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10 Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Women & How To Avoid Them

By Gaby San Giovani

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August 24, 2016

Everyone knows that to live a healthy life you must eat right and exercise frequently. And though that’s great advice, we sometimes overlook the importance of making sure the foods we consume fulfill our nutritional needs. A healthy body is one that absorbs the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients that are essential for its development, prevention against disease, and gains at the gym. 

Nutritional deficiencies, especially in women, are all too common and often go unnoticed. To help you take better care of your body, here are the most common nutritional deficiencies in women and how you can avoid them.

Iron

Iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutritional deficiency around the world–affecting 1.62 billion people worldwide (about 25% of the global population)! A deficiency in iron can lead to anemia: a blood disorder characterized by a red blood cell’s inability to bind oxygen as a result of low levels of hemoglobin. Symptoms of anemia range from fatigue, paleness, extreme dizziness, weakness, irritability, and shortness of breath. Women make up the largest group of those affected by anemia due to blood (and subsequently, iron) loss during menstruation and an increased blood supply demand throughout pregnancy. 

Common sources of iron include: red meat; dark leafy greens, egg yolks and beans 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a major role in calcium absorption in your body; and therefore, is a key player in ensuring that your bones are strong. Bone soreness/weakness is the most common symptom of a Vitamin D deficiency. However, low levels of Vitamin D have also been attributed to: an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, asthma, cognitive impairment, cancer, and rickets–a disease by which bone tissue does not harden properly resulting in weak skeletal structure and deformities. The percentage of women affected by Vitamin D deficiency has climbed in recent years.

Common sources of Vitamin D include: fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel; cheese and other dairy products; egg yolks; certain mushrooms (like portobello) and 10 minutes of sunlight

Calcium

Similar to Vitamin D deficiency, a deficiency in calcium can have serious effects on your bones and skeletal structure. Healthy levels of calcium not only ensure that you have strong bones, but are crucial to the strength and proper functioning of your teeth, heart, nerves and muscles.

Calcium deficiencies are extremely common in women, especially those in postmenopause, due to fluctuating levels of hormones making it hard for the body to absorb calcium. Such deficiencies can lead to low bone mass, osteoporosis and convulsions as a result of bone weakening and even abnormal heart rhythms.

Common sources of Calcium include: small fish, like canned salmon or sardines with bones, kale, b– Broccoli

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is perhaps one of the most underrated nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of many of the body’s vital systems. Vitamin A is comprised of a group of nutrients that are responsible for our eye health, as well as the smooth running of our immune and reproductive systems. Regulating your Vitamin A intake is also essential for women who are pregnant or someday wish to be pregnant. Healthy levels of Vitamin A can reduce risk against infection as well as reduce chances of blindness and maternal mortality rates.

Common sources of Vitamin A include: milk; eggs; orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins; green vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli; reddish-yellow fruits such as apricots, papaya and peaches

Vitamin B-9

Vitamin B-9, also known as “folate,” is vital for the production of red blood cells and DNA as well as aiding with proper brain and nervous system development. Vitamin B-9 is important for women because of its pivotal role in fetal development–especially the proper conformation of the child’s brain and spinal cord. Deficiencies in folate can lead to growth/developmental problems, anemia, and drastic birth defects. 

Common sources of Vitamin B-9 include: beans and lentils; citrus fruits; green, leafy vegetables; poultry and pork; shellfish

Vitamin B-2

Vitamin B-2, also known as “riboflavin,” is another common nutrient deficiency (especially found in women) for it often is associated with iron deficiency and anemia. Vitamin B-2 plays an important role in the regulation of one’s metabolism, as well as maintaining healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver. Symptoms of a Vitamin B-2 deficiency include: digestive problems, sensitivity to light, tearing, burning, and tiredness of the eyes, cracks and sores around the mouth, soreness of the throat, and peeling/unusually dry skin. 

Common sources of Vitamin B-2 are: yogurt; eggs; mushrooms; almonds; green vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli and spinach

Magnesium

Magnesium is a nutrient that does it all. Not only is it essential for every organ in the human body, it also contributes to the makeup of bones and teeth, the activation of enzymes, contribution to energy production, and regulation of levels of calcium, zinc, potassium, and a plethora of other nutrients. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include: agitation and anxiety, irritability, nausea, muscle spasms, hyperventilation, and insomnia. Women who suffer from PMS can benefit from ensuring that they are consuming the proper amount of magnesium required by the body for it can help with many of the attributes of the syndrome–such as: cramps, irritability, insomnia, bloating and nausea. 

Common sources of magnesium include: green, leafy vegetables; almonds and cashews; legumes; seaweed 

Zinc

Zinc, similar to magnesium, is necessary for many of the body’s systems to function properly. Zinc is essential to a healthy and strong immune system and it plays a chief role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, the senses of taste and smell, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. Zinc is especially important for pregnant women due to the rapid cell growth that is occurring within the woman’s body. Proper intake of zinc can reduce risk of improper DNA production and formation in the fetus. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include: frequent infection and illness, slow/stagnated growth, problems with taste and smell, slow healing of wounds, and a lessened appetite. 

Common sources of zinc include: beef, pork, and lamb; nuts; whole grains; legumes; oysters (not recommended during pregnancy)

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of all bodily tissues as well as to repair and maintain cartilage, bones, and teeth. Vitamin C’s role in helping to maintain and repair cartilage links healthy Vitamin C intake with the lower likelihood of skin wrinkling and dryness. Vitamin C is not made by the body or stored, therefore, it is extremely important to incorporate Vitamin C into your daily diet.

Common sources high in Vitamin C include: citrus fruits; berries; broccoli; brussel sprouts; green and red peppers; lLeafy greens

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to act as natural anti-inflammatory agents, as well as being extremely beneficial for the heart. These fatty acids engage in actions that combat inflammation as well as cholesterol build-up proving to lessen risk of blood clotting, high-blood pressure, high-cholesterol levels, and diabetes. As women age, estrogen levels begin to decline, increasing chances of heart disease. Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids can act as a substitute for estrogen with regards to upkeep of heart health and regulation of blood pressure/cholesterol levels.

Common sources of Omega-3 fatty acid sources include: flax seeds; salmon; walnuts; beef; shrimp; brussel sprouts; cauliflower

Photo credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono

Gaby San Giovani

About Gaby San Giovani

Gaby is an intern at BoxLife Magazine and a pre-med student at Boston College majoring in Biology and Women & Gender Studies. Not only is she a black belt in Taekwondo but she ran two marathons by the time she was 17. She has a passion for all things fitness and brings that passion and work ethic into her everyday life. View all posts by Gaby San Giovani →

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