What is a mineral deficiency?
We all understand the importance of eating a well-balanced diet. Yet, some people still suffer from common mineral deficiencies, mainly due to inadequate nutrition. Failing to consume key nutrients leads to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, osteoporosis, fatigue and more.
Simply put, a mineral deficiency occurs when a person doesn't receive enough of the correct minerals their body needs. Many nutrients are required for optimal health, and not getting enough of those nutrients daily can lead to complications. In many cases, a mineral deficiency is caused by a lack of proper nutrients, but chronic diseases can also impair the body's ability to absorb essential minerals.
To maintain overall health, you need to answer the questions, how common is a mineral deficiency? what is the most common mineral deficiency? and what can be done about them? We will look closer at the top mineral deficiencies plaguing people around the world and explain how to counteract them.
How common are mineral deficiencies, in general?
In the western world, especially, people suffer from common mineral deficiency diseases more frequently than in other locations. This study, for instance, shows how poorly the United States compares with many other countries regarding nutrition and quality food consumption.
In some cases, it's just a matter of poor nutrition that causes mineral deficiencies. However, even when someone is eating a well-balanced diet, it's possible to suffer from common mineral deficiencies. Studies on soil depletion show that minerals are less prevalent in the soil than they once were.
Additionally, certain medical conditions can make it more difficult to absorb nutrients. Suffering from food allergies, having a weak gut lining, dealing with microbiome imbalances and undergoing surgery can all affect how your body absorbs minerals. You could also have an autoimmune disease, infection or bacterial overgrowth that’s causing poor nutrient absorption. With these health conditions and environmental factors in mind, it’s no wonder so many people experience mineral deficiencies.
Most Common Trace Mineral Deficiencies
Don't let the term "trace" lead you to think these nutrients are inconsequential. Also referred to as microminerals, trace minerals are essential minerals that the body needs. However, unlike macro minerals, we only need to consume a small amount of these nutrients for optimal health.
Even though trace minerals are only required in small quantities, they are still vital to our essential bodily functions. With most trace minerals, you only require between 0.2 and 15 milligrams of each daily. However, when you don't get enough, you could easily suffer from a mineral deficiency.
The most common mineral deficiency in the US is iron, but don't overlook iodine and copper. Iron deficiency affects more than 25% of people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Lacking any of these trace minerals can create ongoing health issues, but each can be easily corrected.
For proper thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones, the body requires iodine. Thyroid hormones are needed for most bodily processes, including brain development, growth, regulation of metabolic rate and bone maintenance.
Iodine deficiency is one of the most common; it affects about a third of the world's population. Statistical, iodine is the most common mineral deficiency in the world, but not necessarily in the U.S.
One of the most common symptoms of iodine deficiency is a goiter or enlarged thyroid gland. Studies show iodine deficiency can also lead to shortness of breath, weight gain and an increased heart rate.
Iodine deficiency is even more dangerous for children. Research suggests that severe deficiency can be linked to developmental issues and intellectual disabilities.
However, it's not difficult to get iodine through a healthy diet. One gram of seaweed can offer up to 1,000% of the recommended daily intake. Fish, dairy and eggs also contain a lot of iodine. Iodine is found in ocean water and soil. So, if soil or water is lacking iodine, it will result in a reduction within the food.
You can also find table salt enriched with iodine. Studies suggest that this simple step has reduced the likelihood of developing an iodine deficiency.
Iron is another one of the most common mineral deficiencies. Iron is a component of our red blood cells. It is needed to bind with hemoglobin, and it’s responsible for transporting oxygen to your body's cells.
While iron deficiency affects over 25% of the world's population, studies suggest 47% of young children are susceptible to it. Unless children are given iron-rich or fortified foods, it's likely they aren't getting enough of this vital nutrient. Vegetarians and vegans also tend to have a higher risk of iron deficiency, mainly because they don’t have a way to consume iron, which is found in animal products.
The most common health problem associated with a lack of iron is anemia. This condition reduces the number of red blood cells in the body, which limits the amount of oxygen they can carry. Symptoms of anemia include impaired brain function, a weakened immune system and general fatigue.
Heme iron is found in red meat, organ meat, shellfish and canned sardines. Non-heme iron is found in beans, dark leafy greens and seeds. Consuming Vitamin C-rich foods can also help the body absorb iron. Consider adding kale, bell peppers or oranges to your diet to increase the absorption of iron-rich foods.
Copper is another essential mineral needed for optimal health. Aside from poor nutrition, it's possible to lack copper because of celiac disease or any ailment that affects the digestive tract. Additionally, consuming too much zinc can lead to a copper deficiency as the two minerals compete with each other.
Studies show copper is needed to aid iron absorption in the gut. But when copper levels are low, it's likely iron is also low, which can lead to anemia.
Research also indicates copper is needed for a strong immune system. Without copper, the body struggles to produce immune cells, which may reduce your white blood cell count. This lack of copper leads to a reduction of infection-fighting cells that leave your body compromised.
