In Part I: Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency: Are You Deficient? I explained how we came to discover that two otherwise healthy vegetarian/vegan, yogi, meditators had some severe nutritional deficiencies. Here in Part II: Overcoming Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency, I go into more specifics on vitamin and mineral deficiencies, causes, symptoms, and how to ensure you’re not deficient.
After extremely low sodium levels landed my husband in the hospital, we both had multiple tests (blood tests and hair analysis) to check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The first recommendation to overcoming vitamin and mineral deficiency was for us to add meat back into our diet. We were both low in protein, B-12, iron, and I was also very low in cholesterol.
As people age the body is less able to absorb some nutrients from food. Between 30-50% of people have some issues with nutrient absorption after age 50. The good news is that it’s usually treatable.
I’m sharing this with my readers because we learned some very important information about overcoming vitamin and mineral deficiency that everyone needs to know. After-all, if a holistic health coach can be nutrient deficient, anyone can be!
Overcoming Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency
Once we knew what nutrients we were deficient in, the next recommendation was to take a host of vitamin and mineral supplements. We had previously been adding mineral drops into our water (which comes from reverse-osmosis desalination process that removes all minerals.) But apparently that was not enough. Some of the numbers from our test results were so low compared to the “normal” range, it was shocking.
I might have been more skeptical about taking all of these supplements if the holistic doctor were selling supplements himself. But he doesn’t sell or recommend brands. So we had to do a lot of research on our own, hence my wanting to share with you what we’ve learned.
Taking supplements alone would take too long to raise some of our very low numbers up to the healthy range without animal protein. So as I mentioned in Part I: Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency, we are now eating meat again, along with taking supplements, to help us with overcoming vitamin and mineral deficiency.
Do You Need Vitamin and Mineral Supplements?
Maybe yes, maybe no. After what we’ve been through, if you’re approaching 50 or over, I highly recommend talking with your holistic practitioner. Get a blood test, and possibly a hair analysis test to see how your vitamin and mineral numbers stack up. Have them test for everything, not just the basic nutrients. If you’re lucky everything will be in the “normal” range. However, if you’re over 50, there’s a good chance that you’ll be lacking in some nutrient. And it may be a crucial one.
Supplement brands vary greatly so I recommend doing your homework. We take mostly Thorne brand which is considered very high quality. But they are also expensive. It maybe a case of you get what you pay for. Look for supplements that don’t contain a lot of fillers or allergens. And ensure your supplements aren’t made in China. If you’re taking supplements to improve your health, you don’t really want to go the cheap route. And even expensive supplements are a lot cheaper than most pharmaceuticals.
Working With A Holistic Practioner
It’s also important to note that most MDs have had little to no training in nutrition, through no fault of their own. Med schools only require 25 hours of nutrition to graduate (about 1% of total course hours.) Sadly 73% of all med schools in the US are not in compliance with that requirement. There is also no requirement for Continuing Education in nutrition for MDs. Considering that nutritional components like protein, vitamins, and minerals are the building blocks of the human body, this is pretty shocking.
Many studies and advances in nutrition have occurred in the past five+ years. So if your MD doesn’t have a personal passion for nutrition, there’s a good chance they may not even know some of these things. You need to be your own health advocate. Don’t have a holistic doctor? Look for a Functional Medicine doctor, or a Naturopath to help you navigate the world of vitamins and minerals. There is a LOT to know about and I’m only just scratching the surface. And remember, bioindividuality! Every BODY is different.
Here are some specifics on vitamin and mineral deficiencies, causes, and symptoms. I also discuss a few of the key supplements we are taking for overcoming vitamin and mineral deficiency, and why they are important.
How Does the Body Utilize Iron?
From the National Institute of Health (NIH): “Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Your body also needs iron to make some hormones and connective tissue.”
If you are female, vegan, or vegetarian, you are at higher risk for iron deficiency or anemia. Anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the US. And as we age, some people are less able to absorb nutrients from their food or supplements. So it’s a good idea to get this checked each year in a complete blood count (CBC.)
Are You Getting Enough Iron From Your Diet?
While you can get iron from plant sources including: quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, cashews, spinach and other dark-leafy greens as well as blackstrap molasses and prune juice, it’s often hard to get enough iron.
Iron-rich foods must be combined with Vitamin C to make the iron bioavailabale. If you get your iron from dark-leafy greens, the plant cell walls are tough for your stomach to digest. To make the iron in dark-leafy greens more bioavailable they can be cooked with lemon juice or lime juice. Greens can also be blended into a smoothie to help break up the cell walls, enabling better absorption. Always be sure eat vitamin C-rich foods with your greens to help with absorption.
