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Thursday
Nov062014

8 Ways Nutrition Deficits Are Hurting Your Health (and Weight Loss)

Are you getting your full measure of all the critical nutrients each day?

The fact is, coming up short nutritionally can have serious consequences over time for both overall health and metabolism. Each system or process in our bodies is fed by the nutrients we give them, and we all need a certain amount of these nutrients to function optimally. Anything less than our individual body's true requirement, and we'll experience the consequences even if the effects aren't obvious. 

Let's look at 8 common ways nutrition deficits hurt our health and what deficiencies are most common.  

How Common Deficiencies Form

First, we'll look at an example of food intake. How about someone who's trying to lose weight? Let’s say this person wasn’t crazily reducing calorie intake but was eating a reasonable 2000 calories each day from largely un-processed foods like those on the chart below.

 

In case you’re wondering, this example incorporates a variety of food sources. It meets the government’s “5-a-Day” recommendations for produce and would be considered “low-fat.” It provides about 2027 calories made up of ~230g carbohydrates (45% of calories), ~65g fat (28% of calories), and ~143g protein (28% of calories). You’d be hard-pressed to find a health professional or average adult who would tell you this isn’t a “healthy” example of a balanced meal plan. It may be even harder to find adults who can eat like this ninety percent of the time.

Would you be surprised to know the above example is significantly inadequate in vitamins B1, B3, B6, B12, K, D, zinc, chromium, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids (≤66% of the Recommended Dietary Allowances), and also falls short (≤100% of RDA) for potassium, magnesium, selenium, vitamin E, B2, and molybdenum? Keep in mind, 100% of the RDA only represents an estimated level of a given nutrient that would likely prevent deficiency symptoms/syndromes in most healthy people. It does not represent the level necessary to make up nutrient gaps from years of undernourishment, optimize cellular function, or support high-end physical performance. The truth is, no one knows exactly how much of a certain nutrient it takes to make an individual realize his/her full performance potential.

The human body is a complicated biological system that needs adequate nourishment to maintain life and energy-producing metabolic reactions. Shortfalls in nutrient intake can alter our health in thousands of different ways, but I’ll highlight some of the more common ways I’ve seen nutritional deficits working in so-called “healthy people.”

  1. Overall stress response
  2. Systemic inflammation
  3. Moodiness
  4. Dry skin and hair
  5. Metabolic inefficiencies
  6. Compromised blood pressure regulation
  7. Impaired bone health
  8. Low energy

Let me explain in more detail and home in on a few of the most common deficiencies. If we consider the consequences of falling short or significantly short of the “minimal” goals to maintain health on a day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month, or year-after-year basis, we can rack up some serious deficits over time. In general, the systemic (body-wide) effect of any nutrient deficiency will bring on a stress response. So, in a way, any deficient intake creates a stress reaction. If the deficiency or stress reaction persists, we take a detour from normal biological functioning to initiate processes that will simply help us survive. A major downside of constant under-nourishment (even  "minor") is that stress depletes us even further of many of the very nutrients we need! Also, last time I checked, stress doesn’t produce the most nourishing food decisions....

I’ll try to be brief with my explanations below and have ranked them in a loose order of most common/urgent to less obvious/pressing.

Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiencies are rampant. "Essential" refers to the types of fats humans cannot make internally but depend on for normal cellular function. You see, the Western diet includes far too many omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation, and often doesn’t include nearly enough omega-3. The more important class of EFAs is known as omega-3s, such as the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DHA) found in abundance in coldwater fish.

Deficient intakes of anti-inflammatory omega-3s fail to control the acute and chronic inflammation (tissues being damaged faster than we can repair them) that we generally experience on a daily basis. Our response to these conditions is negative and widespread in the body. Unrelenting inflammatory signals activate stress responses by activating the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, which instructs our adrenal glands to pump out the hormone cortisol. Activation of the adrenal cortisol response is meant to mobilize energy and nutrients from storage to contribute to our frantic repair efforts, but when this response is nearly continuous, we essentially keep making withdrawals while we continue to fall short on nutrient deposits. This cycle is often referred to as “chronic inflammation,” which basically means the body is encountering damage much faster than it can possibly repair.

