In New Zealand the depletion of certain minerals in our soils and our environmental conditions can contribute to a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that often go unnoticed until persistent symptoms develop. These vitamins and minerals play a vital part in keeping the body functioning at optimal levels and ensuring good health and wellbeing. If these minerals are lacking the body struggles to compensate for the missing pieces, resulting in disease and health disorders.
To help people understand and recognise the signs and symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies we have compiled this comprehensive guide to the 6 most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies in New Zealand. Read on to find out everything you need to know about;
What Is Iron?
Iron is an essential mineral used by the body to form red blood cells and proteins, it is important for both brain function and the immune system. Iron cannot be produced by the body so must be absorbed regularly from foods in order to maintain optimum levels.
5 Benefits Of Optimum Iron levels
- More energy
- Strong muscles
- Better immunity
- Better memory and concentration levels
- Strong nails
What Does Iron Do In The Body?
The majority of the iron found in the body is used in the production of red blood cells (haemoglobin), and muscle cells (myoglobin). Haemoglobin transfers oxygen around the body from the lungs (via the blood), myoglobin carries oxygen to the muscles. Without iron, haemoglobin and myoglobin cannot form; this leaves the body with in a lack of oxygen.
Iron is also needed by the immune system to help fight infections, optimal brain function and growth and development in children.
How Much Iron Do I Need?
Too much or too little iron can make you unwell, so how much iron do you need every day? Each person’s iron needs depend on a variety of factors, including age, gender and lifestyle choices. According to the NZ Nutrition Foundation the Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI) for iron are;
- Infants 7-12 months old - 11 mg/day
- Children 1-3 years - 9 mg/day, 4-8 years 10 mg/day and 9-13 years - 8 mg/day
- Girls 14-18 years - 15 mg/day
- Boys 14-18 years - 11 mg/day
- Men 19-70+ years - 8 mg/day
- Women 19-50 years - 18 mg/day, over 50 years - 8 mg/day
It is important to note pregnant and breastfeeding women will have higher than normal iron requirements along with those giving blood (According to the NZ Blood Service an additional 2–2.5mg of iron is needed each day for approximately 3 months afterwards to replace iron stores lost in blood donation). These figures are given as a general guide only, please see you doctor for more specific information.
How Can I Check My Iron Levels?
In New Zealand a blood test is the best way to find out if you are in fact low in iron. Doctors will often test for Ferritin levels as this is a good indicator of how much iron is stored in the body (Ferritin is a protein that binds itself to iron molecules).
A Full Blood Count (FBC) is also used as an indicator for iron deficiency, as it measures the quality and quantity of red blood cells (along with white blood cells and platelets).
What Happens When You Are Low In Iron?
Without a healthy amount of red blood cells your entire body won’t be getting enough oxygen, known as iron deficiency anaemia, this condition leads to fatigue and exhaustion and can affect everything from your brain function through to the ability of your immune system to fight off infections.
During pregnancy insufficient iron levels can lead to complications for your baby and its development. Severe iron deficiency can also cause irregular shaped finger nails (a condition known as Koilonychias).
15 Common Signs And Symptoms Of Low Iron
Once the body’s iron stores have been depleted the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia gradually become more apparent, common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency include.
- Muscle weakness
- Paleness of the skin, gums and nail beds
- Reduced ability to fight infections
- Poor concentration
- Sore or swollen tongue
- Memory problems
- Short attention span
- Restless legs
- Poor appetite
- Behavioural issues
- Soreness at the corners of the mouth
- Shortness of breath when exercising
- Abnormal or brittle fingernails
Why Am I Lacking In Iron?
Iron deficiency can be caused by several factors; the most common reason is inadequate absorption of iron due to issues with the gut (such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease). Another common reason is simply not eating enough foods containing iron. Anyone with a diet low in iron-rich foods such as red meat, pulses and green leafy vegetables can become iron deficient over time.
Children and adolescents and pregnant and breast feeding women are at a greater risk of iron deficiency due to an increased need for iron. Those who regularly take part in intense exercise (marathon running etc.) are also susceptible to reduced iron levels as this type of exercise can destroy red blood cells.
Loss of iron through blood loss during menstruation is also a factor for women, and sometimes iron deficiencies can be a sign of a serious underlying illness (internal bleeding from ulcers etc.). It is important to see your doctor to fully investigate a suspected iron deficiency.
