The hidden cause of common symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches can be nutrient deficiencies – can you make a difference to a person’s quality-of-life by identifying them?
Some cynics encourage us to think that nutrient deficiencies are a thing of the past, reserved for sailors trapped at sea.
But even today, it’s possible to lack some of the essential nutrients to function optimally.
Nutrient deficiencies alter bodily functions and processes at the most basic cellular level.
These processes include water balance, enzyme function, nerve signaling, digestion and metabolism.
Resolving these deficiencies is important for optimal growth, development and function.
Nutrient deficiencies can also lead to disease.
Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies can cause osteopenia or osteoporosis, two conditions marked by brittle bones.
And inadequate iron can cause anaemia which zaps your energy.
Telltale symptoms are usually the first clue that a person is low in one or more important vitamins or minerals.
Here’s a few common ones:
- Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones and controlling muscle and nerve function.
Signs of severely low calcium include muscle cramps and abnormal heart rhythms.
A supplement needed?
Sure, but ensure that you know the strengths and weaknesses of the different formulations available.
Mention regular milk, cheese and yoghurt, as well as dark leafy greens.
- Vitamin D is also critical for bone health.
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency can be vague – fatigue and muscle aches and weakness.
Long term it can lead to “softer” bones.
Capsules are preferred because it’s an oil soluble vitamin.
Mention fatty fish like tuna and salmon twice a week and some sunshine each day.
- Potassium helps the heart, nerves and muscles work properly.
Low levels can be caused by diarrhea or vomiting, excessive sweating, antibiotics or diuretics or because of chronic eating conditions such as eating disorders and kidney disease.
Symptoms also include muscle weakness, constipation, tingling and numbness.
Mention bananas, whole grains, milk, vegetables, beans and peas.
- Iron is necessary to produce red blood cells.
Anaemia causes fatigue, pale skin and dull, thin, sparse hair.
Beef, oysters, beans, lentils and spinach are the food options.
- Vitamin B12 aids the production of DNA and helps make neurotransmitters.
Vegans are at particular risk for vitamin B12 deficiency because plants don’t make the nutrient, as are people who’ve had weight loss surgery because the procedure makes it difficult for the body to extract B12 from food. Symptoms of severe B12 deficiency include numbness in the legs, hands or feet, problems with walking and balance, anaemia, fatigue, weakness, a swollen, inflamed tongue, memory loss, paranoia and hallucinations. Remember to mention food from animal sources with fish, chicken, milk and yoghurt.
- Folate is a particularly important vitamin for women of childbearing age to avoid neural tube defects.
Symptoms of folate deficiency include fatigue, mouth ulcers, poor growth and changes in the colour of hair, skin and nails.
Folate foods include beans, lentils and leafy greens.
- Magnesium helps support bone growth and assists in energy production.
Although deficiency is fairly uncommon in otherwise healthy people, it can effect those who take medications like PPIs and who consume too much alcohol.
Magnesium deficiency can cause loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and weakness.
In more severe cases, it can lead to numbness, muscle cramps, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, personality changes, or low potassium or calcium levels.
Magnesium-rich foods include almonds, cashews, peanuts and spinach.
Obviously, the best way to avoid or to correct nutrient deficiencies is to make sure that you eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
Sadly, AIHW research shows that over 90% of Australians don’t eat the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables.
Some pharmacists believe that becoming involved in this area of practice ends up as “making a sale”.
If you feel that way, and don’t understand the difference you can make to a person’s health and wellness, stay in the dispensary and don’t get involved.
The rest of us can make a difference!