To B or Not to B: Micronutrient Deficiencies and Supplementation

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I was so caught up in the Real Food Summit last week that I hardly had time to post about it.  If you didn’t get a chance to check it out, you can purchase all 27 lectures plus a boatload of bonus materials for what I think is a steal considering the wealth of information that was covered over those nine days.  Anyway, one of the most interesting presentations, in my opinion, was given by Mira & Jayson Calton and was about micronutrient deficiency.  This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve had some personal experience with deficiencies despite my real food diet.  It happens…to most of us in fact.  And whether we realize it or not our cells pay the price.  Never forget, we live and die at the cellular level.
Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals and essential fats that perform unique tasks in the body and work to promote health and longevity.  When we are not getting enough of these essential micronutrients we suffer from a “micronutrient deficiency.”  As a side bar, in the world of nutrition, the word “essential” means something that the body cannot make it by itself and therefore must get from an external source.  Most of us have a deficiency of some micronutrients but nobody really talks about this!  The USDA reports that 90% of us are deficient in at least one essential micronutrient and the UK reports that every person is at risk for micronutrient deficiency!
So what if I’m deficient?  I feel fine!
The symptoms of micronutrient deficiency are widely varied and may manifest as nuisance symptoms or chronic degenerative disease.  It all depends upon the nutrient or nutrients in which a person is deficient.  For instance maybe you are deficient in one or two nutrients and your hair is a bit brittle…no big deal perhaps.  But maybe your symptoms are more severe and have a bigger impact on your daily life.  Fertility issues, obesity, depression and low energy are all symptoms of micronutrient deficiencies.   If you don’t pay attention to these “subclinical” symptoms a larger spectrum of deficiencies may lead to things such as heart disease, osteoporosis and even cancer!
Even if you feel fine, it doesn’t mean that you are micronutrient sufficient…in fact let me know if you are because I’ll have what you’re having!
Causes of Micronutrient Deficiency:
Stress is a major contributor to micronutrient depletion as cortisol (the “stress hormone”) makes you burn through your micronutrients at an alarming rate. So finding ways to manage both your external and internal (hidden) stress is an important step toward health building.  If you need help with this please contact me and I’ll point you in the right direction!
Diets are another cause of micronutrient depletion.  A few research based examples are:
  • Gluten-Free:  Gluten containing foods such as wheat and barley are also sources of cascium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.  A recent study found that 50% of GF dieters were deficient in B6 and folic acid.
  • Raw Food:   The Journal of Nutrition reports that strict raw dieters are deficient in calcium, iron and B12.
  • Vegetarian:  Studies have shown that vegetarians  and vegans often have low iron and low serum B12 as well as carnosine & carnitine which are important in fat metabolism.  Omega-3s are often deficient as well.
Other studies looking at The Atkins Diet, Weight Watcher, and basic low calorie diets also found many micronutrient deficiencies among their followers.  However, anyone who is following a specific diet is certainly more thoughtful about what they are eating than the person following the Standard American Diet (SAD).  So that makes me wonder where the average American’s micronutrient levels fall?
The take-home here is before committing to any diet or program that eliminates macronutrients or calories make sure you know what you are doing and that you know how to properly supplement for the essential micronutrients that are subsequently eliminated.
The Myth of the Balanced Diet:
It doesn’t exist!  Even the most varied diets that are in accordance with ADA recommendations are deficient.  The ADA tried to develop a diet that was micronutrient sufficient and they couldn’t even do it!  The fact is that we have depleted soil, food travels miles and is stored for ages before we cook or reheat it…and all of these are factors in nutrient depletion.
The Caltons independently analyzed four  popular diet plans and found you would need to eat about 3,475 calories (daily) to be sufficient in 21 essential micronutrients…that’s a lot of food!  This didn’t even include vitamins D, E and a few others nutrients because all of the diets they looked at were woefully deficient in these.  So even with those 3,475 calories some supplementation would still be necessary!
Micronutrient Deficiency and Obesity:
Deficiencies in essential micronutrients are known to cause obesity because they are necessary for life and if we aren’t sufficient, the body signals us to eat more food!  Ever wonder why weight loss diets don’t work?  It’s because they cause people to be deficient so they then have food cravings, eat more food and often gain weight.
“It’s impossible to override forever that physical craving that the body is going to give for those essential micronutrients.  When we become sufficient, those physical cravings go away, the diets can do their job, and people can maintain and sustain that weight loss for an extended period of time.”
What Can I Do?
Are you as convinced as I am?  Here are a few suggestions for increasing your micronutrients.
  1. First of all, listen to your body!  Cravings are often a sign of micronutrient deficiency.  For instance, salt cravings often indicate calcium deficiency while chocolate cravings may signal a need for more magnesium.  If you have frequent cravings it’s time to take a look at the underlying cause.
  2. Eat nutrient dense foods such as local, grassfed/pastured and organic foods.
  3. Prepare as much of your food as possible in the home.
  4. Add bone broths and organ meats into your diet.
  5. Limit lifestyle habits that deplete micronutrients such as stress, excess alcohol and medications.
  6. Find a well-formulated supplement to help fill the gap.