10 Types Of Foods High In Iron
Iron can be sourced from a variety of different foods; here are our top 10 types of foods to look out for when seeking to increase iron levels.
- Meat. Lamb, pork, chicken, turkey and beef.
- Organ Meats. Liver and kidneys.
- Shellfish. Such as mussels and oysters.
- Green Vegetables. Including green beans, broccoli, peas and cabbage.
- Seeds. Specifically pumpkin, sesame and squash seeds.
- Leafy Greens. Such as spinach, kale and silver beet.
- Dried Fruit And Nuts. Including raisins, apricots, pecans, pistachios, almonds and cashews.
- Cooked Beans. Such as chickpeas, lima beans or kidney beans.
- Seafood. Such as fish, sardines and shrimp.
- Tofu. This includes all tofu products.
What Foods Enhance The Absorption Of Iron?
Foods rich in Vitamin C enhance the absorption of iron during a meal, these include; citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons etc.), kiwifruit, leafy green vegetables (spinach, silver beet etc.) and broccoli.
Meat eaten in the same meal as vegetables will increase the amount of iron that can be absorbed from the vegetables.
Beta-Carotene, a carotenoid that enables the body to produce vitamin A, also enhances the absorption of iron, it is found naturally in foods such as; apricots, beets and beet greens, carrots, collard greens, corn, red grapes, oranges, peaches, prunes, red peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
What Blocks The Absorption Of Iron?
Just as there are some things that enhance the body’s absorption of iron, there are also things that can reduce the amount of iron your body can absorb, these include;
- Medications such as those designed to lower stomach acid and antibiotics.
- Tea, cocoa, and coffee contain Polyphenols, if you are already low in iron it is a good idea to avoid drinking tea, coffee or hot cocoa until 1–2 hours after your meal.
- Calcium found in foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines, canned salmon, tofu, broccoli and almonds.
- Eggs contain a compound called Phosvitin that impairs the absorption of iron.
- Oxalates found in foods such as spinach, kale, beets, nuts, chocolate, tea, wheat bran and rhubarb.
- Phytates found in foods such as cereal, nuts, bread, bakery products, legumes (beans, peas and lentils) and soy products.
Treatment Of Iron Deficiency
Generally iron supplements will be prescribed by your doctor for the treatment of iron deficiency along with a focus on eating a more iron rich diet. Supplements are usually in tablet or liquid form. Supplements should only be consumed on the advice of a health care professional who can advise you on the correct dosage and supplementation product.
Iron supplements may need to be taken for some months to replenish the body’s iron stores. Be aware some iron supplements may have side effects including things like constipation, black stools and taste disturbances.
Always see your doctor if an iron deficiency is suspected for proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation.
- Worldwide, iron is the most common nutrient deficiency according to the World Health Organisation.
- Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron during meals.
- Women and growing children are most at risk of low iron levels.
- Common causes of low iron include low intake due to dietary choices, gut problems affecting absorption and heavy menstruation.
- Tea and coffee block the absorption of iron.
- Iron supplements and increasing the dietary sources of iron are the best treatment options.
Vitamin D - Build Strong Bones And Feel Great
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is unlike other essential vitamins, in that your body can make its own simply from exposure sunlight or more specifically Ultraviolet B (UVB).
The main role of vitamin D is to manage calcium levels in your blood, bones and gut, as well as aiding communication within the body’s cells. This means vitamin D is very important for bone health as in order to absorb calcium and phosphorus which are essential for developing the structure and strength of your bones, a good supply of vitamin D is required.
5 Benefits Of Optimum Vitamin D Levels
- Strong bone health
- Better moods
- Less infections and sickness
- Better wound healing
- Improved energy levels
What Does Vitamin D Do In The Body?
The vitamin D that your body gets from sunlight, foods or supplements is processed in the liver resulting in a substance called 25(OH)D. This chemical is then deployed all around the body to where it is needed.
The kidneys are used to turn it into a hormone called activated vitamin D or calcitriol. This activated vitamin D is now in a useable form; your body uses it to maintain and manage the amount of calcium in your blood, bones and gut and to help cells in the body communicate properly.
Vitamin D helps the body with a number of broad functions including in the immune system, cardiovascular function, brain development, muscle function and in the respiratory system.
