Feeling fatigued? You could be suffering from a deficiency!

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

24 September 2018

What is a nutritional deficiency?

A nutritional deficiency occurs when you are not absorbing the recommended amount of a certain vitamin, mineral or nutrient. In history, nutritional deficiencies were extremely common, especially amongst the poorer members of the populace where scurvy and rickets often became problematic. However, in the last century or so, these diseases have largely been eliminated thanks to technological advancements and societal improvements. 

This is great news for your health however, just because nutritional deficiencies are nowhere near as common as they were in your great-grandfather’s generation, this does not mean that they are extinct. In fact, running low in some vitamin and minerals still affects many people up and down the country for various reasons. Usually, these deficiencies result in symptoms such as poor immunity, mood swings and yes, fatigue! 

Flailing energy levels are generally accepted as a part of our modern day lives – there are so many different factors that can cause fatigue to rear its head that often people either overlook their symptoms entirely or pin the blame elsewhere.  That’s why today I’m here to look at a few of the most common nutritional deficiencies, how they could be sapping your energy levels, and what you can do to tackle them!

1 – Iron

Did you know that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world?1  It’s estimated that in the UK alone, last year there were 269,000 hospital admissions relating to anaemia – a scary statistic!2 But how does having low levels of iron make you feel tired and sluggish all the time?

Why does your body need iron?

Well, your body needs plenty of iron to help produce the red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body. Iron also plays a role in converting blood glucose into a form that your body can use as fuel. From here it becomes easy to make the link between iron deficiency and fatigue – if your brain and other areas of your body aren’t getting the supply of oxygen they need then you’re bound to feel exhausted and light-headed.

Who’s at risk of becoming deficient?

Why is iron-deficiency so much more commonplace than say, low levels of vitamin D which you think would be more prevalent in a country famous for its overcast skies and plentiful supply of drizzly rain? 

Well, a large part of the reason could lie with us women. The average woman can experience up to 450 periods in her lifetime and at this time of the month, her body will be losing blood. Obviously how much blood is lost during menstruation varies from person to person but it’s thought that 1 in 5 women will suffer from iron deficiency anaemia.3   

It’s not just women either – veganism and vegetarianism have experienced have become increasingly popular in recent years and, since iron is often derived from animal by-products, these communities can also be at risk. It also doesn’t help that sometimes our eating habits haven’t changed for the better – eating too many processed meals and not enough fresh fruit and veg can impact our absorption of iron!

How can you increase your dietary intake?

When it comes to how much iron you should be getting each day, most estimate that men should be getting around 8.7mg, however for women between the ages of 19-50, this figure jumps up to 14.8mg a day! Here are some of the best foods sources of iron:

  • Lentils
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables
  • Red meat
  • Dried fruit

When it comes to increasing your intake of iron it’s also worth mentioning another nutrient – vitamin C! This vitamin is vital for the healthy absorption of iron so if you’re trying to increase your iron intake, it might be worth looking at how much vitamin C you’re getting from your diet too

When should you consider supplements? 

If you suffer from heavy periods or adhere to a vegan diet, it might be worth considering an iron supplement. A liquid supplement is generally best absorbed by the body. 

If you want more information about iron deficiency and its associated symptoms, I’d recommend checking out my blog ‘What happens when you are low in iron?

2 – Magnesium

Magnesium should definitely be counted as a super-mineral! You need it for over 300 chemical reactions that take place within your body but despite this, it’s thought that only 1 in 4 adults in the UK are getting their recommended daily intake of magnesium.4 

Why does your body need magnesium?

As I’ve just mentioned, magnesium is critical for over 300 chemical reactions that take place within the body, although it is usually better known for its calming effect on the nervous system, helping to ease muscle spasms and support your moods – one reason why it’s popular with menstruating women! Magnesium also helps to support healthy energy levels so fatigue is a natural result of low levels.

Who’s at risk of becoming deficient?

A pivotal cause of magnesium deficiency is our diets – with less of a focus on fresh fruit and veg and more of us preferring quicker options, it’s easy for our stores of the mineral to become depleted, especially if you rely on caffeine to get you up and about in the mornings! Even how our food is manufactured can affect our intake of magnesium, with harsh pesticides and chemicals often stripping the magnesium content away from the soil our food is grown in.

How can you increase your dietary intake?

When it comes to magnesium, human beings require quite a large intake when compared to other nutrients – a conservative estimate would be around 300mg a day! Fortunately, magnesium is found in a variety of food products, including:

Once again, if you’re trying to increase your levels of magnesium, it’s worth considering this mineral’s relationship with other nutrients – for example, too much calcium may inhibit your absorption of magnesium so just be careful and make sure you’re not over-supplementing!

When should you consider supplements? 

Once again, menopausal and menstruating women might need to look at adjusting their intake of magnesium as this mineral may help to relieve certain symptoms such as painful cramps and mood swings. 

If you want to learn more about why you should be increasing your intake of magnesium, I’d recommend taking a look at my blog ‘Should you be taking more magnesium?

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, which is a real shame. This important B vitamin is involved with a variety of bodily functions and, similar to other nutrients like vitamin, your body cannot synthesise it on its own so you need to get a healthy amount of B12 from other sources, such as your diet.

Why does your body need vitamin B12?

Similar to iron, vitamin B12 is also involved in the formation of red blood cells and helps to support healthy cognitive function and mood - as a result, fatigue and mood swings are often the most prevalent symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

You also need vitamin B12 to convert folic acid into its active form so it can be utilised by your body – for this reason, low levels of vitamin B12 are often associated with low levels of folic acid. 

Who’s at risk of becoming deficient?

Vegans and vegetarians once again make this list as vitamin B12 is usually only found in animal-derived products such as meat and dairy. However, it’s now also thought that certain medications could affect how vitamin B12 is absorbed by your digestive system – commonplace medicines for diabetes and acid reflux are just some examples!

How can you increase your dietary intake?

We generally only need small amounts of vitamin B12 compared to other B vitamins – around 2.3mcg a day for adults. Despite this relatively small intake, getting enough B12 can be difficult as it is usually only found in the following foods:

  • Liver
  • Sardines
  • Beef 
  • Milk
  • Yoghurt

Although vitamin B12 is only usually present in animal-derived foods, many different food products are now being fortified with vitamin B12 in an attempt to combat deficiency. If you are vegan or vegetarian, it might be worth checking to see whether any of the foods you are eating are fortified although, if you really want to boost your intake, a supplement may be the best option. 

When should you consider supplements? 

Vegans may struggle to get enough vitamin B12 as it is not found naturally in foods like fruit, grains and vegetables. 

If you want to learn more about vitamin B12 and how it can affect your body, please check out my blog, ‘Struggling to stay awake? You could be low in vitamin B12!'

What about our Balance Mineral Drink?

If you’re struggling with the symptoms of fatigue and are fed up of relying on caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee, you could try our Balance Mineral Drink. This contains essential electrolytes, including magnesium, vitamin D and zinc which not only help to curb deficiencies, but also work to promote healthy energy levels. 

You can simply mix this powder with water or blitz it up with a smoothie – it provides a lovely, fresh strawberry flavour and it’s definitely one of my favourite products when it comes to easing post-workout fatigue or combatting that dreaded afternoon slump!

Please remember - if you are suffering from severe bouts of fatigue, it’s important to speak to your doctor. They should be able to test your blood which should identify any nutritional deficiencies and give you an idea of how to proceed going forwards. 





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