Minerals are specific types of nutrients that our bodies need to function properly. A mineral deficiency occurs when the body does not get or absorb the required amount of a mineral.
The human body requires different amounts of each mineral to stay healthy. Specific needs are described in the recommended daily intakes (RDI).
The recommended daily intake is the average amount that meets the needs of approximately 97% percent of the healthy population. They can be obtained from foods, mineral supplements, and food products that have been fortified with additional minerals.
A deficiency usually occurs slowly over time and can be due to a number of reasons. An increased need for the mineral, a lack of mineral in the diet, or difficulty absorbing the mineral from food are some of the most common reasons.
Mineral deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems, such as weak bones, fatigue, or a weakened immune system.
There are five main categories of mineral deficiency: calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. I will put in bold the foods or food sources of minerals of plant origin, since we mostly look for a plant-based diet, to enjoy optimal health:
Calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth. It also supports the proper function of blood vessels, muscles, nerves, and hormones.
Natural sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, and finely sliced fish, beans, and peas. Vegetables like broccoli, kale, and bok choy also offer calcium. Some foods are also fortified with the mineral, such as tofu, cereals, and juices.
A calcium deficiency produces few obvious symptoms in the short term. That is because our body correctly regulates the amount of calcium in the blood. Long-term lack of calcium can cause a decrease in bone mineral density, called osteopenia.
If not treated in time, osteopenia can turn into osteoporosis. This increases the risk of bone fractures, especially in older adults.
Severe calcium deficiency is usually caused by medical problems or treatments, such as medications (such as diuretics), surgery to remove the stomach, or kidney failure. Symptoms of a severe deficiency include:
More than half of the iron in our body is found in red blood cells. Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to tissues.
Iron is also part of other proteins and enzymes that keep your body healthy. The best plant-based sources of iron are beans or lentils.
Iron deficiency develops slowly and can cause anemia. It is considered a common condition in America. The World Health Organization estimated in a 2008 report that iron deficiency causes about half of all cases of anemia worldwide.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include feeling weak and tired. You may be doing poorly at work or school. Children can show signs through slow social and cognitive development.
The body needs magnesium for hundreds of chemical reactions. These include responses that control blood glucose levels and blood pressure. Magnesium also controls proper muscle and nerve function, brain function, energy metabolism, and protein production.
About 60% of the body's magnesium resides in the bones, while nearly 40% resides in the cells of the muscles and soft tissues. Good sources of magnesium include:
Magnesium deficiency is rare in healthy people. The kidneys can prevent magnesium from leaving the body through urine. Still, certain medications and chronic health conditions like alcoholism can cause magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium needs are also highly influenced by the presence of diseases. In this situation, the recommended daily intake of magnesium may not be enough for some people.
The first signs of magnesium deficiency include:
Magnesium deficiency can lead to the following symptoms if left untreated:
Potassium is a mineral that works as an electrolyte. It is necessary for muscle contraction, the proper functioning of the heart and the transmission of nerve signals. Also needed by some enzymes, it helps our body convert carbohydrates into energy.
The best sources of potassium are fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, avocado, green leafy vegetables, beets, potatoes, and plums. Other good sources include orange juice and walnuts.
The most common cause of potassium deficiency is excessive fluid loss. Examples can include prolonged vomiting, kidney disease, or the use of certain medications such as diuretics.
Symptoms of potassium deficiency include muscle cramps and weakness. Other symptoms manifest as constipation, bloating, or abdominal pain caused by paralysis of the intestines.
Severe potassium deficiency can cause muscle paralysis or irregular heart rhythms that can lead to death.
Zinc plays a role in many aspects of the body's metabolism. These include:
It is also important for proper growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. Zinc is found in:
Zinc deficiency can cause loss of appetite, taste, or smell. Other symptoms are decreased immune system function and slow growth.
One of the main causes of mineral deficiency is simply not getting enough essential minerals from food or supplements.
There are different types of diets that can result in this deficiency. A poor diet that relies on junk food or a diet that lacks adequate fruits and vegetables can be possible causes.
Alternatively, a very low calorie diet can produce this deficiency. This includes people in weight loss programs or with eating disorders. Older adults with poor appetites may also not get enough calories or nutrients in their diet.
Restricted diets can also cause a mineral deficiency. Vegetarians, vegans, and people with food allergies or lactose intolerance can experience mineral deficiencies if they fail to manage their diet effectively.
Difficulty digesting food or absorbing nutrients can lead to a mineral deficiency. Potential causes of these difficulties include:
Mineral deficiency can also result from an increased need for certain minerals. Women, for example, may encounter this need during pregnancy, heavy menstruation, and postmenopause.
Symptoms of mineral deficiency depends of the nutriens the body lacks. Possible symptoms include:
You can show one or more of these symptoms and the severity can vary. Some symptoms can be so mild that they go unnoticed and undiagnosed.
With the assistance of your primary care physician and nutritionist, one or more of the following diagnostic tools can be used to determine if you have a mineral deficiency:
Treatment of a mineral deficiency depends on the type and severity of the deficiency. The underlying conditions are also a factor.
Your GP may order more tests to identify the amount of damage before deciding on a treatment plan. This may include treatment for other illnesses or a change in medication.
A change in eating habits can help if you have a minor mineral deficiency. People with anemia due to a lack of iron in the diet may be asked to eat more meat, poultry, eggs, and iron-fortified cereals.
Supporting physicians may be referred from a Registered Nutritionist if your deficiency is more severe. They will help you modify your eating habits. This will include guidelines on how to eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The Nutritionist may also ask you to keep a food diary to keep track of the foods you are eating and your progress.
Certain mineral deficiencies cannot be treated by diet alone. You may need to take a multivitamin or mineral supplement.
These can be taken alone or with other supplements that help the body absorb or use the mineral. Vitamin D, for example, is often taken in conjunction with calcium.
The GP and Nutritionist will decide how much and how often supplements should be taken. It is important to follow the instructions to the letter because excessive intake of certain supplements can be harmful.
It is important to eat a balanced diet so that any mineral deficiency is avoided, it is also important to replenish these minerals after intense physical activities. If you like to exercise frequently or are exposed to high temperatures or sun, you must replenish your minerals as electrolytes.
We must also take into account the deficiencies of some minerals such as Selenium, Magnesium and Zinc, which may be lacking in some diets since these are of the utmost importance for the proper functioning of our body.
Nowadays these minerals that we mention are very deficient due to the frequent consumption of processed sugar, alcohol, tobacco, processed foods or high intakes of coffee. All of these factors can demineralize us and it is important that we consider taking supplements if necessary to mineralize ourselves and avoid any of the deficiencies mentioned in the article.
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