Are you at risk of developing a deficiency?


Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (ANutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


31 October 2018

Why do nutritional deficiencies occur? 

When it comes to nutritional deficiencies there are three main things you need to consider – are you getting enough of a particular nutrient from your diet and, if so, how well is your body absorbing it, plus is something in your diet or lifestyle helping to deplete your stores of this nutrient? In our society, most people tend to focus on the first factor and assume that since they’re eating enough nutrient-rich foods, they can’t possibly be deficient however, sometimes this simply isn’t the case.

For a start, let’s look at the role poor absorption plays in developing a nutritional deficiency. It doesn’t matter how many supplements you are taking or what foods you are eating, if your body isn’t absorbing that particular vitamin or mineral properly, then you are going to start exhibiting deficiency symptoms.  So what can affect your absorption? Well, the efficiency of your digestive system and liver are extremely important here, as I shall go on to explain later.

But what if you are absorbing your vitamins and minerals just fine? Is it still possible to develop a deficiency? Well the answer to this is definitely yes as certain dietary and lifestyle factors can affect how nutrients are stored in your body. For example, menstruating women often risk becoming deficient in iron around the time of their period as the loss of blood each month depletes their stores of iron.

Who is vulnerable?

Taking the issues that I’ve just mentioned into consideration, are some people more prone to deficiencies than others? Again, the answer to this is yes and, in fact, there are a few groups of people that might be particularly at risk.

You might be vulnerable if you’re vegan or vegetarian – If you are planning on going vegan or vegetarian you really need to be thorough when researching the lifestyle so you know which foods contain the nutrients that you need. Magnesium and iron should be easy enough to source from plant-based foods however, some nutrients such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D are predominantly found in animal-derived food products. This means that deficiencies can become common here and so to prevent this, supplements may be the best option.

You might be vulnerable if you suffer from a digestive disorder – Your digestive system is extremely important when it comes to how well you are absorbing certain nutrients. If you’re not breaking your food down properly or it’s passing through your system too quickly, it can make it more difficult to absorb nutrients, as is the case in digestive disorders such as leaky gut, IBS, gut dysbiosis and coeliac disease.  

You might be vulnerable if you’re liver is sluggish – Your liver acts as your body’s factory and is responsible for a wide variety of functions. When it comes to your digestive system, it helps with the production of the digestive juices that aid the breakdown of food, plus the liver also filters the nutrient-rich blood that comes from your intestines, storing certain nutrients until your body is ready to utilise them. Therefore, if your liver function is sluggish, these crucial functions can be disrupted!

You might be vulnerable if you’re over 50 – Unfortunately, as we age it can become more difficult to get the nutrients we need. This is because often our demand for certain nutrients increases whereas our ability to synthesise or absorb them decreases. Let’s take vitamin D for example, as we age our skin becomes less able to produce this crucial nutrient which is why vitamin D deficiency is extremely common amongst the elderly.

You might be vulnerable if you’re on medication - This is arguably extremely unfair – after all, medicines such as antibiotics are meant to help you feel better but unfortunately, almost all medication comes with a list of side effects. Antibiotics, for example, don’t distinguish between ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ bacteria which can affect how efficiently you absorb nutrients. However, other medicines such as anti-acids often inhibit the absorption of vitamin B121, a crucial nutrient when it comes to keeping your nerve and blood cells healthy. 

You may be vulnerable if you’re stressed - Ah stress! Banishing this tricky emotion can seem impossible as it seems to linger everywhere. Unfortunately, when your body experiences even mild stress it can be plunged into a highly reactive ‘fight or flight’ state where certain bodily functions are prioritised over others. Since digesting your food offers you no advantages in a life-threatening scenario, your digestive processes are slowed down and your demand for certain nutrients such as magnesium and B vitamins increase. This can lead to a deficiency whilst also affecting how other nutrients are absorbed in the first place.

You might be vulnerable if you’re a woman – Women can be more vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies in part because of the menstrual cycle. While we are menstruating, we are losing blood and iron each month which means we become more vulnerable to deficiencies. Also, even when we reach menopause our demand for certain nutrients surges and we often don’t increase our intake to match these new needs. 

