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They don’t call you a superwoman for no reason! From managing home and work to taking care of everyone else in the family, you do it all. Perhaps 24 hours in a day isn’t even enough. However, in this constant routine of yours, do you even pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you?
Right from the period of adolescence up to after you give birth, a woman’s body undergoes several changes. Our body demands extra nurturing and care – something it doesn’t always get in our chaotic lives. Nutritional deficiency is a problem that women in India face very prominently. What’s worse is that many women tend to ignore the problem completely.
The human body has its way of signalling when something is wrong or amiss. If you have been experiencing any of the following symptoms, it could potentially be a sign of nutritional deficiency. While the signs and symptoms discussed below may not seem life-threatening, and you may be tempted to overlook them, nutrient deficiencies can often lead to serious long-term effects, such as diabetes, thyroid impairment, hormonal imbalance, difficulty to conceive, preterm labour, and many more. This is why you should not ignore these subtle tell-tale signs of nutrient deficiencies.
9 Signs of Nutrient Deficiency & What They Mean
If you are facing any of the following groups of symptoms, chances are your diet is lacking the concerned nutrient. Improve your diet, and consult your doctor about dietary nutrient supplements to treat the deficiency and lead a healthier life.
1. Fatigue / Paleness / Weakness / Constant Dizziness
Indicative of: Iron deficiency (Anaemia)
Did you know that women constitute the biggest fraction of the population that suffers from a deficiency of iron? In fact, it is estimated that 1 in every 5 women is anaemic!
One of the reasons women are more prone to iron deficiency is because they lose blood every month during menstruation. Anaemia can be of two kinds – either the red blood cells of your body are failing to bind and transport oxygen to the different parts of your body, or your body is not producing sufficient amount of red blood cells in the first place. A red blood cell’s oxygen binding capacity comes from iron, present in haemoglobin. Over time, an iron-deficient diet can thus lead to low levels of haemoglobin and subsequently causes weakness, paleness and fatigue.
How can you overcome this deficiency? Having an iron-rich diet is the key. Include dark leafy green vegetables, beans – and if you are a non-vegetarian, egg yolks and red meat – in your weekly diet.
2. Migraines / Chronic Headaches / High Blood Pressure / Cardiac Arrhythmia
Indicative of: Magnesium deficiency
This is one of the most difficult nutrient deficiencies to detect as it is considered asymptomatic – meaning, it shows no evident symptoms. However, this also means that when the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency become evident, your body is already severely depleted of it. Two of the easiest symptoms to detect a magnesium deficiency are muscular symptoms (spasms, tremors, weakness, fatigue), and mental symptoms like apathy, insomnia, loss of interest, etc. In extreme cases, cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) and hallucinations may be observed.
How can you overcome this deficiency? Green leafy veggies, soybeans, and seafood are your best bet to naturally up your magnesium intake. However, it is best to consult your doctor and consider a course of magnesium supplements.
3. Loss of Appetite & Taste / Slow Healing of Wounds / Frequently Prone To Infections
Indicative of: Zinc deficiency
If you have been experiencing any of the above symptoms, your body is probably indicating a zinc deficiency. Zinc is necessary for performing various body functions. It helps in maintaining a healthy and strong immune system, manages the wound healing process, and also helps in sensing taste and smell. If you are pregnant, zinc plays an even bigger role in maintaining proper cell growth and reduces the risk of improper DNA formation in the foetus.
How can you overcome this deficiency? Include whole grains, legumes and red meat (beef, pork or lamb) in your diet. If you are pregnant, it is always advisable to consult your doctor about your condition and the amount of zinc required in your diet.
Note: Taking iron supplements may interfere with zinc absorption. Consider consuming an iron-rich diet instead of taking supplements as many high-iron foods are also good sources of zinc!