Additionally, omega-3’s have been shown to positively influence mood and mental function, skin health, eye health, fat metabolism, longevity markers on human DNA, and much more. The example diet above contains a hefty portion of the best dietary source of EPA and DHA (wild Alaskan Salmon) but still falls way short of the total need for these important nutrients. Can you afford to eat 12oz of wild salmon per day? I know I can’t! Sadly, the type of omega-3s found in plant sources or marine algae are very poorly converted to the right, helpful type by the human body. That's why I take fish oil.

Vitamin D

There are no great (common) dietary sources of vitamin D. In fact, the U.S. initiated a food fortification program for vitamin D in 1932, to combat Rickets, a bone formation disorder that was common in children at the time. Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin in the traditional sense because it can be synthesized by the body if there is sufficient exposure to sunlight (without sunscreen) and available cholesterol. In the last half century or so, our lifestyles have either kept us indoors most of the time, or we’ve been blocking our natural ability to synthesize vitamin D with SPF.

This hormone-like vitamin is so important to overall metabolism that medical and nutritional research is literally erupting with findings related to vitamin D levels. Whether you’re trying to prevent the progression of metabolic syndrome to diabetes, controlling inflammation-related heart disease risk factors, trying to improve your mood, boosting your immune system, or keeping up your bone integrity, you ought to pay close attention to your vitamin D trends and make up the gaps in your diet. I recommend at least 1000 IUs per day from supplements for most if not all of the year – and even higher if testing shows you have borderline or deficient levels. You should have your vitamin D level tested at least twice per year until you understand your own trends and how to supplement with your seasonal sun exposure variation.

B Vitamins

The "stellar" dietary example above fell significantly short in several key B-vitamins. On top of that, stress (as well as some common prescription drugs) deplete the body of B-vitamins. B-complex vitamins (a general reference to the class of several energy-producing co-factor B vitamins) have been known to positively affect mood, preserve memory and reverse progression of cognitive decline as well as boost energy in a hurry. Just take a look at any energy drink or supplement marketed to “active” people, and you’ll find it’s most likely loaded with B-vitamins. Naturally sourced B-vitamin supplements, in addition to a nutrition pattern as wholesome as the above, may be enough to put a little more pep in your step. Try supplementing your diet for a month, then discontinue the B-complex supplemention, and you may just feel like you’re pushing thoughts through Jello, slogging through your day with energy flatter than a pancake.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a forgotten macro-mineral often overshadowed by its counterbalancing cohort calcium. Our bodies try to maintain a delicate balance of these two large minerals, but in the last several decades calcium has been over-emphasized as an additive in fortified foodstuffs, while our magnesium sources and intake has been diminishing. The National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements estimates that over 75% of American adults have deficient daily intakes of magnesium. A calcium-dominant body may have strong bones, but it may also have a tough time metabolizing fats and carbohydrates, relaxing muscles, and regulating blood pressure without adequate magnesium. The example diet above, which may be a "dream day" nutritionally speaking for some, barely misses the RDA for magnesium, thus making even this good example wholly inadequate in compensating for previous deficient intakes or excessive magnesium losses through sweat or stress.

It’s likely that many if not most of the health concerns we see as people age are due to gradual nutrient deficiencies that develop over weeks, months, and years of marginal and sub-optimal intakes. The stress of living in fast forward - without the support of adequate, let alone optimal, nourishment to keep pace with our body's needs - is a recipe for ruin. If we could easily mitigate common health issues and metabolic inefficiencies through our food alone, it would be awesome. As I see it, however, we need to consider the consistency and convenience of supplements to preserve our health and metabolic potential.

Thanks for reading, everyone. For more information on what supplements might be appropriate for you, talk to a club dietitian today.

Written by Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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