As a nation, we’re increasingly aware that a wholesome diet is essential for our optimum health and wellbeing. Yet, even though we now benefit from an incredible variety of apparently nutritious and affordable foods, it seems that we still run a real risk of vitamin deficiency. And this not only undermines our general health, it can also accelerate the aging process.
Vitamin Deficiency – Why It Affects Us All
It’s not just vegans, vegetarians and rawfood fans who are at risk from a vitamin deficiency – the quality of our food has been declining steadily over the last 50 years, causing an average drop in nutrient value of between 30 to 60 per cent and putting us all in danger of a vitamin shortage. There are a number of reasons for this alarming situation. Firstly, modern farming techniques, which use fertilisers and irrigation on an industrial scale to produce larger and ever more cost-effective crops, have caused a ‘dilution effect’. In other words, the resulting produce often suffers from a severely eroded vitamin and mineral content. Secondly, scientists have been breeding new strains of fruit and vegetables, with an emphasis on yield rather than nutrient value, which has resulted in the ‘genetic dilution’ of our food. Lastly, there has been a significant increase in the number of so-called ‘healthy options’ – food products that make misleading claims and lull us into a false sense of security over our eating habits.
The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) conducted by the UK Government, highlights the problem clearly. They found that over 90% of UK women had an iron intake below RNI (recommended nutritional intake), some 50% of men had a vitamin A intake below the RNI and a staggering 97% of elderly people had a vitamin D intake below RNI. To help prevent you from becoming another statistic, we’ve listed 4 common vitamin deficiencies below and explain how you can identify and banish them for good!
Vitamin B is not one vitamin, but rather an entire group of water-soluble vitamins that frequently occur together in certain types of food.
The most common vitamin B deficiencies are B12 and B9. Vitamin B12 plays an integral role in our brain and nervous system function, and in the formation of red blood cells. It can be difficult to spot a B12 deficiency, as our bodies are capable of storing this vitamin for quite some time. Left unaddressed however, and a vitamin B12 deficiency will lead to fatigue, depression, poor memory and eventually permanent nervous tissue damage, anaemia, mania, psychosis and even Alzheimer’s. Research conducted in 2008 at the University of Oxford by professor David Smith, revealed that low levels of vitamin B12 are directly linked to brain shrinkage.
Vitamin B9 (or folic acid) is essential for the synthesis of nucleic acid, including DNA and RNA. It’s vital for cell division and growth, healthy red blood cells and particularly important for pregnant women, because it can prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. A study by Dr. Jane Durga at Wageningen University (in the Netherlands), also indicated that vitamin B9 supplements enhance both brain processing speed and memory. As our bodies are unable to store B9, we require this vitamin from our food supply on a daily basis. A lack of vitamin B9 may cause anaemia, premature birth, birth defects, stress related disorders and certain types of cancer including gastric, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer.
Other symptoms of vitamin B deficiency include acne, cracked lips, fatigue, insomnia, a weakened immune system, weight loss, emotional instability, depression, high blood pressure, fluid retention, anaemia and memory loss.
B vitamins are found mainly in unprocessed foods and in particular, animal products such as wild fish, organic turkey, organic beef and free range eggs. You can also obtain it from lentils, beans, molasses, chilli peppers, bananas, tempeh and kombucha or by incorporating alage superfoods such as spirulina, chlorella and marine phytoplankton into your daily diet.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, healthy teeth and supporting our immune system. Optimising vitamin D levels can also help protect you from up to 16 types of cancer and reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, colds, flu and high blood pressure. Yet, surprisingly figures from the UK Department of health show that up to a quarter of the UK population has low levels of vitamin D in their blood.
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include unhealthy teeth, osteomalacia which causes a weakening of the bones in adults and rickets in children.
Vitamin D can be acquired from (sensible) exposure to sunlight, cod liver oil, sardines, herring, salmon, mackerel and tuna. You can also try supplementing your regular diet with krill oil, a superb superfood packed with vitamin D. Take care that any vitamin D supplements you do purchase contain vitamin D3 (cholecalficerol), the natural vitamin D produced by our bodies upon exposure to sun.
Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is a powerful antioxidant, required by our body to both repair and renew and to combat harmful free radicals that damage and destroy our cells. Vitamin C is essential in strengthening our immune system, protecting us from viruses and bacteria, healing wounds, reducing cholesterol, increasing the lifespan of our cells and preventing scurvy. People often tend to think of scurvy as a disease of the past, yet according to the NHS, it’s still a health issue, particularly for the elderly and those with a drug or alcohol dependency. Those who smoke, embark on a fad diet and pregnant or breastfeeding women (who require higher amounts of vitamin C) are also more at risk of a vitamin C deficiency. And, as our bodies cannot produce vitamin C, we must obtain it from our food.
Symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency include fatigue, mood swings, weight loss, muscle and joint pain, frequent bruising, gum disease, dry skin, dry hair, infections and a weakened immune system.
Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, berries, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, green leafy vegetables and peppers. Delicious superfoods with an extremely high vitamin C content include goji berries (the greatest known source of vitamin C on the planet), camu camu berries and blueberries.
Vitamin E is a group of eight fat-soluble compounds, which contain both tocopherols and tocotrienols. There are several different types of vitamin E, but γ-tocopherol and α-tocopherol are the most common. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is required by our bodies to fight toxins.
Symptoms of a vitamin E deficiency can include digestive problems, dry hair, hair loss, muscle weakness, slow healing of wounds, leg cramps, anaemia, infertility, decreased interest in sex, age spots and cataracts.
Vitamin E can be obtained from coconut oil, nuts, nut oil, spinach, cabbage, dandelion leaves, sweet potato, avocado, asparagus, kiwi, broccoli, mango, papaya and lettuce. Sunflower seeds are also rich in vitamin E – just one ounce of this superfood delivers a whopping 7.4mg of vitamin E or around three quarters of your recommended daily intake.