4. Sudden Weight Gain / Hair Loss and Dry Skin / Lethargy / Constipation
Indicative of: Iodine deficiency
The government initiative to increase awareness about iodine deficiency has, by and large, served the purpose of educating people about the ill-effects of iodine deficiency. However, it is still a problem that has not been completely uprooted. Specific to women is the problem of thyroid imbalance, which is closely linked to an iodine deficiency. On the other hand, pregnant women face a considerable risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, congenital deformities, and preterm labour – a pregnant woman’s worst nightmare.
How can you overcome this deficiency? The easiest way to up your consumption of iodine is to replace your table salt with iodine-fortified salt. The next best source for iodine is seafood, as sea-water contains a high amount of iodine. However, if you are a vegetarian, you can consume multivitamin supplements fortified with iodine or even edible seaweed.
5. Premenstrual Cramps / Brittle Nails / Toothache
Indicative of: Calcium deficiency
If you thought that one glass of milk is sufficient to fulfil the calcium requirements of your body, you are wrong! Calcium is not just required to maintain healthy bones but is equally essential in blood clotting and muscle growth and function. Calcium deficiency is extremely prevalent amongst women, especially those attaining menopause. This is because the fluctuating levels of hormones can make it difficult for the body to absorb calcium. Low bone density, osteoporosis and convulsions are all a result of calcium.
How can you overcome this deficiency? It is advisable to consult your doctor and get your calcium levels analysed before choosing to go for any calcium supplements. Include calcium-rich foods like broccoli, salmon, kale, yoghurt, nuts and cheese in your daily meals.
6. Excessive Head Sweating / Sudden Darkening of Skin / Bone Soreness or Weakness
Indicative of: Vitamin D deficiency
The functioning of calcium and vitamin D in your body go hand in hand. Vitamin D is a key player in ensuring healthy and strong bone health because it aids the absorption of calcium. Sadly, the percentage of women suffering from this deficiency has been constantly increasing over the years. This can become a serious concern as a lack of vitamin D has been attributed to increased risk of asthma, cardiovascular disease and rickets.
Women who are exposed to extremely low levels of sunlight are more prone to develop this deficiency. Alternatively, women who are on a particular medication may also experience the same.
How can you overcome this deficiency? Ten minutes of sun exposure daily is one of the best remedies for this deficiency. You should also consume fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, dairy products like egg yolks, and cod liver oil tablets. In case the deficiency levels are too severe, consult your doctor who may advise certain vitamin D injections to be taken.
7. Cracks at the Corner of the Mouth / Constant Digestive Problems / Sensitivity to Light / Unusually Dry Skin
Indicative of: Vitamin B-2 deficiency
These are clear symptoms of vitamin deficiency, particularly ‘riboflavin’. Vitamin B2 deficiency is quite common among women and is mostly associated with iron deficiency and anaemia. This important vitamin is crucial in regulating a person’s metabolism and helps in maintaining healthy hair, skin and liver.
How can you overcome this deficiency? Yoghurt, almonds, green vegetables and eggs are excellent sources of vitamin B-2. You can also consider including mushrooms in your diet.
8. Memory Loss / Mental Confusion / Acidity / Loss of Weight / Blood Disorder
Indicative of: Vitamin B-12 deficiency
Vitamin B-12 helps the human body to absorb folic acid which in turn helps in the release of energy. The above are clear signs of nutritional deficiency of Vitamin B-12 – a deficiency that is quite common among Indians and especially women. A woman’s ability to absorb vitamin B-12 gradually decreases with age. The tricky part is that vitamin B-12 cannot be produced by the body and needs to be consumed through food. And therefore it is essential you follow the below-mentioned methods to keep this in check.
How can you overcome this deficiency? Include foods like meat, eggs, milk and shellfish in your diet. Akin to vitamin D, your doctor may also prescribe multi-vitamin tablets and injections in case the severity is too high.
9. Impaired Night Vision / Poor Eye Health / Scaly Hair Follicles
Indicative of: Vitamin A deficiency
Did you know that deficiency of Vitamin A is the primary cause of childhood blindness? Each year, more than 300,000 children all over the world become blind due to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Another symptom of VAD in children is growth retardation.
