Could you have a deficiency?

Published: Sunday 1st February 2015 by The News Editor

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There are some vitamin deficiencies that, for want of a better word, are more ‘popular’ than others.

Take, say, vitamin D deficiency; the celebrity of vitamin deficiencies, the one we all know about after a range of alarmist headlines about falling levels of outdoor activity and rising levels of rickets.

But that doesn’t mean it, and similarly well-known deficiencies like low iron (anaemia), are the only ones we should know about.

“There’s a big trend showing some nutrient intakes are getting worse,” explains Keri Filtness, a nutritionist from Nature’s Best.

Yes, there’s the “resurgence of vitamin D deficiency”, but there’s also “a particularly marked rise in magnesium and omega-3 deficiencies”, Filtness notes.

So even if you’ve never heard of these possible nutritional shortfalls before, you soon will – just like I did, when I found myself talking to Filtness about the results of a vitamin-deficiency test I’d had done, at Harley Street’s Biolab.

To be honest, I expected the results to be simple, and my reasoning went something like: I eat a generally healthy diet, but I am often tired and could add in bit more red meat, so I’m probably anaemic. It’s winter too, not much sun, so let’s throw in vitamin D too.

But actually, my iron levels were fine. So is my vitamin D.

“It’s your omega-3 fatty acid levels that are very low,” says Filtness. “And your magnesium.”

With low omega 3, I could potentially be putting myself at increased risk of heart disease. “Omega 3 is crucial in keeping your heart health,” explains Filtness. “There needs to be a ratio with omega 6 – omega 3 needs to be at 4% to be cardio protected. Yours is 3%.”

And the low magnesium levels leave me vulnerable to depression, insomnia, nausea and muscle spasms.

“You can get your omega 3 levels up by eating more oily fish. Without a doubt, that’s the best way, but many people aren’t meeting their quota of one to two portions a week.”

As for magnesium, I need to up my intake of green leafy veg and wholegrains, and for vitamin B2 it’s more wholegrain cereals, cottage cheese and yoghurts.

Other minor deficiencies are relatively easy to fix with a better diet too – for low vitamin D, it’d be more dairy, mushrooms and eggs on the menu, while for low iron, more spinach and red meat, and for omega 6; nuts, seeds and ever more oily fish.

But of course, it’s not just about ‘curing’ them once the deficiency is there – what about good old-fashioned prevention? Is there anything we can do to stop getting so low in the first place?

“The trouble is, there is a lot of conflicting advice,” says Filtness. “Say with vitamin D, there’s a lot written about it and a lot of advice about how long you should spend out in the sun without SPF cream.”

There’s also, conversely, a danger that a lot of vitamin deficiencies are caused by us thinking we’re making them better.

“There’s a danger of relying on a supplement, instead of improving your diet,” says Filtness. “I often get emails saying, ‘I know my diet is bad, so what supplement can I take to balance it out?’

“The answer is, you should always change your diet first, as a long-term solution, and not assume vitamin supplements are a licence to eat how you want. There will be important nutritional compounds in food that haven’t even been discovered yet, and you won’t get those just from supplements.”

Copyright Press Association 2015

Published: Sunday 1st February 2015 by The News Editor

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