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Vitamin deficiencies are now 'commonplace across all ages'

Friday January 6, 2017 at 3:58pm
Vitamin deficiencies now commonplace across UK

The official advice given by the government and NHS experts is that we should be able to get all our nutritional requirements from eating a healthy and balanced diet however new research has found vitamin deficiencies are common place across all ages.

The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), which is a government report detailing the nutritional status of the nation, focused on 11 important vitamins and minerals and identified deficiencies in each and every case.

The Department of Health does not want to be seen to advocate the use of vitamins and supplements as a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet which of course is perfectly understandable however huge numbers of people are not eating a healthy diet, a fact which needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

The results of the survey showed that three-quarters of working-age adults and nine out of 10 children were not hitting the basic target of 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day therefore it's easy to see how people are no getting enough nutrients needed for good health.

So how do you reckon you're fairing with your vitamin and mineral intake? Here is a breakdown of the key vitamins and minerals how you can get them into your diet.

Vitamin A

What does it do?
Vitamin A sometimes goes by the name retinol. It is essential for supporting your vision, skin, healthy bone growth and your immune system. As an antioxidant vitamin A helps skin to repair, stay moist, and produce the enzymes that stabilise the production of collagen. It is often added to skin creams, sometimes going by the name stabilised retinol. If you’re after strong, silky locks, remember that vitamin A is also good for your hair!

Where can you get it from?
Vitamin A is found in liver, full fat dairy products, spinach, broccoli, tomato juice, peppers and watercress. A good tip to remember when thinking about vitamin A is to look out for orange things! Mango, dried apricots, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin all contain either vitamin A or the beta-carotene that becomes vitamin A inside your body.

How much do you need?
Women need 0.6mg a day and men need 0.7mg

Are you deficient?
Signs of deficiency include being susceptible to throat and chest infections and gastroenteritis and poor night vision.

Results of the survey
Adults over the age of 65 had the best intakes, but 4% still fail to meet the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI). Almost one in five girls aged 11 to 18 do not meet the minimum intake, putting them at risk of delayed bone development. 8% of working age women and 11% of men aged 19 to 64 also have intakes below the target.

Vitamin D

What does it do?
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscle. There is also growing evidence that vitamin D is important for immunity and it protects against type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and some cancers.

Where can you get it from?
The key source of vitamin D is sunlight. When your skin is exposed to the light from the sun, your body can manufacture vitamin D for itself. However from September to around March or April there is not enough light to produce it therefore it is important to get it from foods or a supplement. Foods which provide some vitamin D include oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods, such as some fromage frais and breakfast cereals.

How much do you need?
Public Health England now advises that all adults and children, including breast-fed babies, take a 10mcg supplement daily during autumn and winter, although NHS Choices dilutes this to: 'Everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D.

Are you deficient?
Having dark skin, being overweight and avoiding the sun all increase the risk of deficiency. There are often no symptoms, but warning signs include difficulty thinking clearly, bone pain, muscle weakness and unexplained tiredness.

Results of the survey
Blood tests taken for the NDNS confirm worrying shortfalls: one in six older adults and teens; one in five working-age adults and 6% of four to 10-year-olds have levels below the recommended target of 25nmol/L.

Riboflavin

What does it do?
Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2. It is required for healthy functioning of our skin, eyes and nervous system. Like the other B vitamins,  it is involved in energy metabolism and it has also recently been found to affect the metabolism of iron in important ways.

Where can you get it from?
Food sources include milk and yoghurt as well as turkey and eggs,and some legumes, particularly soy foods. Many leafy green vegetables are also an excellent source of B2.

How much do you need?
Men need 1.3mg a day and women 1.1mg

Are you deficient?
Signs of riboflavin deficiency include cracked skin, particularly around the lips, hair loss, sore throat and dry itchy eyes. Severe deficiency can disrupt metabolism of other important B vitamins and lead to anaemia, liver degeneration and nervous system problems.

Results of the survey
One in five teenage girls, 8% of adults aged 19 to 64 and 5% of older adults fail to meet the LRNI.

Folate

What does it do?
Folic acid is also knows as vitamin B9 and along with the other B vitamins, helps the body to break down and convert the food that we eat into energy. 

Folate is needed by the body to make DNA and other genetic material. Folate is also needed for the body's cells to divide, this is why it is particularly important during the first stages of pregnancy.

Where can you get it from?
Food sources include green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.

How much do you need?
Adults need 0.2mg a day. However, women planning a pregnancy are advised to take 0.4mg to prevent birth defects.

Are you deficient?
Drinking alcohol in excess of recommended limits can increase the risk of folic acid deficiency and warning signs of low levels include gum disease, tongue inflammation, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, irritability, diarrhoea and forgetfulness.

Results of the survey
Teenage girls have the lowest levels, with 8% falling short of the LRNI. 4% of older women and women aged 19 to 64 were also below the LRNI. According to a report by Public Health England, more than three quarters of women don't take folic acid supplements during early pregnancy, despite the fact that blood folate levels in girls and women are dangerously low.

Iron

What does it do?
Iron is the building block for haemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body, so it is essential for energy.

Where can you get it from?
Red meat is the richest source because it provides haem iron, which is more readily absorbed than the non-haem iron from vegetable sources such as dried fruit and dark green leafy vegetables.

