Nutrients: When Is Diet Not Enough

  Dr. Paul Hrkal, Naturopathic Doctor

Dr. Paul Hrkal, Naturopathic Doctor

We live in a world of calorie dense but nutrient poor foods. Do to over farming and poor agricultural practices many vegetables, fruits and grains have lower amounts of minerals and vitamins then they had in the past. While the trend is moving toward organic and whole food options the question is can a healthy diet still provide enough nutrients and vitamins to meet our daily needs? Most experts agree that a well rounded, plant based, whole foods diet is more then adequate to meet the needs of most healthy people but what about if you are deficient in a particular nutrient? Is diet enough to correct it? What’s the difference between measurable and functional (the optimum a your body needs to function) deficiency? Clinical experience among integrative doctors suggests for people with deficiencies extra supplements are needed to restore adequate levels. A good way to look at this is while a balanced diet is great for maintenance of nutrient status but if you have a health condition you are in a “health rut” and you need a little extra help to get out. This is where extra minerals and vitamins can be very useful. 

The following are a few conditions or situations where deficiencies of minerals or vitamins can play a role in the disease process. Adequately replacing these essential nutrients may help reverse the following conditions:

High blood pressure: Magnesium plays a key role in blood vessel relaxation. Low levels lead to constricted blood vessels and increased pressure. Chronic magnesium deficiency also allows calcium to build up in the lining of the vessels creating constriction and hardening. 

Depression: Zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and B3 are all essential for the formation of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin. Deficiencies in the above nutrients can lead to poor production of serotonin and melatonin decreasing mood and impairing sleep. Unfortunately, anti-depressant drugs don’t address this root cause since they don’t increase production of serotonin but only keep it in the brain longer. 

Hypothyroidism: Most people have heard of iodine being essential to thyroid hormone production but selenium and zinc are also required in this process. Selenium is especially important since it is required for the conversion of T4 to T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone) in the liver and peripheral tissues. Additionally it also reduces autoimmunity against the thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).   

Acne: Zinc plays an essential anti-inflammatory role by stabilizing the immune system. When levels are low people may be predisposed to more acne outbreaks and increased severity. It’s important to note that copper should always be supplemented along with zinc since long-term zinc use can lead to a copper deficiency. 

Fibromyalgia and muscle pain: Magnesium is a key factor in muscle function and some research shows that people with fibromyalgia have low intracellular magnesium levels despite blood levels being normal. The combination of magnesium and malic acid has been shown to have a positive effect on symptoms.   

Restless legs syndrome (RLS): Iron is an often-overlooked mineral in RLS. It is required for the formation of dopamine in the brain, which regulates muscle movement. Before supplementing be sure to get your ferritin levels checked to see if you are iron deficient. 

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References

Altura et al. Magnesium deficiency upregulates sphingomyelinases in cardiovascular tissues and cells: cross-talk among proto-oncogenes, Mg(2+), NF-κB and ceramide and their potential relationships to resistant hypertension, atherogenesis and cardiac failure. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2013 Oct 25;6(10):861-79. 

Moorkens et al. Magnesium deficit in a sample of the Belgian population presenting with chronic fatigue. Magnes Res. 1997 Dec;10(4):329-37.