Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency Diseases
   by James Occhiogrosso, N.D.

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As most of you are aware, most of the population is uses health supplements. Experts estimate that anywhere from 20 to 70% of citizens use non-pharmaceutical health supplements on a regular basis. These supplements range from simple multi-vitamin/multi-mineral products to complex herbal mixes designed to support the health of a specific body system.

Articles regularly appear in the mainstream media disputing the value and effect of specific vitamins, minerals or herbal products. I find it very hard to believe that so many citizens are, at the least, wasting their money, and at worst, endangering their health, but, in most cases, this is exactly what these “supplement bashing” article seem to be saying. A recent article of this nature was published in the September 2012 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) magazine. I used to value their input, but after this article, and a few others they published in the past, I have come to believe that they are heavily biased in the direction of the pharmaceutical industry. However, rather than point out in detail the many areas where their reporting was inaccurate, misleading or downright incorrect, I would rather provide information for specific areas where supplements are of maximum value.

For good health, the human body needs many nutrients—some in very, very small quantities (micronutrients) and others in large quantities (macronutrients.) The result of a serious nutrient deficiency is at minimum, noticeable symptoms, and at maximum, a diagnosable condition or disease.

The CR article inferred that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are extremely rare. I take issue with this strongly and that is the subject of this article and its associated newsletter. In my practice, I often see folks that have serious nutrient deficiencies causing symptoms that range from barely noticeable to downright dangerous. Often, these deficiencies are not measurable on standard medical tests, and thus, when the patient reviews test results with a doctor, he or she is told that everything is normal.

Some examples of common nutrient deficiency conditions are listed below. Please note that these conditions are primarily for Americans or Western Europeans that are generally not subject to the severe nutritional deficiencies that may be found in developing countries. Many nutrient deficiency diseases are virtually non-existent in developed countries. Examples are diseases like pellagra (a severe vitamin B3 deficiency) and scurvy (a severe vitamin C deficiency). The items below are those that are relatively common in developed countries like the U.S.

Hypothyroidism — The human thyroid is extremely sensitive to the micronutrient mineral, iodine. We need about 200 micrograms per day of iodine per day, and many of us get less. Without a sufficient iodine level, the thyroid cannot produce other hormones the body needs in sufficient quantities to keep one from feeling many thyroid related symptoms, such as; constantly tired or cold, or inability to lose weight. A long-term deficiency of iodine may exist for years before the body’s hormone levels deteriorate to a point where blood tests will indicate hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, by that time, the thyroid may be permanently damaged, requiring its owner to use thyroid medication for life.

Osteoporosis — Calcium is a macronutrient needed in large quantities and the major mineral component of bone. A long-term deficiency in calcium will almost always result in bone structure problems, the most serious of which is osteoporosis, a thinning of the bone that makes bones fracture easily. Many of us get enough calcium in our diets, either from food or supplements, but not everyone realizes that a sufficient level of vitamin D is necessary to absorb calcium. Thus, insufficient vitamin D intake can indirectly cause calcium to be deficient in bone structure, resulting in osteoporosis or osteopenia.

Anemia — There are several types of anemia, typically diagnosed by a blood test showing a reduced red blood cell count and/or abnormal formation of the bodies red blood cells. Anemia can come from internal bleeding or an undiagnosed disease, and it is also often caused by a nutritional deficiency, where it is called a nutritional deficiency anemia. Common definitions are Iron deficiency anemia and pernicious anemia, which are caused by a deficiency of iron and vitamin B12 respectively. Nutritional deficiency anemia can also be caused by insufficient intake of the B-vitamin, folate, which is common in pregnant woman. Typical pre-natal vitamin products are typically used during pregnancy to prevent fetal defects from folate deficiency.

Night Blindness — This common condition is often caused by a Vitamin A deficiency. It is a condition in which the eyes fail to adjust normally to different lighting. Someone with a serious vitamin A deficiency will not be able to adjust or respond properly to dim light or sudden bright light (glare) conditions, rendering the person virtually blind under certain circumstances. Many people with this condition are either afraid or unable to drive a motor vehicle at night. Vitamin A is also used by the body to maintain the normal health of skin and membrane cells. Corrective action is usually to take a daily supplement containing at least 10,000 IU of beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body and to increase one's consumption of bright green, yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables that are high in beta-carotene.

Peripheral Artery Disease, Arthritis, Cardiovascular disease — Proper circulation of the blood and deposits in the arteries are caused by many factors other than high cholesterol levels. Vitamins C, D and E are crucial for proper endothelial function, and serious vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to the development of peripheral artery disease, which often is a precursor of more serious cardiovascular disease.

Prostate Problems — Like the thyroid with iodine, proper functioning of the prostate is highly dependant on the level of the macronutrient, zinc. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem in men with serious zinc deficiencies. A client of mine with ED who had a serious zinc deficiency recovered some erectile function after three months of supplementing with 50mg per day of zinc along with eating one ounce per day of pumpkin seeds. After six months, his erectile function had almost returned to normal. Zinc deficiencies are also known to result in impaired immune function.

