The six essential nutrients that the body requires for proper functioning are carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, water, vitamins, and minerals. Most of these are obtained by the body from suitable food intake.
Hence it’s necessary to follow a balanced diet plan with adequate nutrients for energy production, organ building and maintenance, and supporting the different metabolic processes within your body. Inadequacy of vitamins and nutrients leads to nutritional deficiency; and in-turn poses a variety of health risks. Let’s understand this condition, the associated risks and who’s at higher risk.
Nutrient deficiency (also referred as ‘nutritional deficiency’ or ‘undernutrition’) occurs when our body is not getting enough nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. To avoid nutritional deficiency, we need to follow a healthy and balanced diet plan; or take a suitable nutritional supplement.
What are the risks of nutrient deficiency?
Here are some common symptoms or conditions resulting from nutrient deficiency:
- fragile skin
- poor wound healing
- wasted muscles
- poor appetite
- altered taste sensation
- impaired swallowing
- altered bowel habit
- loose fitting clothes
- persistent intercurrent illness
Who is at higher risk due to nutrient deficiency?
While the deficiency can occur to anyone lacking the essential nutrients, listed below are the category of people more susceptible to it:
- women of childbearing age
- pregnant women
- breastfeeding women
- newborns and toddlers
- children below 5 years,
- older adults
- obese individuals
- critically ill patients
Nutrient absorption may be compromised due to multitudes of reasons. Absorption of essential vitamins and minerals can be hampered by health issues such as kidney or celiac disease. This condition may also result from certain medications or from going on a strict diet. And some common foods aren’t as healthy as people believe. The most common nutritional deficiencies differ by age, gender, and race/ethnicity, and may affect up to one-third of certain population groups.
In general, a healthy, consistent diet is sufficient to provide the body with the nutrients it requires to function optimally. However, depending on age and overall health, some individuals may require a higher number of certain vitamins for proper growth and prevention of disease. Nutritional deficiencies can cause anemia, scurvy, and rickets.
Pyridoxine, or vitamin B6, is vital for the development of a child’s brain and immune system, and it is present in the brain and immune system of unborn children as well as infants and toddlers. This vital nutrient is found in foods such as chicken, fish, chickpeas, potatoes, and bananas. B6 is also found in breakfast foods, energy bars, and powders.
Because the body does not store vitamin B6, it is critical to consume it daily to avoid developing a deficiency. It is more likely that B6 deficiency will occur in people who have kidney disease or conditions preventing food from being absorbed by the small intestine.
Iron is a vital mineral found in all the body’s cells. Hemoglobin (originated in red blood cells) and myoglobin (originated in muscles) are oxygen-carrying proteins that make up the body. Iron deficiency is common in young kids and pregnant women.
It can also cause developmental interruptions in children and preterm birth in conceiving women. The effects of iron deficiency are most noticeable in young children, pregnant women, and women who are planning a pregnancy. Several foods are rich in copper, including shellfish, beans, whole grains, nuts, potatoes, organ meats, dried fruits, cocoa, black pepper, and yeast, which are too important for heart and bone health.
The prevalence of copper deficiency is higher among celiac disease patients than in the general population. A common misconception is that it is the same as anemia; however, it is now widely recognized as being distinct. Several foods are rich in copper, including shellfish, beans, whole grains, nuts, potatoes, organ meats, dried fruits, cocoa, black pepper, and yeast, which are too important for heart and bone health. Copper is crucial for the growth of bones, a healthy heart, and a strong immune system.
For good eye health, vitamin A is essential. Globally, child blindness is directly related to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Vitamin A is abundant in green and orange vegetables such as carrots, leafy and green vegetables as well as cantaloupe and eggs.
Your body needs normal potassium levels since potassium is needed for proper muscle cell function, fluid balance, and healthy blood pressure. Furthermore, it aids in the normalization of heartbeats. As a mineral and electrolyte, it may reduce the risk of kidney stones and bone loss in the elderly. Many medications can cause low potassium levels or hypokalemia. As a mineral and electrolyte, it may lower the danger of kidney stones and, in older people, loss of bone. Certain medications are the root cause of low potassium or hypokalemia.
Other reasons comprise uncontrolled alcohol consumption, kidney disease, and the deficiency of folate. Several foods are potassium-rich, including bananas, potatoes, peas, mushrooms, cooked broccoli, spinach, and pumpkin.
Iodine is required to produce thyroid hormone, which regulates calorie burn, affects heartbeat and body temperature, controls skin turnover, and promotes brain health.
Vitamin C deficiency can lead to exhaustion, gum disease, skin complications, and a debilitated immune system. People who have a poor diet, smoke, drink too much alcohol, or have kidney disease and are on dialysis are at risk of not getting enough vitamin C.
From the brain to every part of the body, Calcium is vital for strong bones and several body functions such as muscle movement and nerve transmission. The risk of calcium deficiency is higher for postmenopausal women (who lose bone mass at a faster rate and do not absorb calcium as effectively as younger women), people with lactose intolerance, and vegans.
Magnesium functions as an enzyme, keeping blood pressure normal, bones strong, and heart rate stable. It is more abundant in spinach and other greens, avocados, nuts, and black beans. Magnesium deficiency is linked to excessive alcohol consumption, aging, certain medications, diabetes, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
Several factors can contribute to marginal or low nutrient status, such as poor dietary quality or quantity, increased nutritional requirements, increased metabolic losses, and impaired digestion and absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.
In long-term consumption of poor diet quality (e.g., restrictive, unbalanced, or low-nutrient dense diets) or quantity (e.g., high-calorie or limited dietary intake), the risk of poor nutrition status increases, especially in individuals with growing needs or losses.