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Our body requires nutrients to survive. They are the building blocks of all matter within our body. So to say nutrients are important is a massive understatement. Nutrients are the very core of our existence. However no other topic on earth seems to have as much controversy as nutrient intake (diet) does. It’s complex, its messy and no one seems to have all the answers.
A nutrient deficiency is when the body is lacking in one or a group of nutrients. This deficiency affects our biological function, causing issues in any of our bodies systems or structures.
Most people are aware that nutrient deficiencies can cause problems, however very few know what causes them. When we think of nutrient deficiencies we immediately associate this entire phenomenon with our diet and the food we eat. Yet what we eat is only a tiny piece of the deficiency puzzle.
This article will shed some light on the fundamental causes of nutrient deficiency’s, the effects of deficiencies, some common deficiencies and their solutions.
So the question is:
Are we what we eat? Are we what we absorb? Are we what we demand? Are we what we metabolize?
Our nutritional state is determined by the combination of these. So lets explore each of these in detail.
This one seems the most obvious. What we put in our mouths will inevitably affect our nutritional status. If we eat a diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and other phytonutrients, our body has the potential to also be rich in these nutrients.
The same applies in reverse. If we feed our body junk, our body only has the potential to become junk.
The most fundamental point to what distinguishes good and bad, is that its REAL food!
This means food that was grown naturally, hasn’t had all its nutrients leached out during manufacturing and that it isn’t heavily processed. It’s simply about getting back to the basics and cutting out packaged food, choosing the local farmers market to source you fruits, vegetables, grains and meat.
Unfortunately making the choice to eat real food is just the first step. We must understand that even a healthy diet has the potential to be deficient in certain minerals, vitamin, proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Any diet that excludes one or more classes of food (meat, grains, nuts, nightshades, etc.) has the potential to be deficient in specific nutrients. The most obvious example is that the vegetarian diet, if not properly managed, can lead to protein, vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies. Therefore, all dietary habits should be scrutinized to determine whether the possibility of a nutritional deficiency might be caused by the food we are, or are not, eating.
Lastly we must consider whether the food actually contains the nutrients we seek. This point mainly pertains to geographic locations or areas where the soil has been leached of nutrients due to monoculture or other farming methods. A prime example of this is that Australian soil is deficient in both selenium and iodine, thereby increasing the populous risk of deficiency exponentially.
The food we consume is dependent on our digestion to break down and mobilize the nutrients into our bloodstream. Most of the carbohydrates, proteins and fats we consume are a series of individual components that are chemically bonded together into a larger molecule.
These chemical bonds must be broken to allow absorption into the bloodstream. Similarly, most minerals or vitamins are either bonded to, or encapsulated by fats, proteins or carbohydrates. Therefore, the body must also digest/break down these chemical structures to enable proper absorption.
Mastication or chewing is the beginning of the digestion process and plays an important role. Therefore, ensuring that food is properly chewed will support your body’s ability access the life important nutrients.
Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is the major acid in our stomach. This causes the breakdown of proteins and fats. Although HCL doesn’t complete the digestive process, small changes to the stomach’s acidity (pH) can dramatically affect our ability to successfully receive mineral nutrients locked in protein structures. A common indicator of a HCL deficiency, is the presence of undigested food in the stool.
Enzymes function throughout our digestive system. Beginning in the mouth, Amylase starts the breakdown of complex carbohydrates. From there, Pepsin works alongside HCL in the stomach to start breaking down proteins. Protease, Lipase and Amylase, secreted by the pancreas, are released into the small intestine to further break down protein, fats and carbohydrates. Enzymatic function drastically alters the final stages of digestion. Working to release nutrients and complete the breakdown process, deficiency in pancreatic enzymes can dramatically affect nutritional status. Enzymatic function can be tested via a stool test for pancreatic elastase.
Bile acids are produced by the liver and released by the gallbladder into the small intestine. Bile acid or bile salts break down fats/lipids into fatty acids and cholesterol so they can be transported through the bloodstream and used in the production of hormones, cell membranes and a hundred other functions. When a healthy individual consumes a meal containing fat, the gallbladder releases enough bile to break down that quantity of fat. However, when a cholecystectomy has been conducted (gall bladder removed) bile acids are no longer released in large quantities. Instead, they release a steady trickle of bile throughout the day. This may affect the ability to digest large quantities of fat in a single sitting, thereby increasing the risk of fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies (A, D, E, K) and omega 3. Bile acid deficiency can be tested via serum analysis of the alkaline phosphatase liver enzyme.
