Vitamins and minerals play a key role in regulating critical bodily functions such as metabolism, immunity, and digestion. In fact, there are over 30 essential nutrients you need—many of which your body can’t sufficiently manufacture on its own.
People can meet their daily nutrient requirements by eating a variety of healthy foods, but due to the largely nutrient-deficient Western diet, many of us are lacking at least 1 of the following 5 key vitamins and minerals. Read on to see where you might be coming up short, as well as how to get enough of each of these critical nutrients.
Vitamin B12 is responsible for helping your body metabolize protein, which gives you energy. It also supports nerve and blood cell health and helps make DNA.
Vitamin B12 can’t be made in the body and is only found naturally in animal products such as clams, fish, beef liver, milk, yogurt, and cheese. It isn’t present in most plant-based foods unless it’s fortified, so people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets may be lacking it. Breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts, and plant milks are sometimes fortified with vitamin B12.
Most people in the US get enough vitamin B12 from the foods they eat, but some people have a difficult time absorbing it, and vegans and vegetarians may need to supplement it. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak. People who lack vitamin B12 are also more likely to experience constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Nerve problems, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, can also occur, as can issues with balance, depression, dementia, and memory loss.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 mcg and 2.8mcg for breastfeeding women, who need more because it is essential for early childhood development. When women who breastfeed their babies are strict vegetarians or vegans, their babies might not get enough vitamin B12. Therefore, it’s important they take a B12 supplement or give their infant a B12-enriched formula.
It is generally safe to take somewhat higher doses of B12 since your body absorbs only as much as it needs, and any excess is excreted through your urine. In fact, it’s estimated that your body can only absorb 10mcg of a 500mcg B12 supplement.
Though many sports products advertise energy and performance benefits from supplemental vitamin B12, these statements are not proven. Instead of looking at vitamin B12 as a performance enhancer, we suggest using it solely to supplement a deficit in your diet.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient that is essential for the synthesis of coagulation proteins, which help your blood clot. Vitamin K naturally exists in two forms—vitamin K1 and K2. Vitamin K2 is converted from vitamin K1 in your gut by your gut’s flora, the bacteria that live in the intestines and help you digest food.
Vitamin K1 is most abundant in dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collards. Vitamin K2 can be found in animal products, like egg yolks, butter, and cheese, as well as in fermented foods, like nattō, sauerkraut, kefir, and tempeh. Since your gut is responsible for synthesizing vitamin K2, eating foods that promote healthy gut bacteria can help ensure you get enough of this essential vitamin.
According to a Journal of Nutrition study, less than 70% of Americans don’t get enough vitamin K. Because it directs calcium to your bones, a vitamin K deficiency can contribute to osteoporosis (low bone density). And since vitamin K also directs calcium away from blood vessels to keep coronary arteries clear of plaque, cardiovascular diseases are often associated with a lack of vitamin K. Other signs of a vitamin K deficiency may include blood clotting issues and poor gut health.
According to a Journal of Nutrition study, less than 70% of Americans don’t get enough vitamin K.
The suggested daily amount of vitamin K is 90 to 120 mcg, depending on your gender; however, the average daily vitamin K intake among children and teens from food is only 66 mcg.
Vitamin K is considered to be so safe that it has no designated upper limit. To put this into perspective, consider that just half a cup of collard greens delivers over 500 mcg of vitamin K1. As such, most people should be able to get plenty of both vitamin K1 and K2 in their diets with a helping of any leafy greens, but if you think you’re not getting enough, taking a vitamin K supplement may be a good solution.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, one of the main ways it builds strong bones. It’s also called the sunshine vitamin because your skin produces vitamin D when it’s directly exposed to sunlight.
Since very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, most people get this vitamin from fortified foods and from the sun. Fatty fish and fish liver oils are among the best natural sources of vitamin D.