How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?
According to the NZ Nutrition Foundation the recommended daily intakes (RDI) for Vitamin D are;
- Infants, toddlers, children and adolescents 1-18 years – 5 µg/day
- Adults 19-50 years – 5 µg/day, 51-70 – 10 µg/day, 70+ - 15 µg/day
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women - 5 µg/day
What Happens When You Are Low In Vitamin D?
For most people in New Zealand it is easy to get enough Vitamin D as our bodies produce it whenever our skin is exposed to sunlight, however lack of Vitamin D does affect many people without them even realising. Lack of Vitamin D can affect mood, your immune system and bone density.
One of vitamin D's most important roles is keeping your immune system strong so you're able to fight off viruses and bacteria that cause illness. Vitamin D directly interacts with the cells that are responsible for fighting off infections.
A lack of vitamin D has also been linked to conditions such as excessive fatigue, asthma, Alzheimer’s, type-II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and autoimmune diseases.
Severe vitamin D deficiency in children has been known to cause a condition called Rickets resulting in soft and brittle bones. In Adults a similar condition called Osteomalacia can occur.
8 Common Signs And Symptoms Of Low Vitamin D
Think you may have a vitamin D deficiency? Here are 8 common signs and symptoms.
- Getting sick frequently or lots of infections
- Excessive fatigue and tiredness
- Persistent unspecified bone or back pain
- Slow wound healing
- Low bone mineral density
- Unexplained hair loss
- Unspecified muscle pain
How Can I Check My Vitamin D Levels?
The most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body is the 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D blood test. “A level of 20 nanograms/milliliter to 50 ng/mL is considered adequate for healthy people. A level less than 12 ng/mL indicates vitamin D deficiency” (www.WebMD.com).
If you suspect you may be deficient in vitamin D, I t is important to talk to your GP and discuss your options.
Top 10 Reasons Why You Might Be Lacking In Vitamin D
With such lovely sunny weather here in New Zealand, how can we be lacking in vitamin D? Surprisingly there are a number of simple reasons, here are the top 10.
- Skin Tone. Pale skin makes vitamin D much faster than darker skin, meaning those with darker skin need a longer period in the sun.
- Reduced Exposure To Sunlight. This includes avoiding the sun because of sensitive skin and skin cancer fears etc. and just not going outside much. Wearing clothing that covers the majority of the skin including the face, legs and arms and applying sunscreen that blocks the all-important UVB rays and will also prevent the body from making vitamin D.
- Low Sunshine Hours. Those who live in the South Island, south of the Nelson-Marlborough region, and get little time outdoors due to work or lifestyle factors during the winter months are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- Time Of Day/Year. Seasonal fluctuations affecting sunshine hours and the time of day will also help determine sun exposure needs – midday sun requires the least amount of time and is the most effective due to an increased level of UVB rays.
- Underlying Medical Issues. Some medical conditions may mean even if you spend the required amount of time in the sun your body is still unable to make vitamin D.
- Age. As people reach old age, sometimes their kidneys struggle to convert vitamin D to its activated form, increasing their risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- Digestive Issues. If your gut cannot absorb vitamin D from foods this can mean you cannot rely on this as a source of vitamin D. This could be due to things like crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, or celiac disease.
- Current Medications. Some medications increase the body’s sensitivity to sun exposure making unwise to remain outside for long enough to make sufficient vitamin D.
- Individual Skin Cancer Risks. A history of skin cancer in the family or pale over sensitive skin can mean prolonged sun exposure is unwise, therefore vitamin D is harder to achieve through sunlight exposure.
- Obesity. Fat cells extract vitamin D from the blood resulting in overweight people often having low levels of vitamin D in the blood.
What Foods Contain Vitamin D?
Limited amounts of vitamin D are found in oily fish, such as canned tuna and salmon, eggs, lean meat and dairy products. There are also margarines, milks and yoghurts fortified with vitamin D available in New Zealand.
4 Foods That Naturally Contain Small Amounts Of Vitamin D
- Oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines
- Dairy products such as milk and cream
4 Foods In NZ That Have Vitamin D Added
- Some margarine and fat spreads
- Some reduced-fat dairy products including milk and yogurt
- Some plant-based dairy substitutes such as soy, rice or almond milk
- Some liquid meal replacements
A quick check of the ingredients will indicate whether or not vitamin D has been added.