How much do you need?
Women need 14.8mg a day and men 8.7g

Are you deficient?
The most sign of iron deficiency is tiredness. Other warning signs include hair loss, pale skin, brittle nails, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold hands and feet, restless legs and heart palpitations.

Results of the survey
Iron deficiency among women and girls has reached epidemic levels. Over a quarter of women aged 19 to 64 and almost half teen girls have intakes below the LRNI — probably due to low intakes of red meat. 3% of older adults are also falling short of minimum intakes needed for good health.

Calcium

What does it do?
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth and for metabolism of carbohydrates, which may be why deficiency appears to increase the risk of pre-diabetes.

Where can you get it from?
Good food sources include milk and dairy products; soy, broccoli, cabbage and nuts. 

How much do you need?
Adults need 700mg a day however women are advised to increase their intake before menopause.

Are you deficient?
Signs of a calcium shortfall include brittle hair and nails, and poor memory.

Results of the survey
One in six teens is not achieving the LRNI, which increases their risk of bone problems in later life. 8% of women aged 19 to 64 are also falling short of the LRNI. 6% of over 65s are also low in calcium.

Zinc

What does it do?
Zinc is a trace element which supports wound healing and immunity, and we also need it to make new cells and enzymes.

Where can you get it from?
Meat, shellfish and some cereals, such as wheat germ, are good sources, although zinc from vegetable sources is not as easily absorbed as zinc from meat and fish.

How much do you need?
Men need between 9.5mg a day, women 7mg.

Are you deficient?
Digestive disorders and high alcohol intakes increase the risk of zinc deficiency and clues to a shortfall include frequent coughs and colds, slow wound healing, skin problems including acne, eczema and dry skin; white coating on the tongue and impaired sense of smell.

Results of the survey
The NDNS confirms shortfalls in both sexes and every age group. Teenage girls have the lowest levels, with almost a quarter falling short of the LRNI, as are 6% of working-age adults and men over 65. 

Iodine

What does it do?
Iodine is a mineral the body needs to make thyroid hormones. These hormones control the body's metabolism and many other important functions. The body also needs thyroid hormones for proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy.

Where can you get it from?
Seaweed is the richest dietary source of iodine, but milk and dairy products are the primary sources in the UK diet. Strangely though, levels in organic milk around 40% lower than standard milk.

How much do you need?
Adults need 0.14mg a day

Are you deficient?
If intakes of iodine fall short, the thyroid has to work harder and may become enlarged and lead to a visible swelling, or 'goitre' on the neck. Clues to a shortfall include tiredness, feeling cold even when it's warm, difficulty concentrating, unusual weight gain, hair loss and dry skin.

Results of the survey
One in five teens, 8% of all adults and 7% of children aged four to 10 have inadequate intakes.

Selenium

What does it do?
Selenium is important for reproduction, thyroid gland function, DNA production, and protecting the body from damage caused by free radicals and from infection.

Where can you get it from?
Soil levels are lower in the UK than many other parts of the work, so British wheat and vegetables do not provide as much selenium as imports from the USA and Canada.

High levels of selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, shellfish such as mussels, lobster and prawns and fish such as tuna, swordfish and mackerel.

How much do you need?
The NHS advises that men need 0.075mg a day and women 0.06mg

Are you deficient?
Symptoms of selenium deficiency include extreme tiredness, impaired cognition and a goiter.

Results of the survey
A third of teens and working-age adults are falling short of the LRNI and two out of five older adults is not getting enough selenium.

Magnesium

What does it do?
Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium is also important for bone health and helps convert food into energy.

Where can you get it from?
Dietary sources include green leafy vegetables, nuts, fish, meat and dairy products.

How much do you need?
Men need 300mg a day and women 270mg

Are you deficient?
Signs of a magnesium shortfall include cramps, fatigue, insomnia and poor memory, It is important for metabolism of carbohydrates and deficiency appears to increase the risk of pre-diabetes.

Results of the survey
More than a quarter of teenage boys and almost half teen girls are not achieving the LRNI. 12% of working-age adults and 15% of over-65's are also falling short.

Potassium

What does it do?
Potassium can help lower your blood pressure. This is because the mineral causes the kidneys to excrete excess sodium, lowering overall sodium levels and thereby lowering blood pressure. It is an electrolyte, which means that it helps your cells maintain fluid balance

Where can you get it from?
Food sources include bananas, pulses, beef, nuts and seeds

How much do you need?
Adults need 3,500mg a day

Are you deficient?
Signs of potassium deficiency include muscle weakness and cramps, tingling or numbness, abdominal bloating, thirst and frequent urination and depression.

Results of the survey
A quarter of teens and women of working age and 10% of adult men are falling short of the recommended intake.

Omega-3

What does it do?
Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA are long-chain fatty acids, have been shown to be beneficial to health. They are essential fats which means the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food.

Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other condition. They are also important during pregnancy because they support development of the baby's nervous system. 

Where can you get it from?
Oily fish, such as sardines, herring and mackerel, are the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

How much do you need?
There is no LRNI for omega-3, but the Government advises eating one 140g portion of oily fish every week to ensure an adequate intake.

Are you deficient?
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation. It is important to have the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet.

Results of the survey
All population groups are falling well short of the recommended intake. On average children are eating between 13 and 29 grams a week and adults are managing between 54 and 87 grams.

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