A common misconception many people have is that they can get vitamin D indirectly through a window. While you can still catch a sunburn through a window (if you’ve ever road tripped in the summer, you’re well aware of this), your skin can’t make vitamin D from indirect exposure to sunlight.
Since vitamin D plays a critical role in bone health, the most common side effects associated with its deficiency include bone disorders such as rickets, osteomalacia, and osteoporosis.
Your immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses, and to reduce inflammation. In fact, a recent study revealed that over 80% of COVID-19 patients had a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency has been found to occur more frequently in patients with obesity and diabetes, diseases that are associated with poor immune function.
A recent study revealed that over 80% of COVID-19 patients had a vitamin D deficiency.
Some studies show that vitamin D supplements might help reduce blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Plus, when taken with calcium, vitamin D supplements have been shown to suppress appetite and encourage weight loss.
People under 70 should take 15mcg of vitamin D per day, while adults over 70 and breastfeeding women require 20mcg per day. Unlike other vitamins, there are upper limits for daily vitamin D intake, which the Mayo Clinic sets at 250mcg. If you’re overweight or obese, taking vitamin D at doses above this amount combined with calcium might actually raise your blood pressure.
Iron is a mineral responsible for making hemoglobin and myoglobin—proteins that carry oxygen to other tissues in the body, like the lungs and muscles. Your body also needs iron to make certain hormones.
Though iron is essential for certain bodily functions, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, affecting more than 25% of all people. While a typical U.S. diet should provide most people with enough iron, vegetarians and vegans may be an exception. This group has an increased risk of iron deficiency because they consume only non-heme iron (found in plant-based foods like beans, seeds, and leafy greens), which isn’t absorbed as well as heme iron (found in meat and shellfish).
Symptoms of iron deficiency usually include tiredness, weakness, immune system issues, and impaired brain function. The most common consequence of iron deficiency is iron deficiency anemia, in which your body isn’t able to circulate oxygen adequately. Women who have heavy periods are at a heightened risk of iron deficiency anemia because of their blood loss.
The Institute of Medicine Panel on Micronutrients recommends 8mg per day for all adult men and postmenopausal women, and 18mg per day for premenopausal women. Note that you shouldn’t take iron supplements unless it is clear you need them, as too much iron can be harmful. Eating vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, kale, and bell peppers combined with iron-rich foods can help maximize healthy iron absorption.
Magnesium is essential for bone and dental health, as it helps to regulate calcium and vitamin D levels.
Foods that are rich in magnesium include dark chocolate (an excuse to eat chocolate!), kale, collards, spinach, nuts, and whole grains.
Almost half of the U.S. population consumes less than the required amount of magnesium.
A magnesium deficiency is associated with several conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and osteoporosis. The main symptoms of severe magnesium deficiency include abnormal heart rhythm, muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, fatigue, and migraines. According to a systematic review from 2017, low magnesium levels may also be linked to higher levels of anxiety.
Adult men should take 420mg of magnesium a day and adult women should take 320mg a day. Pregnant women should increase their magnesium intake by around 40mg per day.
We recommend you attempt to get your nutrients from food before using supplements because they are most potent in that form. Vitamins in food are accompanied by many nonessential but beneficial nutrients, such as carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidants that aren’t in most supplements. Also, nutrient-dense foods contain other things that are good for you, like fiber.
Vitamins in food are accompanied by many nonessential but beneficial nutrients, such as carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidants that aren’t in most supplements.
Remember to consult your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes or beginning to take new medications, including supplements. Some supplements can interact with other medications, including OTC medications. A doctor can perform a blood test to determine whether or not you are receiving adequate amounts of specific vitamins and minerals, and whether you can obtain these through diet alone or require supplementation.
Getting the vitamins and minerals you need is critical to feeling healthy, but many of us still find our outer appearance doesn’t reflect our inner vitality. Board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen M. Chen has helped men and women in the Richmond area reveal their inner glow for over 20 years through surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures. Contact us online or call (804) 482-5313 to find out how Dr. Chen can help you look and feel your best.