Treatment Of Vitamin D Deficiency
Because the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency often go unnoticed or are difficult to isolate, if there is a suspected deficiency it is important to speak to your doctor and get a blood test. The good news is a vitamin D deficiency is usually pretty easy to fix.
3 Easy Ways To Increase Your Vitamin D
- Get outside more and increase sensible sun exposure on the skin
- Eat more vitamin-D rich foods
- Take a vitamin D supplement temporarily
How Much Sun Do I Need For Good Vitamin D Levels?
A person’s skin tone has a large effect on the amount of sun exposure a person will require. Lighter skin tones including very fair or pale skin will require much less exposure than darker toned skin. Where 15 minutes in the middle of the day would suffice for a fair skinned person, very dark brown skin might take up to 2 hours.
The amount of time required in the sun heavily relies on the time of year and time of day as well as the amount of skin you are exposing to the sun.
According to the NZ Nutrition Foundation being outdoors for short periods of time before 11am and after 4pm during the summer months should allow enough sunlight to be absorbed to meet your vitamin D needs.
In winter, longer periods are required and you are looking at around 30 minutes per day. Those in the lower South Island and West Coast areas will need even more.
Exposing your skin to the sun for too long can be dangerous, if your skin starts to burn there is an increased risk of skin cancer. Moderate but frequent sun exposure is recommended. Please note this information is given as a guide only, it is best to discuss sensible levels of skin exposure with a medical professional.
- Vitamin D is important for good overall health and strong and healthy bones.
- The sun exposure you need to make vitamin D depends heavily on your skin type.
- Vitamin D is available in some foods, such as oily fish.
- Older people need more sun exposure as their ability to make vitamin D decreases with age.
- Glass blocks all UVB rays; your body cannot make vitamin D if you sit in the sun behind a glass window.
- Vitamin D is good for your bones as it transports calcium to where it is needed.
- Vitamin D is also needed for good immune health.
- Sunscreen blocks the skin from the all-important UVB rays which prevents the body from producing vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 - Boost Energy Levels And Enjoy Life
What Is B12?
B12 (also called Cobalamin) is one of eight B vitamins used in the metabolism of cells in the human body. B12 is important for a healthy nervous system, and plays a supporting role in the production of DNA, red blood cells and maintaining energy levels.
One of the most structurally complicated vitamins, B12 occurs naturally in meats and animal products such as milk and eggs. Vegetable dietary sources of B12 are rare; it has been reported that certain kinds of seaweed, algae, and some mushrooms do contain some B12 but studies have indicated this plant form of B12 does not perform reliably once consumed.
5 Benefits Optimum B12 Levels
- Improvements in mood
- Improved energy levels
- Improved overall health
- Healthy hair, skin and nails
- Improved sleeping patterns
What Does Vitamin B12 Do In The Body?
Vitamin B12 is used for a number of processes throughout the body but its main role is to regulate the nervous system and assist in red blood cell formation. A protein called the ‘Intrinsic Factor’ binds to vitamin B12 in the stomach and enables the body to absorb it into your blood and cells thereafter.
Any excess B12 is stored in the liver for future use, these supplies will vary from person to person but can last for several years.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do I Need?
According to the US and New Zealand recommendations it is advised that 2.4 micrograms of B12 is consumed per day for adults (This rises to 2.8 micrograms for nursing mothers). It is estimated only 50% of B12 consumed is actually absorbed, these figures allow for those circumstances. See below for more detailed information on how much vitamin B12 you need each day to continue to maintain healthy levels.
- Birth to 6 months old - 0.4 mcg
- 7 to 12 months old - 0.5 mcg
- 1 to 3 years - 0.9 mcg
- 4 to 8 years - 1.2 mcg
- 9 to 13 years - 1.8 mcg
- 14 to 18 years - 2.4 mcg
- Adults 19 years and older - 2.4 mcg
- Pregnant Women - 2.6 mcg
- Breastfeeding Women - 2.8 mcg
Excessively high levels of B12 can be indicate the presence of liver disease, certain types of leukaemia, or diabetes. Normal ranges can vary from source to source so it is important to discuss appropriate B12 levels with your doctor.
What Happens When You Are Low In B12?
