By Dr. Mercola
If you eat a balanced, whole-food diet like the one described in my nutrition plan, you’re probably giving your body more-than-adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function.
If not (and this applies to the majority of the U.S. population), there’s a good chance your body is lacking in important nutrients. Even if you do eat well, other factors – such as your age and certain health conditions (digestive issues and others) – can impact your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in your food.
Meanwhile, soil quality, storage time, and processing can significantly influence the levels of certain nutrients in your food, such that even healthy produce may not be as nutrient-rich as you may think.
Nutrient deficiencies can be sneaky, too. Unless you are seriously deficient for some time, you may notice no symptoms at all, leading you to believe (falsely) that your body is getting all the nutrition you need.
More often, however, such deficiencies do cause symptoms, which can range from minor to severe. Unless you know what to look for, however, you’re likely to mistake the signs for something else…
5 Signs Your Body May Be Nutrient Deficient
If you’ve noticed a mysterious health symptom that has no apparent cause, it’s worth considering whether a nutrient deficiency may be to blame. Q for Equinox recently shared 5 examples to watch for. As Dr. Susan Blum, founder of the Blum Center for Health, said:1
“You may not get a disease but you can end up with impaired functioning, because vitamins are co-factors for all the bio-chemical reactions in the body. We need them in order to function properly.”
1. Cracks at the Corners of Your Mouth
This can be a sign of iron, zinc, and B-vitamin (niacin, riboflavin, and B12) deficiency, or that you’re not getting enough protein. Good dietary sources of these nutrients include organic free-range poultry and eggs, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, oysters, and clams (if you can be sure they are harvested from non-polluted waters), Swiss chard, and tahini.
Because iron absorption is enhanced by vitamin C, be sure your diet also includes plenty of vitamin C-rich veggies like broccoli, red bell peppers, kale, and cauliflower.
2. Hair Loss and a Red, Scaly Rash (Especially on Your Face)
This can be a sign of biotin (vitamin B7) deficiency. Your body needs biotin for metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids, but it’s most well-known for its role in strengthening your hair and nails. Egg yolks from organic, free-range eggs are one of the best sources of biotin.
The best way to consume eggs, provided they come from a high-quality source, is to not cook them at all, which is why my advanced nutrition plan recommends eating your eggs raw.
However, beware of consuming raw egg whites without the yolks as raw egg whites contain avidin, which can bind to biotin and potentially lead to a deficiency.
If you cook the egg white, the avidin is not an issue. Likewise, if you consume the whole raw egg (both yolk and egg white) there is more than enough biotin in the yolk to compensate for the avidin binding. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, avocados, mushrooms, cauliflower, nuts, raspberries, and bananas also contain biotin.
3. Red or White Acne-Like Bumps (on Your Cheeks, Arms, Thighs, and Buttocks)
This can be a sign of deficiency in essential fatty acids like omega-3s, as well as vitamin A or vitamin D deficiency. Increase your intake of omega-3 fats by eating more sardines and anchovies (or wild-caught Alaskan salmon) or taking a krill oil supplement.
You can find vitamin A in foods like leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, and red bell peppers, while vitamin D is best obtained through safe sun exposure or use of a high-quality tanning bed.
4. Tingling, Prickling, and Numbness in Your Hands and Feet
This can also be a sign of B-vitamin deficiency (particularly folate, B6, and B12). The symptom is related to the deficiency’s effect on the peripheral nerves and may be combined with anxiety, depression, anemia, fatigue, and hormone imbalances.
Some good sources of B vitamins include spinach, asparagus, beets, organic free-range eggs and poultry, and grass-fed beef.
5. Muscle Cramps (in Your Toes, Calves, Backs of Legs, and Arches of Feet)
Muscle cramps may be a sign of deficiencies in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, especially if it happens frequently. Fix this by eating more almonds, hazelnuts, squash, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, and dandelion), broccoli, Bok choy, and apples.
80 Percent of Americans May Be Deficient in Magnesium
Magnesium deserves special mention because an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in it. Magnesium is a crucially important mineral for optimal health, performing a wide array of biological functions, including but not limited to:
- Activating muscles and nerves
- Creating energy in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
- Helping digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
- Serving as a building block for RNA and DNA synthesis
- Acting as a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin
Meanwhile, calcium tends to be a problem when taken in high quantities and can cause more harm than good. It’s very important to have a proper balance between these two minerals. If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles will tend to go into spasm, and this has consequences for your heart in particular.
Excessive amounts of calcium without enough magnesium can lead to a heart attack and sudden death. Unfortunately, there’s no easily available commercial lab test that will give you a truly accurate reading of the magnesium status in your tissues.
Only 1 percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood, making a simple sample of magnesium from a serum magnesium blood test highly inaccurate.
Some specialty labs do provide an RBC magnesium test, which is reasonably accurate. However, it’s also important to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of deficiency.
Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, headache, nausea, fatigue, and weakness. An ongoing magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms, including:
|Numbness and tingling ||Muscle contractions and cramps ||Seizures |
|Personality changes ||Abnormal heart rhythms ||Coronary spasms |
It May Be Difficult to Get Enough Magnesium from Food Alone
Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts, and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds. Avocados also contain magnesium.
Juicing your vegetables is also an excellent option to ensure you’re getting enough of them in your diet. However, most foods grown today are deficient in magnesium and other minerals. Herbicides like glyphosate also act as chelators, effectively blocking the uptake and utilization of minerals.