Adults can also be affected by VAD, it manifests as poor eye health (inability to produce tears, night blindness, etc.), dry and thickened skin, scaly hair follicles, and keratin deposits in cells of the urinary tracts, digestive tract, etc. Continued deprivation of vitamin A can lead to inflammatory bowel syndrome, gluten sensitivity, and pancreatic problems.
How can you overcome this deficiency? Coloured veggies are the answer – carrots, tomatoes, peaches, apricots, are all excellent vitamin A sources. Eggs, spinach and broccoli come next. Up your intake so that you consume one of these foods every single day.
Oral Contraceptives Cause Nutritional Deficiencies
One of the most common drugs consumed by women is the oral contraceptive. While many couples stick to using physical barriers such as condoms or female contraceptives, oral contraceptives may be consumed by women as an emergency, or even by women suffering from PCOD. However, did you know that oral contraceptives can cause nutrient deficiencies?
According to a 2013 review-study, routine consumption of oral contraceptives can potentially deplete a woman’s folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium and zinc reserves.
Micronutrient supplements have been suggested as the first line of approach for treating as well as preventing nutrient deficiencies in women who routinely consume oral contraceptives.
Micronutrients Can Treat Mental Disorders
People all over the world are moving towards increased consumption of refined foods. Apart from the immediate effects such as bloating, constipation, and others, this is leading to an increased percentage of adults with micronutrient deficiencies. One unlikely connection that is emerging with extended research now, is that between nutritional deficiencies and mood disorders.
Micronutrients no doubt play an important role in our body. But recent research has made a staggering discovery: micronutrient supplements can help treat mental disorders.
According to a 2014 study, children aged 7 to 12 years suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed improved performance in tasks that measure brain function, following a prescription of micronutrients (that included both a multivitamin and multimineral prescriptions).
However, what’s most striking is the fact that this holds true even of adults, and even of other mental health disorders such as psychosis, anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (the stress that human beings feel after having experienced a traumatic event, such as a natural calamity).
Finally, research has also proved that the positive effects of using micronutrients to treat such mental disorders are deeper and more long-lasting than using pharmacological drugs.
Make no mistake here – in certain cases, antipsychotics, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication can be life-saving. However, it is also true that the use of these medicines has not succeeded in reducing the rates of people falling prey to these disorders. On the contrary, these drugs are neither effective in preventing nor in completely curing these disorders for life. There is definitely merit, thus, in exploring the role that micronutrients have to play in the mental health of a person.
Tips to Keep a Balanced Diet
Hidden hunger – in the form of unseen nutrient deficiencies – is the modern-day plague; it affects 1 in 3 individuals worldwide. In such times, here are some radical tips on how you can keep a check that hidden hunger does not deprive you or your family of a healthy, happy life.
1. Regular Check-Up.
The first step to prevention is knowledge. Make sure you and your family go for regular check-ups to detect any possible ‘hidden hunger’ you may be experiencing.
2. 2 Fruits Today.
Every day, remind yourself to have 2 fruits – whichever may be available according to the season. Have the whole fruit instead of slicing or juicing it, so you can add fibre to your diet too.
3. Go Nuts Over Nuts
While overindulgence is not good, neither is deprivation. In your bid to lose weight, do not completely give up on fats. Consume a closed-fistful of nuts through the week to improve absorption of vitamins like A, D, E and K.
4. No Readymade Food
As a thumb-rule, the easier something is to cook or eat, the more deficient in nutrients it is. Over-processing food strips it of its vital nutrients, reducing its nutritional value. Just the way there are no free meals in this world, remember – there are no easy ones either!
5. Pay Attention to Your Body.
Do not dismiss signs such as fatigue, insomnia, loss of concentration, apathy, as just ‘tiredness’. For all you know, it may not just be ‘work’ or ‘stress’.
As a woman, your nutrient needs change from one stage of life to another. It is extremely important to maintain healthy levels of nutrients by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and physical activity. A periodic medical/ blood check-up should also not be ignored. After all, you owe this much to the body you live in!
Do you know of more such signs of nutrient deficiency in women? Share them with other moms by leaving a comment below.