Osteoporosis has also been linked to copper deficiency in some studies. It could also lead to trouble with learning or memory because copper supplies energy to the brain. Research also indicates people with a copper deficiency can have trouble walking properly due to delayed signals between the body and brain.
Fortunately, copper is found in a wide variety of foods and you don't need a lot of it. Eat more beef liver, oysters, dark chocolate, oats, sesame seeds and almonds to increase your copper intake.
Most Common Major Mineral Deficiencies
Major minerals, or macrominerals, are required in larger amounts than trace minerals for proper bodily function. Macrominerals are responsible for regulating fluid balance, maintaining bones and teeth, ensuring proper nervous system function and aiding muscle contractions. Among the most common major mineral deficiencies are magnesium, potassium or calcium in your body.
One study suggests nearly half of Americans are not getting enough magnesium in their diet. And one national survey suggests that about 98% of Americans aren't getting the recommended potassium intake. Research also shows that only about 32% of Americans get enough calcium through diet alone.
With most of these deficiencies, the Western diet is to blame. Our society leans toward processed foods that are convenient over nutritious whole foods. Additionally, our soil has been depleted of these nutrients, causing our food to contain less of the minerals overall. Digestive ailments or other chronic diseases can cause the body to absorb fewer minerals, also leading to a mineral deficiency.
Magnesium is one of the most important major minerals. It is involved in over three hundred enzyme reactions. Studies show magnesium deficiency can lead to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndromes and osteoporosis. Research also shows low magnesium is common in hospitalized patients.
Magnesium deficiency is typically caused by a poor diet but it may also be a result of disease or an impaired digestive function. Some medications also affect magnesium absorption. And if you take diuretics and antibiotics, you may be at a higher risk of magnesium deficiency.
Some of the main symptoms of magnesium deficiency include an abnormal heart rhythm, restless legs, muscle cramps, migraines and fatigue. You may also experience brain fog and increased anxiety. Over time, this deficiency can lead to high blood pressure and insulin resistance.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, most adults should receive between 310 and 420 mg of magnesium daily. Thankfully, magnesium is found naturally in a variety of foods. Consider adding whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate and dark leafy greens to your diet. And if that’s not enough, you may want to consider adding a magnesium supplement to your daily regimen to increase your magnesium intake.
Potassium is another essential mineral required for proper bodily function. It is required to regulate muscle contractions, control fluid balance and maintain nerve functions. Potassium deficiency is typically caused by a poor diet. However, it’s also possible if you lose a lot of fluids from excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea or blood loss.
Symptoms of potassium deficiency include weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps and spasms, digestive issues and heart palpitations. Muscle aches, stiffness, tingling, numbness, trouble breathing and mood changes are also common symptoms. As with other major minerals, it's not difficult to get potassium through a well-balanced diet. Healthcare professionals recommend a daily intake of 4,700 mg potassium.
Beet greens provide about 25% of your daily intake in one serving. You should also consider eating yams, white beans, clams, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados, pinto beans and bananas. Most people do not require a potassium supplement. However, if you do require one, note that taking too much can cause hyperkalemia, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat and other serious heart conditions.
Calcium is another one of the most common mineral deficiencies. This vital mineral helps build strong teeth and bones. It's also needed for proper muscle function, including the function of your heart. When you don't get enough calcium, you have an increased chance of suffering from osteoporosis, osteopenia and hypocalcemia, which is a calcium deficiency disease.
Most people suffering from a calcium deficiency simply aren’t getting enough through their diet. However, it can also be caused by medications that decrease calcium absorption, hormonal changes and genetic factors. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include confusion, memory loss, muscle spasms, numbness, tingling, depression, brittle nails, brittle bones, and even hallucinations.
The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends most adults receive between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium daily. Most dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, milk and ice cream, are high in calcium. Fortified orange juice, sardines, salmon, turnip greens, kale and chia seeds are also high in calcium.
If you can’t get enough calcium through your diet alone, you may need to consider supplementation.
How to Determine You Have a Mineral Deficiency
The main way to tell whether or not you’re suffering from common mineral deficiencies is to evaluate your symptoms. Each vitamin or mineral deficiency has its own unique set of symptoms, as noted above.
Whenever you begin experiencing symptoms, it's best to speak with your healthcare professional. Together, you can determine if your health problems are caused by a mineral deficiency or a larger underlying condition. Your practitioner can also order blood tests to verify any deficiencies.
There are several types of blood tests for mineral deficiencies. You can test for a specific mineral or get an entire panel done to test several. Some blood tests must be done at your local hospital or participating location, while others can be done at home — prick your finger and mail in a blood sample.
If you discover a mineral deficiency, it's always best to evaluate your diet first. Many mineral deficiencies can be resolved by eating healthier food. However, you should also consider adding a high-quality supplement to your diet if you’re unable to get enough of a particular mineral through diet alone.