A lack of the all-important Intrinsic Factor means the body is unable to absorb B12 which can lead to a deficiency. B12 deficiency can also be caused by lifestyle or medical dietary restrictions, in particular vegan and vegetarian diets.
If left untreated vitamin B12 deficiency can result in psychological conditions such as dementia, paranoia, depression, and behavioural changes, along with nerve damage, memory and vision loss.
8 Signs And Symptoms Of B12 Deficiency
The signs of a B12 deficiency can develop slowly over time, these are the top 8 signs and symptoms to look out for when you suspect a vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Tingling in the feet and hands
- Extreme fatigue
- Irritability or depression
- Unexplained dizziness
- Loss of appetite
How Can I Check My Vitamin B12 Levels?
There are two main ways to test your B12 levels in New Zealand. You doctor can order a blood test or you can take a urine test. These tests are designed to test for your overall vitamin B12 levels, methylmalonic acid (MMA), homocysteine and holotranscobalamin (holoTC).
10 Foods That Contain Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal products, especially meat and dairy products, here are 10 foods that contain good amounts of vitamin B12.
- Organ meats (liver and kidneys)
- Milk and Dairy Products
- Fortified Cereals
7 Things That May Impact The Absorption Of B12
- Celiac Disease. An allergic reaction to gluten affecting absorption abilities of the gut.
- Crohn’s Disease. A condition that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Atrophic Gastritis. A condition where the stomach lining narrows and restricts stomach acid production.
- Some Medications. Such as Chloramphenicol, proton pump inhibitors, H2 receptor blockers, and Metformin.
- Vitamin C. B12 supplements can be rendered inactive if taken within an hour of large amounts of vitamin C.
- Vitamin Deficiencies. Absorption can also be impaired by deficiencies in Folic Acid, Iron or Vitamin E.
- Alcohol And Nicotine. Continued use of these substances can deplete the body’s vitamin B12 levels.
Treatment Of B12 Deficiency
If a Vitamin B12 deficiency is suspected it is import to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment advice. If B12 supplementation is advised this is usually in the form of tablets or liquid that you can swallow, chew or drink, sometimes injections may be an option. Both of these methods are proven to be equally effective in raising B12 levels.
If complications such as Pernicious Anaemia or gut absorption issues are present, the most common treatment is vitamin B12 injections.
- Vegetarians and vegans are more likely to be low in vitamin B12.
- Organ meats are high in vitamin B12.
- Around 50% of the B12 consumed is absorbed.
- Large amounts of vitamin C consumed within a hour of taking B12 can impair absorption.
- Tingling feet and hands can be a symptom of B12 deficiency.
Magnesium - Improve Brain Health And Sleep Better
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential macro-mineral vital to hundreds of functions within the human body. As the fourth most abundant element in the body magnesium is needed in significantly large amounts.
Magnesium can be found in nature in several different forms including Magnesium Chloride (found naturally in the sea), Magnesium Carbonate (an insoluble rock salt) and as the central element of chlorophyll in plant matter.
5 Benefits Of Optimum Magnesium Levels
- Better sleep
- Reduced painful muscle cramps
- Improved regulation of blood sugar levels
- Better moods
- Reduced inflammation
What Does Magnesium Do In The Body?
Upon entering the body, magnesium is broken down into an ionic form and released to be used in over 300 enzyme systems used to regulate a wide range of important chemical reactions and processes throughout the body. These include energy and nerve functions, DNA and RNA creation and repair, bone development, muscle function and blood glucose control.
It is thought that roughly 50-60% of the body’s magnesium is found within the bones, with the remainder found in the tissues, a very small amount is found in the blood. Excess magnesium is excreted in urine or can result in loose bowel movements.
How Much Magnesium Do I Need?
According to the Ministry of Health the following are the recommended daily intakes for magnesium.
- Birth to 6 months 30 mg
- 7–12 months 75 mg
- 1–3 years 80 mg
- 4–8 years 130 mg
- 9–13 years 240 mg
- 14–18 years 410 mg (boys) and 360 mg (girls)
- 19–30 years 400 mg (men) and 310 mg (women)
- 31–50 years 420 mg (men) and 320 mg (women)
- 51+ years 420 mg (men) and 320 mg (women)
Pregnant and lactating mothers will have higher needs, it is best to check with your GP for their recommendations. Please note; RDI values are set as the minimum amount to prevent deficiency, they are not intended as a guide for optimal health.