Like with many supplements, there are a variety of different types of iron supplements. So it’s a good idea to talk with your holistic practitioner to see what they recommend for your particular deficiency. Iron supplements can also cause stomach aches and/or constipation so again check with your holistic practitioner if you’re experiencing problems.
If You’re Vegetarian or Vegan You May Need B-12 Supplements
What is vitamin B-12’s roll in the body and why is it important? From the NIH website: “Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve, brain, and blood cells healthy. It also helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. And vitamin B12 helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.” B-12 is also a critical component in the synthesis of folate into L-methylfolate, the only form of folic acid that the body can utilize.
Vitamin B-12 only occurs naturally in animal protein. Beef liver and clams are the best sources of natural vitamin B12. Vitamin B-12 is also found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese in lower amounts.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan or don’t eat any of the above foods (which I didn’t) it’s strongly recommend to take a vitamin B-12 supplement. Viamin B-12 is one thing you can not get from plants. If you’re eating nutritional yeast to get your B-12 (like I was), it’s important to know that while B-12 is sometimes added to nutritional yeast, it’s not a naturally occurring part of the yeast. Best bet, double-check to make sure your favorite brand of nutritional yeast actually contains B-12. Or you can take a B-12 supplement.
What About Folate (B-9) and Folic Acid
Folate (B-9) occurs naturally in foods like dark leafy greens. Folic acid is a synthesized form that is added to fortified foods like cereals, pastas, and supplements. Vitamin B-9 needs vitamin B-12 to convert folate into L-methylfolate, the usable form of folate in the body. If you have the MTHFR gene mutation, you can’t process folate or synthetic folic acid into L-methylfolate, and deficiencies of B-9 may occur.
L-methylfolate helps to make red blood cells, as well as constructing and repairing DNA and RNA. And it has been shown help lower homocysteine levels in numerous studies, which can aid in the prevention of heart disease. Having the MTHFR genetic mutation can be a potentially serious problem leading to heart disease, mental health, and mood issues if left untreated. If heart disease runs in your family it’s a good idea to get tested for the mutation.
Testing for the MTHFR Gene Mutation
Since Kirk is low in B-9 (folate) and B-12, our holistic doctor is testing him for the MTHFR gene mutation. So we’ve recently learned a ton about the MTHFR genetic mutation. It’s estimated that 40-60% of the population has one of several variants of the MTHFR gene mutation. This hereditary genetic mutation inhibits the synthesis and absorption of B-9 (folate) from foods or supplements.
The MTHFR gene mutation prevents conversion of synthetic folic acid into usable L-methylfolate, so if you have the mutation you’ll need to read labels and avoid fortified foods containing folic acid which can bioaccumulate as toxins in your body. L-methylfolate is a very important nutrient for pregnant women to ensure healthy babies. But if a pregnant woman has the MTHFR mutation, taking folic-acid supplements can actually make things worse. So that’s another reason to get checked for the MTHFR mutation.
You can learn more about MTHFR gene mutation here. And watch an informative video on MTHFR gene mutation here. If you do test positive for the genetic mutation, there are forms of L-methylfolate (not folic-acid) that must be taken as a supplement.
What You Need to Know About Cholesterol if You’re Vegan
Most people are concerned about high-cholesterol. I happen to have very low cholesterol which can be another concern for vegans. Cholesterol is one thing you can’t get from a plant based diet. While your body can create cholesterol from any diet, the more you intake as food, the less work the body has to do to create all that it needs.
Cholesterol has long been demonized by Big Pharma as “bad” and something you need a pill to lower. However, recent studies have shown the “high-cholesterol is bad” myth to be just that, a myth.
A few parts of the body actually thrive on cholesterol:
- the brain, where it aids in cognition
- the immune system, studies show that people with low cholesterol levels have more infections
- cholesterol plays a vital role in the synthesis of vitamin D in the body
- it helps make bile to aid in digesting food
- and cholesterol helps make sex hormones in both males and females
One of the biggest downsides of low cholesterol? Cancer is much more prevalent in people with very low cholesterol. So I definitely need to get my numbers back UP, ASAP. Foods containing the highest levels of cholesterol are shrimp and lobster, so I’ll be adding a lot of those into my diet! Yum!
What is Lithium’s Role in the Human Body?
Lithium is a trace mineral (a salt compound like potassium) we usually get from our food or drinking water. Naturally occurring lithium-rich mineral baths and springs have attracted people for their numerous health benefits around the world for centuries. Up to 60% of what you put on your body is directly absorbed into the body. So the body absorbs minerals directly by soaking in lithium springs (or epsom salt baths!)
Lithium has an essential function benefiting the brain in the physiological regulation of mood. It’s also been shown to help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Lithium Orotate, the supplement form, differs from the prescription form. Lithium Carbonate, the prescription form, is used to treat bipolar disorder and other mental disorders.
