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Young British women are deficient in vital minerals

3 min read

Experts are warning of a rising number of young women who are becoming deficient in vital minerals including iron, calcium and iodine. The insight come from official health data and shows that while most Britons lack key minerals including potassium, magnesium and copper, the picture is particularly bad for women in their 20's and 30's.

Trendy diets are to blame

Those involved in researching this issue have put the problem down to trendy diets that exclude entire food groups - vegetarianism and veganism are obvious examples - but increasingly it's about extending it to omitting all grains, dairy or gluten from the diet.

These fads lead followers to become obsessed about what they perceive to be 'bad foods' and confused about what they should be eating.

The report is based on 3,238 adults who took part in Public Health England's National Diet and Nutrition Survey and found that the average woman is falling short on 7 out of 8 key minerals, while the average man is falling short on 5 out of the 8.

Deficiency can lead to a host of health problems

Deficiency can lead to fatigue, lowered immune system, weakened bones, muscles problems and infertility.

The research (industry-funded by Health and Food Supplements Information Service) adds to the ongoing debate over dietary supplements - the Government's stance is set on a healthy diet providing all the nutrients we need with little or no supplements needed apart from those for at risk groups and pregnant women. The NHS recommends vitamin D supplements during winter month and folic acid be taken during pregnancy.

But the latest figures, published in the Frontiers in Nutrition journal, suggest we simply do not eat healthily enough – and the industry says supplements are vital for good health.

The findings show that women are achieving only 68% of the RDA for iron, 69% for potassium, 66% for copper and magnesium, 89% for iodine and 97% for calcium. Men on the other hand are deficient in potassium, selenium, magnesium and copper but tend to get higher levels than women. They do get lower levels of zinc, which is vital for male reproduction.

Women in their 50's are healthier than those in their 20's

Further to this, the research showed that women in their 40's and 50's had much healthier nutrient levels than those in their 20's.

Research author Dr Emma Derbyshire, a nutritionist who runs a health consultancy, holds social media accountable for driving the problem. 

‘Avoidance of food groups is very trendy at the moment but if you follow these diets you need to work very hard to make sure you get the right nutrients,’

‘I think social media is the biggest driver with all these trends, information and advice put out, but very little of it is actually checked for accuracy. 

'This is of particular concern given that early adulthood is a time to be in the “nutritional prime” of life preparing for parenthood.’ 

She added that we should be topping up our diets with supplements to bridge the gap.

The importance of minerals to your body

  • Magnesium - contributes to electrolyte balance, muscle function and cell health, keeps the nervous system functioning optimally, and is important for bone health.
  • Potassium - helps to keep the nervous system and muscles functioning as they should, and regulates blood pressure.
  • Copper - helps the body to utilise energy in food, transports iron in the body, contributes to hair and skin colour, and boosts the immune system.
  • Selenium - contributes to sperm formation and is important for thyroid function, immunity and protecting cells. Also important for healthy hair and nails.
  • Iodine - essential for producing thyroid hormones, and for growth (especially of the brain and nervous system) as well as contributing to immune system health.
  • Iron - helps form red blood cells, stops us feeling fatigued and aids cognitive function.
  • Zinc - essential for fertility and reproduction as well as helping immune cells grow and keeping hair, skin and nails healthy.
  • Calcium - needed for healthy bones, helps muscle and nerve function, and is used in blood clotting.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.