What is a well-formulated supplement?
The Caltons talk about the ABCs of micronutrients.
  • A = Absorbable

If the body can’t absorb it it’s a waste of money!  Over 50% of vitamins on the market are not highly absorbable.  Powders are going to be more absorbable than pills.  Look out for unnecessary binders and fillers as well as artificial colors, flavors and sugars.

  • B = Beneficial Quantities

A supplement should have about 100% of the RDI.  But remember it’s just a supplement to bridge the gap.  It’s not a replacement for food.  Avoid supplements with iron and copper because these compete for absorption.  If you need these supplements take them separately.  Megadoses usually provide more than the body can absorb at one time and are a waste of money.

  • C = Micronutrient Competition

Many nutrients compete for the same receptor sites in the body such as vitamins A & D and copper & zinc.  AM & PM formulas are a good way to get a synergistic relationship from your vitamin and mineral supplements.

Eat Well, Be Well,

For more information on micronutrient deficiency read Naked Calories by Jayson & Mira Calton

2 thoughts on “To B or Not to B: Micronutrient Deficiencies and Supplementation

  1. This is absolutely essential for everyone to read. I am deficient in at least B12 and D and holy god did I notice. I thought I was dying. I thought I had some awful autoimmune disease. I saw doctor after doctor and finally, a doctor practicing integrative medicine tested me for these deficiencies. I started treatment with liquid vitamin D3 and I started B12 shots and B complex supplementation. I feel 75% better. I still have issues. I am still not absorbing 100%. But I no longer feel at death's door. I am convinced my deficiencies were in part caused by 15 years of daily acid reflux medication, despite being assured repeatedly by my GI doc that PPIs would not affect my digestion. If you get tested, GET YOUR NUMBERS. Don't simply believe your doc if they tell you you are "normal." My b12 was 220 which is technically in the normal range of 211-911 but I was experiencing tons of symptoms. Symptoms that they wanted to treat with antidepressants and other drugs that cause even more side effects! I feel better than I have in 10 years. A good book to read about b12 is "Could It Be B12: An Epidemic of Misdiagnosis" – especially if you are on acid reflux meds or over the age of 50. The quicker you correct a b12 deficiency, the more likely you are to be able to reverse the symptoms. Fight for your health. No one else is going to do it for you.

  2. Thanks for the comment. You are so right! Most lab tests have a large reference range that is based on averages of those tested…not necessarily on healthy levels, or any measure of health for that matter. It is so important to be your own health advocate and to understand your lab results not just on a pathological level (those numbers outside the lab range) but also on a "subclinical" and personal level. For instance if you have a b12 of 600 for many years and then go down to 220 this is not normal for you and although it's still within the lab range (and you will most likely be told you are fine) it is still significant and DEFINITELY indicative of an imbalance/deficiency and therefore an internal stressor! There are some great practitioners out there that do lab work on a subclinical level for just this reason.

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