Fruit & Vegetable Series Part 2: How Vitamin Deficiencies Develop & Why They Are Dangerous
So, What is a Vitamin?
Vitamins are essential for maintaining a proper level of health and are important for living. This is true throughout a person’s life cycle, although there are certain stages where it is especially important, like for pregnant women, young children, adolescents, and the elderly.
The word ‘vitamin’ was first used in 1911 by the Warsaw-born biochemist Casimir Funk. Funk isolated a substance at the Lister Institute in London that prevented nerve inflammation by observing chickens raised on a diet that was deficient in the substance. He termed this substance ‘vitamine’ because he believed it was necessary for life to exist. The letters (A, B, C, etc.) were assigned to the vitamins in the order of their discovery.
What is the Problem?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that there are globally about 2 billion people at risk for suffering from vitamin deficiencies. This includes approximately 125 million preschool children with vitamin A deficiency, as well large populations at risk of deficiencies of folate, thiamin, vitamin B-12, niacin, other B vitamins, and vitamin D (Bailey et al., 2015). The latest UN estimates are that there are 821 million people globally who are undernourished. These people are especially at risk of vitamin and other micro- and macro-nutrient deficiencies (Mannar & Hurrell, 2017).
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of vitamin deficiency tend to vary between individuals but the following are some of the most common:
- Bleeding gums, easy bruising, slow wound healing, dry scaly skin, and frequent nosebleeds–A diet lacking in vitamin C can be the reason. Vitamin C is important for wound healing and immunity and also serves as an antioxidant. Routine screening of even healthy populations has found that 13-30% of the population have low levels of vitamin C. Because the body does not make vitamin C by itself it is important to get the necessary vitamin C supply through proper diet–vegetables and fruit–or by means of supplements.
- Brittle hair and nails, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, and cramps–Although many factors could contribute to this condition, one is a lack of biotin which is a B vitamin (B7) involved in many body functions. People who are at risk include pregnant women, and heavy smokers or drinkers. Biotin helps the body convert food into energy.
- Mouth ulcers–Developing mouth ulcers or other lesions around the mouth could be the result of an insufficient intake of certain vitamins like iron or B vitamins.
- Poor night vision–A low intake of vitamin A could cause night blindness. In general, though, people should avoid taking vitamin A unless prescribed because if taken in excess it can become toxic.
- Dandruff and scales–Often caused by low blood levels of zinc, niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2), or pyridoxine (vitamin B6). Up to 42% of infants and 50% of adults may suffer from this condition at some stage or another.
- Hair loss–Hair loss is very common. By the time they reach 50 years of age up to 50% of adults report hair loss. There are many vitamins and minerals of which a shortage may cause hair loss. These include iron, zinc, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), niacin (vitamin B3), and biotin (vitamin B7).
The potential to develop vitamin deficiencies is exacerbated by certain risk factors.
What are the Risk Factors?
Risk factors may be referred to in layman’s terms as causal factors. Risk factors are generally classified into two categories–predisposing factors and precipitating factors. Predisposing factors are those that you have relatively little control over. These are the factors like your parents’ DNA make-up, their history of alcohol abuse, and other genetic ‘traits’ that you may have inherited.
Precipitating factors are those risk factors that directly contribute to the manifestation of certain illnesses or diseases. The factors that we discuss here fall mainly under this category. Vitamins are an important source of preventive measures to prevent certain illnesses and symptoms, as discussed above, from materializing. Your risk of vitamin deficiency is increased if you:
- Regularly overcook your food. This may cause vitamin deficiency because you cook away the nutrients! In the same breath–it is important to make sure that you never undercook your food either, especially meat.
- Neglect to eat foods containing natural vitamin sources, like dairy, vegetables, and fruit.
- Fail to take vitamins during pregnancy, when especially folic acid supplements are important.
- Suffer from intestinal problems. Some people have medical conditions that prevent the proper absorption of vitamins like vitamin B-12. There could be many reasons for this, and you may not even be aware of it, but it could include having had stomach surgery of sorts or suffering from abnormal bacterial growth in your stomach.
- Abuse alcohol. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of proper vitamins and nutrients on so many levels, but especially with the absorption of folate and vitamin C.
- Take prescription medication. There are a lot of variable factors involved here and one should always consult their physician, but many prescription drugs can disrupt the body’s natural balance and cause vitamin deficiencies. For example, anti-seizure drugs can block the absorption of folate, and many drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes, including antacids, may interfere with B-12 absorption.
The Nature’s Craft Approach
At Nature’s Craft, we believe that the more natural the solution, the better. Hence, we firmly promote taking your daily vitamin and mineral requirements through healthy doses of good and natural food. We all know of course what the problem with this is. Firstly, our hurried lifestyles militate, in many cases, against us having the time to shop around for proper fruits and veggies, hence why we quickly turn to junk food. And of course, the fact that the quality of the food that we get nowadays is, with certain exceptions, not what it used to be in years gone by.
This is where our well-researched supplements come into play. We firmly believe in the dialectic between science and nature and that there is room for healthy, balanced supplements to fill in the gaps to help meet your nutritional requirements in our modern society.
Bailey, R. L., West, K. P., & Black, R. E. (2015). The epidemiology of global micronutrient deficiencies. Google Scholar. Published.
Darnton-Hill, I. (2019). Public Health Aspects in the Prevention and Control of Vitamin Deficiencies. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6775441/
Mannar, V., & Hurrell, R. (Eds.). (2017). Prevalence, causes and consequences of micronutrient deficiencies. In Food fortification in a globalized world (pp. 13–28). Academic Press/Elsevier.
Petre, A. (2019). 8 Common Signs You’re Deficient in Vitamins. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-deficiencyVitamin deficiency anemia. (2019). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vitamin-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355025