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What problems can arise if I don’t get enough micronutrients in my diet?

Countless problems can arise from not getting enough of these micronutrients in the diet. Here are just a few:
  • Iron deficiency is the most widespread nutrition problem in the world. Iron is not only required by hemoglobin in red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, it’s also an essential constituent of many enzymes, including those involved in energy production and brain function. Iron deficiency results in anemia (a shortage of red blood cells), which is estimated to cost the world economy billions of dollars each year in lost productivity. Iron deficiency is also thought to have long-term adverse consequences; for example, interfering with neurotransmission in children who are deprived of sufficient iron during critical periods of brain growth.
  • Magnesium deficiency is common in the United States, especially among the poor, obese, elderly and African-Americans. It has been associated with colorectal and other cancers, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes and metabolic syndrome (a prediabetic condition frequently accompanying obesity). In one large study more than 4,000 men were followed for 18 years to see if differences in blood concentrations of magnesium observed at the beginning of the study influenced future disease outcomes. The findings: Men with higher magnesium levels at the beginning of the study lived longer and had a lower incidence of heart disease and cancer than those with the lowest concentrations.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is strongly associated with various cancers and ailments. Vitamin D is an unusual micronutrient for a couple of reasons. First, it doesn’t just come from the diet (though a few foods, such as canned salmon, sardines and cod-liver oil contain a form of vitamin D); it’s produced in the skin. Second, the chemical form of vitamin D present in some foods and the form produced in the skin are not the same form that is active in the body, which is called calcitriol and is synthesized when these precursor molecules react to the skin’s exposure to sunlight. Because many of us spend most of our time indoors and don’t get enough vitamin D from dietary sources, this deficiency is widespread. It’s even more prevalent and severe in the United States among people with dark skin, such as African-Americans -- although dark skin protects against excessive sun exposure in the tropics, it can be too protective in more northern latitudes where sun exposure is limited.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.