What Happens When You Are Low In Magnesium?
A prolonged magnesium deficiency can result in changes in the biochemical pathways within the body and can increase the risk of illness over time. Several diseases and disorders have been linked to low levels of magnesium including;
- High Blood Pressure
- Chronic Inflammation
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- Cardiovascular Disease
8 Common Signs And Symptoms Of Low Magnesium
While it is difficult to pinpoint a magnesium deficiency the following symptoms are commonly associated with low levels of magnesium indicating further investigation is advised.
- Difficulty in getting to sleep/staying asleep
- Repeated muscle cramps
- Headaches or migraines
- Low energy - always feeling tired
- Muscular twitches – eye lids in particular
- Mood fluctuations
How Can I Check My Magnesium Levels?
In New Zealand a blood test is the most common way to find out if you have low magnesium levels. This is commonly called a “Magnesium Blood Test”.
In some occasions a blood test might not be the best way to determine magnesium levels; stress for example can draw magnesium out of your cells and into your blood causing inaccurate results. It is possible to combine the blood test with urine testing or to do a Red Blood Cell Magnesium Test which measure the magnesium carried in the red blood cells. Be sure to talk with your doctor so you understand the test you are taking.
10 Foods High In Magnesium
Magnesium is present in a wide range of foods, both animal and plant based. Here are our top 10 foods that are good sources of magnesium.
- Dark Chocolate
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Black Beans
Why Am I Lacking In Magnesium?
Magnesium deficiency can be due to several factors, including problems with the gut and absorption (Celiac or Crohn’s Disease etc.), genetic disorders involving the inability to absorb magnesium efficiently, Type 2 Diabetes, and things like increased excretion of magnesium due to stress (the creation of the hormone adrenaline) and alcoholism.
Magnesium levels can also be depleted by excess calcium, increased stress, caffeine, excessive alcohol, too much processed foods and fizzy drinks and some medications including diuretics and hypertensive drugs.
Treatment Of Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium deficiencies can be treated by increasing the foods containing good levels of magnesium, topical magnesium sprays or creams or taking by magnesium supplements. Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms, including magnesium oxide, citrate, and chloride.
It is important to note high doses of zinc can interfere with absorption of magnesium. Too much magnesium is rare but can occur when taking magnesium supplements at high doses or if pre-existing medical conditions are present such as kidney damage.
- A twitchy eyelid can be a sign of low magnesium.
- Dark chocolate is a good source of magnesium from food.
- Low magnesium levels can affect your quality of sleep.
- 50 to 60% of the body’s magnesium is found in the bones.
- Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body.
Zinc – For A Strong Immune System And Healthy Skin
Zinc is an essential trace element (meaning that your body can’t produce or store it) and it is used across a wide range functions within the body. It helps stimulate the activity of over a 300 different enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function and many other processes.
Zinc is perhaps most important for a healthy immune system, making genetic material, wound healing and promoting healthy growth and development during childhood.
5 Benefits Of Optimal Zinc Levels
- Immune system boost
- Healthy skin and nails
- Accelerated wound healing
- Better energy levels
- Improved memory
What Does Zinc Do In The Body?
Along with other minerals such as Selenium and Iodine, Zinc is a mineral that New Zealand soils are particularly low in. When the soil is low in a mineral this means the vegetables and food that we grow from the soil are also going to be lacking in this mineral – meaning we often do not get enough even when eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Second only to iron, Zinc is the most abundantly distributed trace element in the body. This means a zinc deficiency can have widespread health effects that are ongoing.
8 Commons Signs Of Zinc Deficiency
Zinc deficiency can be due to a number of underlying conditions such as diabetes and liver disease, but more commonly it is due to insufficient dietary intake. 8 of the more common signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency are.
- White spots on the nails
- Loss of appetite
- Slow wound healing
- Over active skin conditions such as acne or eczema
- Abnormal taste and smell
- Unusual growth (not meeting expected targets)
- Hair loss
How Much Zinc Do I Need?
For recommended daily intakes of zinc adjusted for age see below (According to the NZ Nutrition Foundation). Always keep in mind that individual needs may vary and too much zinc can be just as harmful as not enough.