If I hadn’t done the hair analysis test, I would never have know that my lithium levels are almost non-existent. Again, this is really not a good thing, considering lithium helps to protect the brain from dementia. It also helps to regulate mood, which could be another reason that I’ve been feeling so blah lately.
Foods that contain Lithium include: grains, vegetables, mustard, kelp, pistachios, dairy, fish, and meat. You may not be getting enough of this trace mineral in your diet since most soils are depleted. If your holistic practitioner determines that you are deficient like I am, you can take a Lithium Orotate supplement.
Could You Have Low HCL (Stomach Acid)?
As I mentioned in Part I: Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency, having low protein levels, mineral deficiencies, and adrenal fatigue are all symptoms of low stomach acid. Yikes! However, finding out I have low stomach acid was a big relief that helped to tie all of my deficiencies together. And now I know how to proceed and turn that around, which should help all my nutrient deficiencies.
Interestingly some of the main symptoms of low hydrochloric acid (HCL or stomach acid) are indigestion, gas, bloating, and heartburn. The very symptoms that people tend to take antacids for, actually diminishes their stomach acid further. This exacerbates the situation instead of helping it. In fact as many as 90% of people who suffer from indigestion may have too little hydrochloric acid rather than too much. I didn’t have these symptoms, and had no idea my stomach acid was low.
How Stomach Acid Works
HCL helps to break down proteins into amino acids and minerals, and make these nutrients more bioavailable to the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of the human body. They help give cells their structure, building muscles and tissue, and are essential to neurotransmitters, metabolic pathways, mental stabilization, and just about every metabolic function that takes place in the body. When we consume protein, the protein is broken down into the individual amino acids and minerals in the stomach. If your stomach acid is too low, you’re likely not fully digesting your proteins, absorbing the minerals, and creating the amino acids that your body needs.
Considering that as many as 50% of people over age 50 have a decrease in HCL, which can inhibit absorption of nutrients, we might not be getting all the nutrients that we should be from whole foods as we age.
How Can You Increase Stomach Acid?
Luckily there are several things you can do to help your stomach digest your food as you age, making the nutrients more bioavailable to your body:
- Chew, chew, chew your food. Mastication (chewing) is actually the first step in the digestion process. As the food mixes with your saliva, it begins to break down. Chew each bite 100 times. If you can actually do this you will find that there’s almost nothing left to swallow. This is how the body was designed to function. But in our fast-paced world of eating take-out in the car, mindlessly shoveling in your food in front of a TV or your phone, hardly anyone is chewing their food anymore. Which is the first break-down of not absorbing nutrients.
- You can also take a couple of teaspoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar in warm water 30-minutes before each meal. This will help to increase HCL production before meals.
- Take bitters 30-minutes before each meal to increase HCL production. There are many types of bitters, such as Angostura Bitters, or even dandelion tincture or tea. Many herbs are considered bitters. Unfortunately many people don’t like the flavor of “bitter” foods and don’t eat them—to the detriment of their HCL levels.
- A digestive enzyme can also help. Digestive enzymes normally contain amylase, protease and lipase, and help to break down protein, carbohydrates and fats into progressively smaller components. This can help better absorption and bioavailability of nutrients.
- There are also HCL+Pepsin supplements which help to increase stomach acid. If you go this route be sure to work with your holistic practitioner on dosage, which is key.
Putting Together the Pieces of the Puzzle
With our new-found knowledge on overcoming vitamin and mineral deficiency, we are working on boosting our nutrients. This includes increasing our stomach acid, chewing our food better, being regular with our supplement taking, and eating meat at least once a day. This is mostly in the form of fish, chicken, and turkey, but occasionally red meat as well. All of it is as organic and hormone-free as possible. We personally prefer it chopped up small and seasoned so it doesn’t taste like meat. We’re also not cooking meat at home because we don’t like the smell, which means more eating out. Thankfully meals out in Mexico are affordable. We’re taking this whole new diet one-step-at-a-time.
We’ll re-check our blood tests in a couple of months. And hope that our numbers are back in the “normal” range. Meanwhile I’m doing lots of self-care to recover from my adrenal fatigue. Thankfully Kirk is fully recovered from everything and helping me out so I can lay-low. He reports feeling much better than he has felt in 10-years. Meat is agreeing with him.
I hope some of our discoveries have helped you as well. And not to fear, my blog will still focus on eating a plant-based diet. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat whole foods, mostly greens, not too much.”
Please leave a comment to let us know if you’ve struggled with any of these dietary, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies, and how you dealt with it?
Part II of a two part article on Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency. Read Part I here.