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Nutritional Deficiencies: Causes, Treatments

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Some people might associate malnutrition with people who live in extreme poverty, when in fact anyone can suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Correcting these types of deficiencies are a crucial part of preventive health maintenance.

What are nutritional deficiencies?

The body requires different vitamins that are crucial for body development and preventing disease. They aren’t produced naturally in the body, so you must get them from your diet and environment. A nutritional deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t absorb the necessary amount of a nutrient from food. Deficiencies can lead to a variety of health issues. Warning signs, which can lead to chronic health issues, include:

  • low energy
  • poor sleep and/or concentration
  • weak immune system
  • poor libido and sexual function
  • irritability
  • general aches and pains
  • susceptibility to injury and/or slow recovery

In the U.S., many foods that you buy in the grocery store — such as cereals, bread, and milk — are fortified with nutrients needed to prevent nutritional deficiency. Sometimes your body is unable to absorb certain nutrients even if you’re consuming them.

Common nutritional deficiencies and how to avoid them

While there are many types of nutritional deficiencies, below are three of the most common. And there’s good news! Reversing them is possible with supplements and some diet changes.

Iron deficiency

The most common nutritional deficiency worldwide is iron deficiency. When you are iron-deficient, your body produces fewer red blood cells and is less efficient at delivering oxygen to your tissues and organs. Some symptoms of iron deficiency are severe hair loss, always feeling cold, frequent headaches and dizziness. Severe iron deficiency can lead to the blood disorder anemia.

Let’s reverse it!

Iron deficiency can be eliminated with supplements. Your primary care physician can recommend the appropriate dosage. Iron-rich foods such as spinach and beans can also be incorporated in your diet.

Vitamin B-12 deficiency

Vitamin B-12 is responsible for assisting the body in making enough healthy red blood cells. Deficiency in this vitamin is more common among people who are vegans, have had gastric surgery, are over 60 years old and/or have a long history of antacid use. Vitamin B-12 produces hemoglobin – the part of your red blood cells that helps the cells in your body receive oxygen, which is needed for a variety of systems to work properly. Some symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency include: a burning sensation in the feet or tongue, mild cognitive impairment, fatigue, dizziness, weight loss and a sore, red or swollen tongue. If left untreated for too long, vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system.

Let’s reverse it!

Vitamin B-12 deficiency can be eliminated with supplements. Your primary care physician can recommend the appropriate dosage. You can also incorporate more vitamin B-12-rich foods like red meat and animal products. Vegetarian sources include fortified plant-based milks and nutritional yeast.

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D helps the body maintain the right level of calcium to regulate the development of teeth and bones, among many other functions. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, about 1 billion people worldwide don’t get enough vitamin D. A lack of this nutrient can lead to stunted or poor bone growth and osteoporosis, which can cause porous and fragile bones that break very easily. The main symptom of vitamin D deficiency is bone pain and body aches, but also contributes to fatigue, weakness, impaired wound healing, frequent infections, and depression. Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D acts like a hormone in the body and every cell in the body has a receptor for it.

Let’s reverse it!

Vitamin D is only found naturally in a few foods like fish liver oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks and liver. Many dairy products and plant milks in the U.S. are fortified with vitamin D. Another source of vitamin D is sunlight, though sunscreen does hinder absorption. It’s best to discuss with your primary care physician the appropriate amount of time to spend in direct sunlight without UV protection. For severe deficiencies, you might be prescribed a vitamin D supplement.

This is a very short list of possible nutritional deficiencies. The body relies on hundreds of vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, minerals and fatty acids to optimally function. Nutritional deficiencies play a huge role in turning off certain genes in our DNA, also known as epigenetics.

An Ochsner primary care physician can detect these deficiencies so that they can be corrected.

Interested in learning more? Schedule an appointment with an Ochsner Primary Care physician today!


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