- From birth to 6 months, 2 mg
- Infants 7-12 months and children aged 1-3 years, 3 mg
- Children 4-8 years, 4 mg
- Children 9-13 years, 6 mg
- Young people aged 14-18 years, 13 mg boys, 7 mg girls
- Adults aged 19 and over, 11 mg men, 8 mg women
10 Common Foods That Contain Zinc
Zinc is naturally found in a wide variety of both plant and animal foods. The best sources of zinc are beans, animal meats, nuts, fish, whole grain cereals, and dairy products. Zinc is also found added to some breakfast cereals and other fortified foods. Here are the top 10 food sources of zinc.
- Seafood (such as Oysters, crabs and lobsters)
- Red meat
- Dark leafy greens (kale, beet greens etc)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Nuts (peanuts, pecans, almonds etc)
Why Am I Not Getting Enough Zinc?
Most people get enough zinc from the foods they eat. However, some people are more likely to have trouble getting enough zinc from dietary sources alone, such as;
- Surgery Patients. Anybody who has had gastrointestinal surgery, such as weight loss surgery can have zinc absorption issues.
- Digestive Disorders. Those with digestive disorders, such as ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease or malabsorption syndromes may be incapable of absorbing enough zinc.
- Vegetarians. People who follow a predominantly plant based diet are susceptible to low zinc levels as they do not eat meat.
- Older Infants. Babies solely breastfed after the age of 6 months, may not be getting enough zinc because breast milk does not contain enough zinc for infants over 6 months of age.
- Alcoholics. Alcoholic beverages decrease absorption and increase the amount of zinc lost in the urine.
Can Too Much Zinc Be Harmful?
Short answer – Yes. When you take too much zinc for a long time, sometimes problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity, and low levels of HDL the ‘good’ cholesterol eventuate. Signs of excess zinc intake are.
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pains
Treatment Of Zinc Deficiency
A visit to your doctor will help identify a suspected zinc deficiency, they will need to test your blood plasma in order to get an accurate indication of zinc levels in the body. Sometimes a urine test of hair analysis is also used to provide a more complete picture.
As zinc is only present in small amounts in the body’s cells it is possible these test do not give an accurate result. Your doctor will often complete a full health history, with particular focus on diet.
Usually treatment for zinc deficiency will begin with making changes to your diet. Zinc supplements may also be a good short-term option for those struggling with dietary intake. Zinc is found in many multivitamin supplements, but be aware using zinc supplements can have an effect on some arthritis medications, antibiotics and diuretics.
- While zinc deficiency is often the predominant concern, a person can also take in too much zinc. This usually occurs when using zinc supplementation.
- Speak to your GP if you suspect a zinc deficiency.
- Zinc is important for immune function, DNA synthesis, good metabolism and healthy growth and development.
- It may reduce inflammation and your risk of some age-related diseases.
- Oysters are an excellent source of zinc.
- White spots on the nails may indicate the need for more zinc in the diet.
Vitamin C – Boost Immunity And Increase Antioxidants
What is Vitamin C? Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin found in a variety of foods and also commonly consumed as a supplement. Vitamin C is not able to be produced by the body or stored and therefore requires adequate daily dietary sources.
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and ascorbate, it is often sold in various forms such as sodium ascorbate, potassium ascorbate and calcium ascorbate. Vitamin C is ‘water soluble’ which means its efficiency is dissolved in water and therefore can be destroyed by some methods of cooking including boiling.
5 Benefits Of Optimum Vitamin C Levels
While the full benefits of Vitamin C are yet to be proven in many cases, the following benefits are widely considered
- Faster Wound Healing. The relationship between Vitamin C and Collagen appears to be the key here with connective tissue highly reliant on Collagen which plays a vital role in healing the skin and underlying tissues and bones.
- Boosting The Immune System. Greater protection against immune system deficiencies and functions are thought to be helped by adequate Vitamin C levels. This is largely due to its ability to encourage the production of, and help protect, white blood cells which help protect the body defend against infections.
- Improved Iron Absorption. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron by the body both from plant and animal based sources. Iron is an important nutrient with some pretty major functions in the body, among them is that it is essential for making red blood cells and transporting oxygen throughout the body.
