5 Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies In The World

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Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world. It’s marked by low blood cell count and anemia. Low calcium and vitamin D intakes are also common, which results in weak bones. It’s hard to get enough vitamin D in the winter because your skin needs sun to make it. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in non-meat eaters, and can cause poor neurological function. In developing countries, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in children.

We’re always told to eat a well-rounded diet. And do you know why? Sure, it’ll make us healthy. But if we’re talking specifics, a diverse diet will prevent nutritional deficiencies. It’ll make sure our bodies have enough vitamins and minerals to work properly.

However, some nutrients are harder to get enough of. So, to help your body stay in tip-top shape, take a moment to learn about these five most common nutritional deficiencies.

5 Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies

1. Iron

Iron Nutritional Deficiency

When it comes to common nutritional disorders, the iron deficiency takes the first place. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that over 30 percent of the world’s population has anemia, with most due to iron deficiency. That’s more than 2 billion people!1

Iron is an extremely important mineral. It’s needed to make hemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen in the blood. Your body will make lesser blood cells if your iron intake is low. The result is iron-deficiency anemia, which causes symptoms like fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath.2

Compared to men, women are more likely to have an iron deficiency, thanks to the blood loss during menstruation. The increased needs during pregnancy also place childbearing women at risk. About 72 percent of pregnant women need to take iron supplements. Kids are also at risk. They’re growing so fast that iron intake may not meet their needs. Because of this, iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in childhood.

To avoid nutritional iron deficiency, eat lean meat and seafood. Other options include beans, veggies, and fortified grains. Many flours in the United States also have added iron.3

According to WHO, in developing countries, every second pregnant woman is anemic and 40% of preschool children (3 – 4 years of age) are iron deficient.4

2. Calcium

Calcium Nutritional Deficiency

It’s no secret that calcium is needed for strong bones. Yet, so many people aren’t getting enough! A study in the Journal of Nutrition reported that less than 15 percent of teenage girls and less than 10 percent of women over 50, meet the recommendations.5 Another study revealed that 86% of teenage girls did not get enough calcium in their diets. Clearly, there’s room for improvement.6

Without enough calcium, your bones can’t regenerate cells, becoming weak and brittle. Even muscle function, hormonal secretion, and nerve communication will suffer. Aging women have the highest risk since bone-breakdown speeds up during menopause.

To avoid the effects of this nutrient deficiency, eat milk, yogurt, cheese, and leafy greens. Some foods, like cereal or tofu, can be fortified with calcium. Lactose-intolerant people may have a harder time getting enough calcium, so supplements may help.7

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D Nutritional Deficiency

Deficiency of vitamin D is easy to develop, and the chances skyrocket in the winter. This is because the skin needs sunlight to make it. Without enough sun exposure, the skin can’t convert certain compounds into vitamin D. This is why it’s called the “sunshine vitamin”.

It’s also crucial for healthy bones. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium so that your bones can be nice and strong.8 This explains why calcium supplements often have vitamin D, too.

Mental health also depends on this nutrient. Deficiency has been linked to low mood, depression, and poor cognitive function.9 It’s also the culprit for a seasonal affective disorder since there’s less sunlight in the winter.

Getting enough vitamin D is tricky. It isn’t available in most foods, so you’ll have to depend on sunlight. However, people who live in cloudy areas or have dark skin may have a harder time getting enough. It’s also one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the elderly since aging skin can’t absorb sunlight well. In the United States, roughly 25 percent of the population is at risk.10

Researchers believe that 50% of the population worldwide have vitamin D deficiency. One study found out people in the Middle East recorded one of the lowest levels of vitamin D in the world. The study also revealed 50% to 80% of people in Saudi Arabia might be deficient in vitamin D.11

4. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 Nutritional Deficiency

With vegetarianism and veganism on the rise, vitamin B12 deficiency is becoming more and more common. In fact, a 2013 study in Nutrition Reviews shared that 62 percent of vegetarian and vegan pregnant women had low intakes. Up to 86 percent of children, 41 percent of adolescents, and 90 percent of elders who didn’t eat meat also had this common nutritional deficiency.12 So, what’s the deal?

[Read: Vegan Sources Of Vitamin B12]

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is mostly found in animal products like poultry, meat, and fish. Additional sources include milk and milk products. It’s not found in plants, but some breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12.

Without enough of this nutrient, blood cell formation and neurological health will decline. Deficiency has also been linked to heart disease, dementia, and low energy levels.

Aside from vegetarians, older people are at risk for low vitamin B12 levels. The cause is usually poor gut absorption and reduced stomach acid. It’s also a common deficiency seen in people with celiac disease and Crohn’s. These individuals also suffer from inadequate nutrient absorption.13

In Germany, 15% of women in child-bearing age have a B12 deficiency. In Kenya, about 40% school children and 46% of adults in India are deficient in B12.14

5. Vitamin A

Vitamin A Nutritional Deficiency

In the United States, vitamin A deficiency is rare. However, it’s one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in children in developing countries. The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million preschool-aged children are deficient in vitamin A. About 250,000 to 500,00 children become blind every year. Half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight.15

Without this vitamin, visual problems and blindness will develop. It’ll also boost the risk of death from severe infections since vitamin A is an antioxidant that protects the immunity. In adults, night blindness is a significant symptom. Pregnant women in developing countries also have a high risk of this nutritional deficiency.16

Rich sources of vitamin A include milk, eggs, and orange and yellow fruits and veggies. Examples include cantaloupe, carrots, and sweet potato.17

Even if you aren’t at risk for these common nutritional deficiencies, they’re still important to keep in mind. If anything, it’s good inspiration to keep your diet diverse and balanced. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.

References   [ + ]

1. Iron deficiency anemia. World Health Organization.
2. What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
3. Iron. National Institutes of Health.
4. Micronutrient deficiencies. World Health Organization
5. Bailey, Regan L., Kevin W. Dodd, Joseph A. Goldman, Jaime J. Gahche, Johanna T. Dwyer, Alanna J. Moshfegh, Christopher T. Sempos, and Mary Frances Picciano. “Estimation of total usual calcium and vitamin D intakes in the United States.” The Journal of nutrition 140, no. 4 (2010): 817-822.
6. Kavitha, Ms R., Ms Jeenu Sabu, and Mrs Vinili Simpson. “Level of Knowledge on Prevention of Calcium Deficiency Among Adolescent Girls.” Global Journal For Research Analysis 4, no. 8 (2016)
7. Calcium. National Institutes of Health.
8. Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health.
9. Wilkins, Consuelo H., Yvette I. Sheline, Catherine M. Roe, Stanley J. Birge, and John C. Morris. “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults.” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 14, no. 12 (2006): 1032-1040.
10. Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health.
11. Naeem, Zahid. “Vitamin D deficiency-an ignored epidemic.” International journal of health sciences 4, no. 1 (2010): V
12. Pawlak, Roman, Scott James Parrott, Sudha Raj, Diana Cullum-Dugan, and Debbie Lucus. “How prevalent is vitamin B12 deficiency among vegetarians?.” Nutrition reviews 71, no. 2 (2013): 110-117.
13. Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health.
14. Micronutrient: Vitamin B12. Orphan Nutrition
15. Micronutrient deficiencies: Vitamin A deficiency. World Health Organization
16. Vitamin A Deficiency. World Health Organization.
17. Vitamin A. National Institutes of Health.