Heart Arrhythmias — Many heart conditions like atrial fibrillation, premature ventricular contractions, and a few others relate to an irregular heartbeat. These conditions, particularly atrial fibrillation, become more common as we age. Often, patients are put on powerful medications to regulate the heartbeat, when their problem could simply be due to a nutritional deficiency. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) deficiencies are strongly related to cardiac problems. Cholesterol lowering drugs in the statin family are known to deplete CoQ10.

Specific Critical Vitamins

  • The B-Vitamin Family — The B-vitamin family is important for many body processes. Deficiencies in various B-vitamins are responsible for problems like; cracked and swollen lips, tongue and mouth sores, dermatitis and other skin problems, digestive problems, anemia, sensory problems, and many other conditions. Elderly adults are particularly prone to vitamin B deficiency diseases.
  • Vitamin C — This vitamin is one of the most important components of good nutrition. The published minimum daily requirements (MDR) for vitamin C was established years ago to prevent the deficiency disease scurvy. This disease is caused by the severe deficiencies seen many years ago, in people that had almost no access to vitamin C, like sailors on 6-month ocean trips. These sorts of deficiencies are not likely to be seen today, but less serious ones are quite common. Vitamin C deficiencies today are commonly responsible for conditions like; frequent colds, persistent infections, bleeding gums, loose teeth, dry scaly skin and hair, and many other conditions.
  • Vitamin D — Studies in the past few years have come to indicate that we have had little knowledge of the importance of vitamin D, particularly with regard to diseases like cancer. In a previous newsletter posted on my website, (Jan. 28, 2009 — Cancer is a Systemic Disease! ) you can view some maps of the U.S. showing the rate of cancer mortality rates for both prostate and breast cancer. Note how the death rate increases further north. Many studies indicate that most American, particularly those living in northern climates are seriously deficient in vitamin D, which may account for the high rate of cancer in this country. Vitamin D deficiencies have been solidly linked to colon and rectal cancer.
  • Vitamin E — The family of vitamins actually consists of 8 fractions. To avoid deficiency is necessary to get all eight. Deficiencies in vitamin E have been associated with heart attacks, and poor endothelial (the lining of blood vessels) function. The tocotrienol fractions of Vitamin E have been shown to help reduce plaque deposits in arteries, particularly the carotid arteries.
  • CoQ10 — This enzyme is critical for proper functioning of the heart. It is seriously depleted by any drug in the statin family, which includes almost all drugs used today to control high cholesterol levels. Serious deficiencies in CoQ10 can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrhythmia.

Specific Critical Minerals

  • Magnesium — A mineral that is required for multiple processes in the body. Deficiencies can produce widespread symptoms like cardiac arrhythmias, restless leg syndrome, leg cramps, particularly with the calf muscle, sensory problems, hand tremors, high blood pressure, light sensitivity and many other conditions.

    Potassium — Another mineral required for multiple processes in the body. Deficiencies can produce widespread symptoms similar to those listed above for magnesium. Medications used to treat high blood pressure (diuretics) frequently deplete magnesium and potassium in the body and causes deficiencies. Serious depletion can result in a life-threatening drop in blood pressure requiring hospitalization and intravenous replacement of these minerals.
  • Zinc — Another mineral required for multiple processes in the body. Aside from causing problems in the male prostate, a zinc deficiency can lead to frequent colds, persistent infections, loss of taste and/or smell, poor wound healing and vision problems.
  • Calcium — Essential for bone building and bone health. Sufficient levels of vitamin D are needed for it to be absorbed by the body.

Putting it all Together

Many experts in nutrition claim that the minimum daily requirements of many vitamins and minerals as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are far too low. Many people purchase supplements from local supermarkets, drug stores and other discount stores that typically carry the lowest quality products. More informed consumers visit health food stores that have experts on staff, or get their supplements from a Natural Health Practitioner, a nutritionist, or a dietitian. While medical doctors have extensive knowledge of medical conditions and diseases, they know little about vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements, and thus are a poor choice to get an analysis of your nutrient needs. For the most solid advice, it is best to partner your medical doctor with a knowledgeable nutritionist or natural health practitioner.

Note that this paper is quite limited in listing conditions caused by nutrient deficiencies. The conditions listed are mainly those that are encountered frequently in Western societies, and I have surely left out many important ones in the interests of brevity. It is my belief that most common diseases diagnosed today are caused or exacerbated by nutrient deficiencies. With such deficiencies corrected early, I believe the serious disease rate would be significantly lower.

In my practice, I try to impress the importance of a good balanced diet, coupled with a quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral product and supplemental vitamins B, C, D, and E. Most clients feel significantly better after about six months on such a regimen.

Multiple vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies are nearly always present in disease states, but associating deficiencies with specific symptoms or specific diseases is often close to impossible except in very clear-cut special cases.

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