- Extra Protection Against Oxidative Stress. It is thought Vitamin C’s powerful antioxidant qualities may aid in the reduction of free radicals which can build up in the body as well as aiding in the reduction of inflammation. Oxidative stress and inflammation have been linked to many chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Reduced Likelihood Of Gout. Vitamin C from foods and supplements in the body have been linked to reduced blood uric acid levels and a lower risk of gout in several research studies.
What Does Vitamin C Do In The Body?
Vitamin C is used by the body for many important functions for growth and repair; these include the production of collagen and L-carnitine, the increased absorption of iron and the metabolism of proteins used to make skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. It is necessary for the development and repair of body tissues, wound healing and the ongoing maintenance of bones, teeth and skin.
Vitamin C is also considered an excellent antioxidant with the ability to assist other antioxidants such as vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene. It is this high antioxidant quality that assists in the reduction of harmful molecules that may contribute to further inflammatory health conditions.
How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?
How much vitamin C each person needs is relative to their current stage in life but according to the NZ Nutritional Foundation the daily recommended dosages are as follows.
- Infants and toddlers aged 1-3 years - 35mg
- Children aged 4-8 years - 35mg
- Adolescents aged 9-18 years - 40mg
- Adults aged between 19 - 70+ years - 45mg
- Pregnant women - 60mg (always check with your GP before taking vitamins when pregnant)
- Breastfeeding women - 85mg
What Happens When You Are Low In Vitamin C?
Severe Vitamin C deficiency is fairly rare; however you can still suffer from symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency if you consume low levels for extended periods. Severe deficiency of Vitamin C can lead to a condition called Scurvy, which is fatal if left untreated. Prolonged vitamin C deficiencies can also lead to the conditions below.
12 Common Signs And Symptoms Of Low Vitamin C
Here are 12 of the commonly experienced symptoms consistent with low levels of Vitamin C in the body.
- Iron Deficiency Anaemia
- Bleeding gums
- Weakened tooth enamel
- Decreased ability to fight infections
- Increased time taken for healing wounds
- Bruising easily
- Dry, splitting hair
- Rough dry skin
- Inflamed joints
- Weight gain caused by a slowed metabolism
- Red spots around hair follicles
Why Am I Lacking In Vitamin C?
For most people getting enough Vitamin C is not a problem if the diet contains adequate levels of fruits and vegetables. However there are lifestyle factors and health complications that can mean you are lacking in this important vitamin.
The most susceptible people are those with additional complications such as pre-existing kidney disease (those on dialysis), heavy drinkers (alcoholism), eating disorders, severe mental illnesses and people who smoke.
12 Foods That Are High In Vitamin C
Getting enough Vitamin C is essential for a healthy body, major food based sources of Vitamin C are fruit and vegetables, the following are some examples of foods high in Vitamin C.
- Black currents
- Citrus fruits and fresh cold pressed juices
- Green and red bell peppers
- Leafy greens
- Kiwi fruit
How Can I Check My Vitamin C Levels?
In NZ Vitamin C levels are able to be checked with a blood test. When seeking advice from your doctor they will undertake a dietary analysis combined with the current symptoms you are experiencing in order to decide if Vitamin C deficiency may be present.
It may be necessary for further blood tests to check for other deficiencies in your diet if a Vitamin C deficiency is suspected. X-rays or scans to assess bones may also be suggested at the time as a symptom of low Vitamin C is changes to bone density.
Treatment Of Vitamin C Deficiency
Due to the nature of Vitamin C it is unable to be stored by the body and any excess is excreted in the urine. For most people it is easy to get enough Vitamin C per day from common foods such as those listed above; however for some people Vitamin C supplements can be useful in treating a deficiency.
Taking too much Vitamin C is very rare but still a possibility if taking supplements which add up to more than 2000 mg per day, excess Vitamin C will force the body to excrete it rapidly usually with rapid-onset diarrhoea.
Always talk to your doctor before taking nutritional supplements, they will be able to advise you of the correct dosage, and anything that might interfere with prescription medication. High doses of any kind of supplement can affect absorption and utilisation of other nutrients.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of natural Vitamin C.
- Vitamin C deficiencies are rare in New Zealand.
- Vitamin C is an important nutrient for the immune system.
- Vitamin C levels can be determined by a simple blood test.
- Always check with your doctor before taking any nutritional supplements.
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