Bacteria play an important role in our digestive system. They help to finish off the majority of our digestive functions. Most commonly in the colon, our microbiome (good bacteria) provides us with vitamins such as K, E, and B12, as well as fatty acids and amino acids. A wide range of factors can disturb our microbiome. Medications such as antibiotics are the most common. However pH, pesticides, stress and a lack of prebiotic foods (foods that feed good bacteria) can also affect our microbiome status. The status of your microbiome can be tested via a comprehensive stool analysis.
We metabolize nutrients to maintain normal bodily functions. However our demand for nutrients (calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) changes depending on a number of factors.
Age is one of the most common factors affecting our nutrient demand. We all know that, what you ate as a baby is very different to what you eat today, both in quantity and nutrient makeup. For instance, elderly people have a higher requirements to maintain vitamin D status and teenagers have a higher caloric demand due to growth. However age is only one of the factors affecting demand. Lifestyle factors such as exercise also affect our demand for nutrients. Athletes require a higher intake of nutrients compared to a sedentary person. They require more calories to convert to energy (Carbohydrates, Lipids, Proteins), they need a higher intake of vitamins to facilitate energy conversion (B vitamins) and athletes need a higher intake of minerals and electrolytes to combat dehydration and support energy production (iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, sodium, zinc and calcium).
Disease and injury also changes our nutrient demand. Any viral or bacterial illness (even latent) will increase the demand on our immune system thereby burning through higher quantities of essential nutrients such as: zinc, selenium and vitamin C. Stress in one of the most potent increasers of nutrient demand. When we are stressed, we burn through a range of amino acids (proteins), vitamins and minerals. Magnesium and water-soluble vitamins such as B vitamins are quickly depleted and deficiency should be considered in anyone suffering chronic stress.
Our body is made up of a complex series of chemical reactions which modify and adapt the nutrients we eat to perform specific tasks in the body. These modifications rely on enzymes or genes to be converted. If we have a genetic fault in our DNA, we are unable to successfully complete one or more of these modifying tasks. The chemical activation via Methylation is a prime example of this.
Methylation affects nearly 200 processes in the body. However for Methylation to occur it requires folate/Folinic acid (dietary source of B9) to be activated to 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate, pyridoxine (dietary source of B6) to be converted to pyridal-5-phosphate and cobalamin (dietary source of B12) to be converted to methylcobalamin. All these nutrients must be converted into their activate forms before methylation can occur. Genetic impairments in the folate activation cycle (5MTFR 677 and 1298) are extremely common and can lead to poor methylation, a build up in toxic metabolites and a cascade of symptoms ranging from atopic allergy reactions to neurological disturbances.
Due to these prevalent genetic polymorphisms, it is possible to consume, absorb and demand an abundance of nutrients, however be unable to utilize them. These deficiencies are one of the hardest deficiencies to pick up without targeted Nutrigenomic testing. However it is an important to understand that one can be deficient in a ‘specific form of nutrient’ and not merely the nutrient in general. For example, one can have an abundance of folinic acid but still be deficient in 5-MTHF. Once a polymorphism (genetic change that affects nutrient metabolism) has been established targeted supplementation or dietary intervention can begin.
If your interested in knowing if you have any genetic polymorphisms affecting your biochemistry and nutrient metabolism, book a DNA test today.
We eliminate waste via our digestive system, urinary system, through our skin and via our lungs. Our waste is made up of toxic byproducts from our metabolism, environmental toxins, bacterial byproducts and nutrients. The macro and micro-nutrients that we excrete must be in balance with our intake, absorption, demand and metabolism.
When this becomes unbalanced it leads to nutrient deficiencies. A classic example of excessive nutrient excretion is during kidney disease when the body is no longer able to accurately control the excretion of potassium, phosphate, calcium and bicarbonate.
Other situations that may lead to increased excretion are food poisoning, medications and other disease states that change food’s transit time through the gastrointestinal system. Leaky gut, IBS, food sensitivities, allergies and Crohn’s disease all lead to inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal lining. This also decreases transit time and often results in nutrient deficiencies due to persistent diarrhea.
Deficiencies can be at the root cause of any disease or condition because they are required for all biological functions in the body. Even psychological diseases such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bi-polar can be caused or worsened by nutrient deficiencies.
Correcting nutrient deficiencies via dietary or supplemental intervention is a vital component of healing.
Finding out which deficiencies you have can be achieved via functional testing of specific nutrients or by testing whether specific digestion pathways are working adequately.
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