How can we prevent nutritional deficiencies? 

Okay, so I’ve taken a look at a few groups of people that may be more vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies than others but how can you go about decreasing this risk? 

Eat the rainbow

When it comes to avoiding nutritional deficiencies, a balanced diet is still one of the best ways to go. This means incorporating plenty of bright, colourful fruit and veg into meals, as well as pulses, nuts, healthy fats and protein. These types of food tend to be extremely dense in all the right vitamins and minerals, such as iron, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin E, plus they aren’t just good for avoiding nutritional deficiencies. The right diet can also support your body as whole, encouraging better sleep patterns, supporting your mood, strengthening your immune system and enhancing your digestion. Here at A.Vogel Talks Food we have a fantastic range of quick, easy and healthy recipes that are definitely worth checking out! 

Support your digestive system

Your digestive system is essential when it comes to how efficiently you can absorb the nutrients that your body need to thrive so it only makes sense that you should focus on keeping it happy and healthy. 

This means you’ll need to carefully consider what types of foods you are putting into your body – refined sugars, fats and carbohydrates can all place pressure on your digestive organs and feed the unfriendly bacteria in your gut so you may wish to limit your intake of these types of foods. Drinking plenty of fluids is also extremely important as this helps to keep everything ticking over nicely and should prevent bouts of constipation.

If you do suffer from a digestive disorder like IBS, it’s extremely important that you concentrate on managing your symptoms. This is where remedies such as Digestisan and Silicol gel may help – Digestisan helps to balance your gastric secretions whereas Silicol gel is very soothing for your gastrointestinal tracts, helping to facilitate the removal of harmful toxins. 

Give your friendly gut bacteria a helping hand

Speaking of your digestive system, it’s only right we have a quick word about your friendly gut bacteria. As I’ve mentioned, your gut bacteria are pretty important when it comes to breaking down food in your gut and, when an imbalance occurs, it can place your digestive system under a great deal of strain, often resulting in symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. That’s why it might be worthwhile considering a prebiotic and probiotic combination. 

A gut-friendly prebiotic like Molkosan can help to create the ideal environment for your friendly gut bacteria to thrive in while a probiotic such as Optibacs may help to increase your population of friendly bacteria. This is especially useful to remember if you’ve been on antibiotics recently as Optibacs even offer a probiotic for such an occasion! 

Keep your liver healthy

Things can go downhill very quickly if you don’t give your liver the support that it needs. Unfortunately, medications, alcohol and fatty foods can all play a role in slowing down our liver function so sometimes it may need a helping hand. This is where a remedy like Milk Thistle might come in handy as it can enhance your liver’s resilience. It contains a blend of dandelion, artichoke and milk thistle to stimulate the movement of bile.

Manage your stress levels

Stress, as I’ve discussed, can be horrendous when it comes to hindering your digestive processes and your absorption of certain nutrients. However, getting your stress levels under control can be easier said than done which is why I’d highly recommend visiting A.Vogel Talks Stress for more in depth advice about how to cope with and manage stress. I would also strongly urge anyone who is prone to stress or anxiety to talk someone, whether it’s a loved one, friend or colleague, as often the simple acting of airing your thoughts and feelings can provide some relief, even if the person you confine in cannot offer any direct solutions. 

Don’t be afraid of supplements

Finally, although here at A.Vogel we always recommend looking to your diet first, sometimes it may be necessary to consider supplements. If you’re vegan or vegetarian for example, using a vitamin B12 supplement may be your only option to meet your daily intake of this nutrient. However, this could apply to all of us, particularly when it comes to a nutrient like vitamin D where government guidelines outline our need to supplement this nutrient during the darker winter months.2 

If you are going to use a supplement though, it’s extremely important that you’re aware of your daily recommended intake and don’t exceed this. Many of the supplements available often offer a dose that’s far too high and, in the case of most nutrients, too much can be just as problematic as too little. It may also be a good idea to consider the type of supplement you are using – in general, oral sprays and liquids are better absorbed than tablets which first have to be broken down in the gastrointestinal tract. 

1https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270007.php

2https://www.gov.uk/government/news/phe-publishes-new-advice-on-vitamin-d

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