3 Mineral Deficiencies You Want to Avoid

Mineral deficiencies are dangerous

Last week, I explained the common symptoms that people experience due to vitamin deficiencies. This article will focus on the common symptoms caused by mineral deficiencies. Instead of brushing off these symptoms, take a look at what you’re eating. This can be an early warning sign of major health complications in the future.

A simple change to your diet at the initial signs of a mineral deficiency can decrease your symptoms and improve your overall health before serious permanent damage occurs.

3 Mineral Deficiencies You Want To Avoid

1. Iron

Let’s start with the most common nutrient deficiency disease worldwide, iron-deficiency anemia. Although 90% of the iron in your body is reabsorbed and recirculated, it is essential to replace the other 10% with food.

Those at greatest risk of this mineral deficiency are: infants under the age of two, adolescent girls, pregnant women, vegan & vegetarians, older adults, people with malabsorption disorders, and female athletes, especially runners.

Blood loss is a common cause of this mineral deficiency, which is why menstruating females are at increased risk. Even women of child-bearing age that consume 2,000 kcal per day, on average only achieve about 12 mg of iron per day, which is only 67% of their needs.

While iron has been shown to play a role in immune function and cognitive performance, iron’s most prominent role is carrying oxygen to all the cells in your body.

Symptoms: If you are often feeling fatigued, lethargic, or dizzy, suffering from regular headaches, have difficulty concentrating or have decreased work performance, consider upping your intake of iron. It may be all that you need to get that energy revved up again.

Other symptoms associated with this mineral deficiency include increased susceptibility to infection, craving and eating ice, lack of appetite or behavioral changes. Increased deficiency may lead to more severe symptoms such as pale skin, spoon-shaped fingernails, and a smooth, glossy tongue. Long term complications may include heart disease and respiratory distress.

Dosage: The recommended intakes are:

Men > 18: 8 mg/day

Women 18-50: 18 mg/day

Women 50+: 8 mg/day

Pregnant women: 27 mg/day

Breastfeeding women: 9 mg/day

Do not exceed 45 mg of iron/day. Be cautionary when using supplements and only use them under the advisement of your health care provider. Excessive levels of iron may lead to heart disease, especially among men and older women.

Food Sources: There are two types of iron: heme iron (which comes from animal sources) and non-heme iron (from plant sources). Those only consuming non-heme sources tend to need double the amount of the recommended intakes.

Heme iron is better absorbed by your body and the best sources are seafood (clams, oysters and fish), organ meats (kidney, heart, and liver), lean meat, and poultry.

Non-heme, vegetarian sources include legumes, dried peas, beans and lentils, iron-fortified cereals, some dried fruit, cooked, dark leafy greens, soy products, and enriched whole grains.

Consuming meat, fish, and poultry with your non-heme sources or including vitamin C helps your body better absorb the iron. Vitamin C is abundant in lots of vegetables and fruit which are an essential part of a healthy diet. Also, consider cooking in a cast-iron skillet as it can also contribute to an increased iron intake.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium plays an important role in more than 300 enzymes. It is important for metabolising food and synthesizing essential compounds needed for your metabolism such as essential fatty acids and specific proteins.

Mineral deficiency of magnesium tends to be more common among the older population, those with malabsorption disorders such as celiac disease and Crohn’s, as well as people with kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes. Excessive depletion of this mineral deficiency has been linked to risk of hypertension and heart disease.

Magnesium needs are greater for those under psychological and physical stress. Since it is very common for most people to be living under much duress, this mineral deficiency may be becoming more common.

Alcohol also plays a role in upping your magnesium requirements. Other contributors for increased requirements include high intakes of calcium, vitamin D, and protein-rich diets.

Symptoms: If you’re feeling dizzy, tired or have muscle cramping and muscle weakness, this may be due to a lack of magnesium in your diet.

Dosage: The recommended intakes are:

Men >18: 420 mg/day

Women> 18: 320 mg/day

Pregnant women 18-30: 350 mg/day

Pregnant women 31-50: 360 mg/day

Breastfeeding women: 310 mg/day\

Breastfeeding women: 320 mg/day

Food Sources: It is important to include seeds, nuts, legumes, milled cereal grains and dark green vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach, collards, etc.) as a part of your healthful diet. Magnesium may be lost during processing of many foods and unlike other vitamins and minerals, it is rarely added back into the products.

3. Zinc

Zinc is involved in various levels of cellular metabolism and is associated with more than 300 different enzymes within a cell.

It also plays an important role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, cell division, and possibly even in bone formation.

Zinc deficiency is more commonly found among Middle Eastern populations. Many of their cereals and whole grains have high concentrations of phytates, which inhibit the ability to be able to absorb zinc.

However, among Western populations, most cereal-based foods are made from refined grains and are fortified with zinc after processing.

Symptoms: This mineral deficiency can lead to delayed wound healing, reduced immune function, anemia, decreased ability to taste or smell, dry and coarse hair and in extreme cases, hair loss, impaired reproductive ability, short stature and skin lesions.

Dosage: The recommended intake of zinc is 11 mg for males and eight mg for females each day, without exceeding 40 mg per day.

Food Sources: Zinc is most abundantly consumed from meat, fish, poultry, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals fortified with zinc, and dairy products.

Oysters have been found to be a good source as well as other shellfish, liver, and whole grain cereals. Zinc has been found to be better absorbed with a diet rich in protein and absorption tends to be inhibited by phytates (found in nuts, seeds, and grains). Consuming too much of this mineral can interfere with the absorption of other minerals such as iron.

Remember, eating a well-balanced diet including vegetables and fruit, whole grains and cereals, dairy products & alternatives, and meat & alternatives is the best way to ensure a healthy, symptom-free lifestyle.

This is important because some minerals, such as calcium, may not show early warning signs of mineral deficiency. Even though this is the most abundant mineral and is essential to your bones and teeth, you usually find out that your levels are too low when it is too late. That’s why osteoporosis is considered a silent disease since there is not much you can do by the time you are diagnosed.

Pay attention to your body’s warning signs and make necessary adjustments to avoid any long term damage of a mineral deficiency.

Mahan, L.K., et al., Krause’s Food, Nutrition, & Diet Therapy (Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2004), 75-163.
“Dietary Reference Intakes Tables,” Health Canada web site, November 29, 2010; http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php, September 24, 2013.