless deficient.

What it does

  • Absorbs damage-causing free radicals and prevents cellular oxidation.
  • Bolsters the immune response and may shorten the duration of cold symptoms.
  • Helps keep arteries elastic and supports overall cardiovascular health.
  • Speeds up the wound healing process.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • Presence of scurvy symptoms, including fatigue, swollen gums, or loose teeth.
  • Joint pain, poor ability to heal wounds, or easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Anemia or weakness.

Dietary sources

Vitamin C is found in various fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, red bell peppers, broccoli, and cabbage. Because cooking depletes vitamin C concentrations, it is best to snack on vitamin C-rich produce in its raw form.

Fast Fact: Although most animals are able to produce their own vitamin C, humans, alas, cannot. While oranges come to mind for most when thinking of dietary sources of vitamin C, reach for a red bell pepper instead – it contains nearly twice as must vitamin C as a orange! Click here to uncover six other fruits and veggies with more vitamin C than an orange.

 

4. Iron

The World Health Organization deems inadequate iron intake the number one nutritional deficiency in the world. Women are especially at risk for iron deficiency starting at adolescence because they lose blood each month during their period. As a result, almost 10% of U.S. women are iron deficient. Naturopaths suggest women age 19 to 50 need 18mg of iron each day, while men the same age only need 8mg per day.

What it does

  • Transports oxygen throughout the body.
  • Supports healthy energy levels and moods.
  • Helps maintain healthy hair, nails, and skin.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • Fatigue, weakness, or low energy.
  • Shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, or cold hands and feet.
  • Swollen tongue, mouth sores, or difficulty swallowing.
  • Compromised immune function or heightened susceptibility to infection.
  • Low red blood cell count, resulting in anemia.

Dietary sources

Dietary iron comes in two different forms, heme and nonheme. Heme iron, which humans absorb more easily than nonheme iron, is found in red meats, fish, oysters, and poultry. Nonheme iron exists in plant sources, including lentils, beans, and tofu. Iron is best absorbed when eaten in conjunction with vitamin C-rich foods. Try this recipe for Roasted Salmon with Brussels Sprouts for a hefty helping of both iron andvitamin C that tastes delicious and is gorgeous enough to serve to guests.

Fast Fact: Did you know that Popeye’s obsession with spinach was all due to a clerical error by chemist Erich von Wolf? Though he correctly ascertained that spinach contains 3.5 milligrams of iron per 100g serving, von Wolf misplaced a decimal point when recording his findings, reporting instead that the 100g serving contained a whopping 35 milligrams! Even though that would be like eating a small paperclip (ouch!), word spread of spinach’s “crazy high” iron content, apparently catching the attention of Popeye’s creators.

 

5. Zinc

Have you ever seen surfers and lifeguards slathering their noses with bright blue or white paste before hitting the waves? Well folks, that blue (or white) goop is none other than zinc oxide (an inorganic compound that won’t dissolve in water). Though beach bums seem to be aware of topical zinc’s skin-protecting properties, zinc’s myriad health benefits are often overlooked. A powerful mineral for bolstering the immune system, supplemental zinc also plays a pivotal role in numerous biological functions.

What it does

  • Bolsters the immune system against bacteria and viruses and boosts metabolism.
  • Supports rapid wound healing and is critical to skin and mucosal membrane health.
  • Encourages healthy cell division and growth.
  • Helps maintain ocular and cognitive health.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • Slowing wound repair or skin lesions.
  • Decreased brain function.
  • Hair loss.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Diminished ability to smell or taste.
  • Impotence in men.

Dietary sources

Keeping with the ocean-theme, sea lovers will be happy to know that oysters are one of the richest dietary sources of zinc around! For those who turn up their nose at the mere sound of oysters being shucked, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, spinach, cocoa, and fortified breakfast cereals are also good sources of zinc.

 

6. Vitamin D

Did you know that almost every single type of tissue and cell in the body contains special vitamin D receptors? While the body is capable of manufacturing some vitamin D on its own, humans nonetheless require alternate sources (like supplements and sunshine) in order to achieve the recommended amounts.

In the skin, 7-dehydrocholesterol is converted to vitamin D3 by ultraviolet sunlight. Because older folks have thinner skin, and thus less 7-dehydrocholesterol, vitamin D supplementation is especially important for aging bodies. Vitamin D deficiency exists at alarming levels around the globe, and a whopping 75% of American teens and adults lack this essential vitamin for cell and tissue function.

What it does

  • Regulates calcium in the body to build strong bones, muscles, and nerves.
  • Helps fight collagen buildup in the arteries.
  • Strengthens the immune system and supports cell growth.
  • Supports happy, healthy moods.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • In children, softening of the bones and skeletal deformities (rickets) may occur.
  • Bone pain or muscle weakness.
  • Fatigue, low energy, or depression.
  • Pain or tenderness under the sternum.

Dietary sources

Not many foods naturally contain vitamin D, though it is found in small amounts in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Additionally, people with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease often have a difficult time absorbing vitamin D, making supplementation even more salient.

Fast Facts: The further you live from the equator, the longer sun exposure you need in order to convert UV rays to vitamin D. Additionally, people with dark skin pigmentation require about 20 times the amount of sun exposure it takes light-skinned people to manufacture the same amount of vitamin D.

 

7. Magnesium

Magnesium is a mighty mineral: it regulates over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body and resides in your bones, muscles, tissues, and blood. It also plays a critical role in smooth muscle function, particularly by expanding muscle and relaxing blood vessels.

What it does

  • Manages muscle control and energy production.
  • Binds to and eliminates toxins from the body.
  • Thought to support heart and cognitive health.
  • Helps build strong bones and fights osteoporosis.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Fatigue, low energy, or weakness.
  • Numbness, cramps, or seizures.
  • Irregular heartbeat or high blood pressure.

Dietary sources

Magnesium is found in many legumes and plants (particularly leafy green vegetables), including spinach, beans, peas, edamame, swiss chard, nuts (especially almonds), and whole grains.

 

Supplements Superb for Filling Nutrition Gaps
While nutrient gaps may seem impossible to fill with diet alone, supplements can help satisfy your daily need (especially when you reach for a bag of chips over your usual salad at lunchtime). Pay attention to the warning signs – chronic headaches, joint pain, low energy, etc. – your nasty symptoms might just be the result of a nutrient deficiency. The good news is, the solution may be as simple as a supplement a day.