Healthy Body: Nutrition Basics
Sometimes feeling tired or low in spirits, with mild aches and pains, or just generally feeling unwell, is considered insignificant. While from time to time some of these symptoms are minor disturbances of your daily life; other times, they could be a sign of an illness/malfunctioning that can range from a simple cold, to some vitamin’s deficiencies.
Occasionally, these symptoms can be more serious and indicate a chronic disease in progression. For your body to be well, you have to make sure that you are eating the right food choices for you and delivering to your body all that it needs from macro and micronutrients. Everyone has heard of colds and viral infections or even chronic diseases; but very few truly understand the meaning of vitamin deficiencies.
Many believe that a low level of a given vitamin could only be the burden of poor countries that suffer from poverty and famine. But, the truth is far beyond such a hypothesis. Even the richest countries or people could have vitamin deficiencies. Although the Western world has plenty of food, many people are suffering from nutrient deficiencies due to changes in the quality of the food that we produce, pick or eat. Vitamin deficiency can have many causes:
- You could be eating the wrong kinds of food that do not offer a proper nutrition to your body
- Maybe you are following a certain diet that does restrict you from a certain group of food, which could lead to deficiencies in both macro and micronutrients.
- Some people do not know the correct and specific nutrient content of food. As a result, their diet will not be as nutritious as it should be. In this case, they will be missing on a lot of nutrients and vitamins. For example, for vegan people, there should be another way to make up for all the Iron they are not eating.
Nutrient deficiencies can make you uncomfortable or ill, depending on what the deficient elements are and how long it has been.
Who Should You Get Tested For Vitamin and Nutrition Levels?
Over the past few decades, a body of clinical evidence has emerged showing a close association between nutrition and health. Through that accumulated evidence, it has become abundantly clear that providing the body with nutritious foods containing vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients is important to the maintenance of optimal health and well-being. Poor nutrition can have detrimental effects on the body, increasing a person’s risk of developing a long list of diseases and health conditions. Many have started to measure the levels of nutrients and vitamins through testing the levels in their blood.
Does that mean that you should be taking vitamins to ensure optimal nutrition? Not necessarily. Physicians and nutrition experts agree that getting your nutrients from foods is best, and that a well-balanced diet can provide everything we need for good health. However, they also agree that supplements can be beneficial when specific vitamin deficiencies or other nutritional deficits exist.
So how is the average person to know if they have nutritional deficiencies? Blood tests can be used to evaluate a person’s nutritional status, measuring the amounts of essential nutrients in the body to detect nutritional deficits, including vitamin deficiency.
Why Does Knowing Your Nutritional Status Matter?
Knowing your nutritional status is important to your overall health, since nutritional deficiencies can occur even in the most health-conscious among us. For instance, vitamin deficiency can be caused by poor absorption of nutrients, an issue that can be caused by digestive problems, aging and certain health conditions and medications.
Vitamin and mineral levels in the body can also be affected by stress levels, pollution and other environmental elements and hormonal changes, among countless other factors. So, while eating right can significantly lower your risk of vitamin deficiency and other nutritional issues, it is not an iron-clad guarantee that you’re getting optimal nutrition.
What Are the Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies?
Several vitamin deficiencies are quite common among Americans, even those who are eating widely varied, well-balanced diets. Topping the list is Vitamin D deficiency, which can increase the risk of a host of chronic diseases, including osteoporosis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, some cancers and infectious diseases, ranging from tuberculosis to common colds and flu.
The primary source of vitamin D in humans is sun exposure, which triggers synthesis of vitamin D in the skin. Since many Americans avoid unprotected sun exposure due to concerns about skin cancer from UV radiation, many, if not most, are not producing adequate levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin B-12 is another essential nutrient that many Americans may lack, since absorption problems are quite common–especially in older adults. B-12 deficiency can have very serious consequences, including anemia and neurological damage.
B-12 is found in animal products, such as meats, eggs and dairy, which are not generally lacking in the American diet, so most cases of B-12 deficiency in the U. S. stem from malabsorption issues rather than inadequate B-12 intake. Malabsorption of B-12 is common in people over the age of 50, those who have intestinal issues, such as Crohn’s disease, colitis or celiac disease, or people who have had gastric bypass surgery.
