Adequate levels of essential vitamins and minerals are crucial for optimal health. What many of us don’t realize however is that the majority of North American’s are deficient, which can lead to significant health problems over the long term.
Below we will take a look at the five vitamins and minerals that are most commonly lacking in the North American diet, and how we can ensure that optimal levels are being obtained.
B12 helps maintain healthy nerve and blood cells, and plays a role in the production of DNA. Since vitamin B12 is not easily absorbed by the body and is only present in meat sources, vegetarians are most susceptible to deficiencies. What is does:
- Maintains healthy nerve and blood cells
- Helps make DNA
- Prevents anemia
Signs of deficiency: Anemia, weight loss, loss of balance, general fatigue, memory loss.
Best sources: Clams, beef, liver, sardines, salmon, cod, lamb, shrimp, beef, tuna, yogurt. **No vegetable sources.
Supplementation recommendations: 2.4 – 2.8 mcg/day. Those who do not consume meat are at greatest risk of being deficient.
Interesting research / studies: This study suggest that a larger percentage of the population has levels of B12 that are not optimal.
Vitamin D’s main job is to help the body absorb calcium, which in turn helps strengthen our bones. Vitamin D also plays a role in the health of the immune system. Unlike other vitamins, the skin is able to synthesize D from sun exposure. What it does:
- Helps bones absorb calcium
- Improves immune system
- Studies suggest it may decrease risk of diabetes and heart disease
Signs of deficiency: Weakened immune system, generally few symptoms unless extremely deficient.
Best natural sources: Salmon, sardines, tuna, eggs, exposure to sunlight on skin.
Supplementation recommendations: 1000 – 3000 IU’s daily. The actual amount will depend on your body weight, diet, and the amount of daily sunlight exposure you get. Most experts recommend a vitamin D supplement during the winter months for those who live in cold climates and are not exposed to sun for at least 15 minutes a day.
Interesting research / studies: In this study, men with adequate intake of vitamin D were significantly less likely to have a heart attack.
The main role of vitamin K2 is to help the body deposit calcium in to the bones and teeth, and prevent it from being channeled to other tissues (such as the muscles and arteries). This is important because calcification of the arteries can lead to heart disease. What it does:
- Prevents calcium from being absorbed by muscle tissue and arteries
- Is responsible for helping blood clot
- May protect nerve cells
Signs of deficiency: Easy bruising, heavy menstrual bleeding, chronic nose bleeds, anemia, blood clotting issues.
Best natural sources: Some cheeses, natto, fermented foods, butter from grass fed cows, chicken, ground beef, egg yolk.
Supplementation recommendations: 90-120 µg/day if adequate amounts cannot be obtained through diet alone.
Interesting research / studies: In this study, increased vitamin K2 consumption decreased the occurrence of prostate cancer by over 30%.
The primary responsibility of magnesium is to maintain normal nerve and muscle function. It plays a role in over 300 different chemical reactions in the human body! What it does:
- Contributes to blood vessel health and aids in blood clotting
- Plays an important role in nerve and muscle function (including the heart)
- Plays a role in energy metabolism
- Helps improve the immune system
Signs of deficiency: Muscle cramps / weakness / twitching, numbness, difficulty taking deep breaths. Since only about 1% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the blood, testing for deficiency can be inaccurate.
Best sources: Pumpkin seeds, spinach, swiss chard, sesame seeds, quinoa, cashews
Supplementation recommendations: 300-400mg / day depending on age, sex, and other factors.
Interesting research / studies: “50 Studies Suggest That Magnesium Deficiency Is Killing Us”
Zinc is found in all parts of the body (2-3 grams at any given time), and like magnesium, is responsible for a multitude of biological functions. What it does:
- Strengthens the immune system
- Plays a vital role in fertility
- Helps body cells grow and divide
- Helps enhance taste and smell
- Promotes healthy eyes, hair, and skin
Signs of deficiency: Weakened immune system, poor memory, impaired eye sight / taste / smell.
Best sources: Beef, Lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, quinoa. Plant sources of zinc should be soaked in order to help the body better absorb the mineral
Supplementation recommendations: Not recommended unless zinc deficiency confirmed by a medical professional. Consult your physician.
Interesting research / studies: Conclusion of this study: “…oral zinc formulations may shorten the duration of symptoms of the common cold.”
The Bottom Line
If you think you are experiencing any symptoms of a vitamin or mineral deficency, consult your physician for testing. To prevent the chance of deficiencies, look carefully at your own lifestyle and eating habits. This will help you determine whether you can benefit by increasing the amount of certain foods in your diet, or taking supplements.
Do you think you may be deficient in any of the vitamins or minerals mentioned in this post? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!