As a result, I believe it would be highly unusual for most people to have access to foods that are rich in magnesium, which is why I believe it is prudent to consider a magnesium supplement. This is my personal strategy even though I have access to highly nutrient-dense foods. Besides taking a supplement, another way to improve your magnesium status is to take regular Epsom salt baths or foot baths. Epsom salt is a magnesium sulfate that can be absorbed into your body through your skin. Magnesium oil (from magnesium chloride) can also be used for topical application and absorption. If you opt for a magnesium supplement, be aware that there are several different forms of magnesium, as detailed below:
|Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability and is typically considered ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency ||Magnesium oxide is a non-chelated type of magnesium, bound to an organic acid or a fatty acid. Contains 60 percent magnesium and has stool softening properties |
|Magnesium chloride / magnesium lactate contain only 12 percent magnesium, but has better absorption than others, such as magnesium oxide, which contains five times more magnesium ||Magnesium sulfate / magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) are typically used as a laxative. Be aware that it’s easy to overdose on these, so ONLY take as directed |
|Magnesium carbonate, which has antacid properties, contains 45 percent magnesium ||Magnesium taurate contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. Together, they tend to provide a calming effect on your body and mind |
|Magnesium citrate is magnesium with citric acid, which has laxative properties but is one of the higher quality magnesium supplements ||Magnesium threonate is a newer, emerging type of magnesium supplement that appears promising, primarily due to its superior ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane |
Omega-3: Another Common Nutrient Deficiency
Remarkably, omega-3 deficiency is believed to be a significant underlying factor in up to 96,000 premature deaths each year! This deficiency was revealed as the sixth biggest killer of Americans, with results showing that low concentrations of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA were associated with an increased risk of death from all causes and accelerated cognitive decline. Those suffering from depression have also been found to have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood than non-depressed individuals.
Part of the problem is that most Americans eat too many inflammatory omega-6 fats (think vegetables oils) and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3s, setting the stage for the very health problems you seek to avoid, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes, just to name a few. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is 1:1, but the typical Western diet is between 1:20 and 1:50. Common signs and symptoms that your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio may be out of balance include:
|Dry, flakey skin, alligator skin, or “chicken skin” on backs of arms ||Dandruff or dry hair ||Brittle or soft nails ||Cracked skin on heels or fingertips |
|Lowered immunity and frequent infections ||Dry eyes ||Poor wound healing ||Frequent urination or excessive thirst |
|Fatigue ||Allergies ||Poor attention span, hyperactivity, or irritability ||Problems learning |
Sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats, with one serving containing more than 50 percent of your recommended daily value.2 They also contain a wealth of other nutrients, from vitamin B12 and selenium to protein, calcium, and choline, making them one of the best dietary sources of animal-based omega-3s.
If you decide to take omega-3s in supplement form, I believe krill oil is superior to fish oil. The omega-3 in krill is attached to phospholipids that increase its absorption, which means you need less of it, and it won’t cause belching or burping like many other fish oil products. Additionally, it contains almost 50 times more astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant, than fish oil. This prevents the highly perishable omega-3 fats from oxidizing before you are able to integrate them into your cellular tissue.
90 Percent of Americans Aren’t Getting Enough Choline
Choline is another nutrient worth noting, as National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data shows that 90 percent of U.S. children and adults (including pregnant women) are not getting enough.3 Choline is a B vitamin known for its role in brain development. Choline intake during pregnancy “super-charged” the brain activity of animals in utero, indicating that it may boost cognitive function, and improve learning and memory. It may even diminish age-related memory decline and your brain’s vulnerability to toxins during childhood, as well as conferring protection later in life.4
In adults, choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications, prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood (elevated levels are linked to heart disease), and reduces chronic inflammation. Animal foods like organic free-range eggs and pastured meat are some of the best sources of choline, so if you’re a vegan or vegetarian who does not consume any animal foods, you may be at particular risk of deficiency. The following chart shows some of the best choline sources to help you choose your foods wisely:5
Are You Deficient in Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in adults of all ages who always wear sun protection (which blocks vitamin D production) or limit their outdoor activities. Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency, and this percentage rises in higher-risk populations such as the elderly and those with darker skin. For instance, it’s estimated that over 95 percent of US senior citizens may be deficient in vitamin D, not only because they tend to spend a lot of time indoors but also because they produce less in response to sun exposure (a person over the age of 70 produces about 30 percent less vitamin D than a younger person with the same sun exposure).6
Signs you may have a vitamin D deficiency include age over 50, having darker skin, obesity, achy bones, feeling blue, head sweating, and gut trouble. When it comes to vitamin D, you don’t want to be in the “average” or “normal” range, you want to be in the “optimal” range. The reason for this is that as the years have gone by, researchers have progressively moved that range upward.
At present, based on the evaluation of healthy populations that get plenty of natural sun exposure, the optimal range for general health appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml. As for how to optimize your vitamin D levels, I firmly believe that appropriate sun exposure is the best way. In fact, I personally have not taken a vitamin D supplement for three or four years, yet my levels are in the 70 ng/ml range.
Tips to Supercharge Your Diet with Nutrients
As much as possible, I recommend getting the nutrients your body needs from whole foods. This means minimizing processed foods as much as possible and instead focusing on healthy fats, fresh produce, grass-fed meats and pastured poultry, raw dairy products, organic free-range eggs, nuts and seeds, and, if you’re healthy, moderate amounts of fruit. That being said, there are a few tricks to get copious amounts of nutrients with little effort. You’ll still need to eat a variety of foods to get the wide range of nutrients your body needs, but the tips that follow will give you an excellent start:
- Homemade Bone Broth: Bone broth contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients.
- Sprouts: Sprouts can contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and vegetables, allowing your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats from the foods you eat.
- Juicing: Juicing not only helps you to consume more nutrient-rich veggies, it also helps you absorb the nutrients they contain. Juicing will help to “pre-digest” the veggies for you, so you will receive most of the nutrition, rather than having it go down the toilet.
- Fermented Foods: Fermented foods support the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which helps with mineral absorption and plays a role in producing nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin K2.