Other common nutritional deficits include deficiencies in vitamins A, C, E and B-complex vitamins, especially folate and B-6. Minerals that many Americans may not be getting in sufficient amounts include iron, magnesium and zinc.
Can Blood Testing Detect Vitamin Deficiencies?
A variety of blood tests are available that can determine whether your body is receiving appropriate levels of essential nutrients. Among the most effective at assessing overall nutritional status are comprehensive nutrition panels, which measure levels of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients essential to health and well-being.
Additionally, if you have concerns about specific nutrients – such as those common deficits listed above – individual blood tests are available to test levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that include vitamins A, D, C, K, and B-complex vitamins B-12, B-6, B-1 and folates, minerals like magnesium, calcium, selenium and zinc, as well as antioxidants, beta carotenes and essential enzymes, like CoQ10.
Nutritional testing can help you ensure that your efforts to optimize your health through good nutrition pay off, identifying any nutrients that you may not be getting enough of, as well as any you may be consuming to excess. Why operate in the dark when it comes to optimizing nutrition when real, concrete answers are as easy as a few blood tests?
What Should You Know About Gluten Testing?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that results from the inability to digest gluten, a compound found in grains that include wheat, barley and rye. In people with celiac, undigested gluten causes an abnormal immune system response that can damage the lining of the small intestine. Celiac disease is a genetic condition that affects three million Americans. Definitive diagnosis of the disease, which is done through blood testing and gastrointestinal screening, is important to help guide treatment.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a form of intestinal illness, often referred to as gluten-sensitive enteropathy (which means ‘disease of the intestine’). It affects the body’s immune system, causing it to attack the small intestine, damaging the villi that line the intestinal wall. Villi are tiny, finger-like protrusions in the small intestine that are vital to the absorption of nutrients through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream.
Damage to these vital structures leads to poor absorption of nutrients and eventually, malnutrition. Some celiac sufferers exhibit lifelong symptoms, while in others, the onset of the disease is triggered by surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection or periods of severe stress.
What are the most common celiac disease symptoms?
The type, number and intensity of celiac disease symptoms vary greatly from one affected individual to another. Some with this common disorder display no obvious symptoms, while others suffer severe, debilitating ones.
Common symptoms in infants and children include:
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- Chronic diarrhea
- Pale or fatty stool with a foul odor
- Weight loss
- Failure to thrive in infants
- Slow growth
- Delayed puberty
- Dental enamel defects
Adults may display many of the same digestive symptoms as children as well as other common celiac disease symptoms such as:
- Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Unexplained infertility
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Irregular or missed menstrual periods
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Mouth sores
- Itchy skin rash
Why does a definitive celiac disease diagnosis matter?
Individuals who are experiencing celiac disease symptoms should never self-diagnose. A long list of other diseases and health conditions can cause issues that resemble celiac disease symptoms or can coexist with it, requiring more extensive treatment than the dismissal of gluten from the diet.
One way for a definitive diagnosis of celiac disease is blood testing that will detect antibodies associated with the condition. The blood test must be performed while you are still exposed to gluten in order to detect gluten antibodies.
Individuals who have a family history of celiac disease may choose to be screened for the disorder by means of blood testing, even if no symptoms are present. For many, celiac is a silent disease, producing no obvious symptoms or very mild ones. While these individuals do not suffer the daily celiac disease symptoms that others do, the small intestine is still progressively damaged by gluten ingestion, and the risk of long-term, sometimes life-threatening complications, is still an issue.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Micronutrient Facts. Last updated February 1, 2022. Last accessed February 10, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/micronutrient-malnutrition/micronutrients/index.html
National LIbrary of Medicine. Public Health Aspects in the prevention and Control of Vitamin Deficiencies. Last updated September 3, 2019. Last accessed February 10, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6775441/
Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient Inadequacies in the US Population. Last updated March 2018. Last accessed February 10, 2023. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview