Micronutrient Deficiencies

Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork. - English Proverb

Listed below are some of the more common micro-nutritional disorders, common symptoms and consequences, and recognized preventative measures.

  • Scurvy: Scurvy occurs today in individuals who have a deficit of Vitamin C / ascorbic acid in their diet. It is common in teens that have a diet high in junk foods. Some symptoms are recession and bleeding of gums, corkscrew hair, and small hemorrhages around the fingernails. Lack of vitamin C also impairs the body's ability to use protein and diminishes circulatory health. Prevention involves consumption of fresh fruits (especially citrus) and most vegetables.
  • Pellagra: Common in people whose diet consists mainly of corn and starch, pellagra is caused by a lack of the B-complex vitamin Niacin (B-3) and the amino acid tryptophan. Pellagro may cause skin sores, inflamed mucous membranes, diarrhea, confusion and delusions. Eggs and dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meat and nuts are good sources of Niacin, and to a lesser extent legumes and enriched grain products.
  • Rickets: Caused by a deficiency in Vitamin D, rickets affects growing children by impairing skeletal growth. Breast-fed infants and dark-skinned individuals are most at risk. Largely wiped out by Vitamin D supplementation in milk, rickets is a concern particularly where Vitamin D deficiency is aggravated by lack of eposure to sunlight on the skin. Vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient found in cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel and tuna, and can also be synthesized in the skin through exposure to UV rays in sunlight.
  • Vitamin A deficiency: This is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies found in refugee populations, often in conjunction with protein-energy malnutrition. Eyesight is linked directly to Vitamin A consumption. Lack of Vitamin A can cause deterioration of eyesight, night blindness, blindness, susceptibility to infection, or death. Green leafy vegetables, carrots and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin A.
  • Iron deficiency anemia: Another of the top three deficiencies, this is most often caused by a lack of dietary iron, but may also be caused by parasitic infestations. Preschool children, adolescent girls, and women in child-bearing years are most at risk. The disorder causes retardation of mental and motor development in children, and in adults fatigue, loss of work capacity, and dangerous blood loss during childbirth. Consumption of red meat and fish, in conjunction with Vitamin C to enhance absorption is commonly recommended as treatment.
  • Iodine deficiency: The third of the three most common deficiencies, and the greatest cause of preventable mental retardation in the world. Less common in the developed world since the introduction of iodine into table salt, visible goiter, impaired physical and mental development, stillbirth and birth defects are some results of this deficiency. Seafood consumption and supplemental iodine in salt are the most common and effective methods of prevention.
  • Beriberi: A deficiency in Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin), beriberi is common among populations whose diet consists mainly of milled white rice. Common symptoms include fatigue, apathy, irritability, drowsiness, and depression, and in advanced cases can cause congestive heart failure. Whole grains, lean pork and legumes are good sources of Thiamin. Freezing does not affect thiamin, but heat and pasteurization destroy it.
  • Zinc deficiency: Commonly associated with increased mortality from malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia, zinc is important for the healing of wounds, healthy skin and proper immune function. Because zinc is not stored in the body, regular zinc intake is crucial. Men require roughly 30% more zinc than women. Early signs of deficiency are decrease in taste and poor immune function. Common sources of dietary zinc include meat, beans, lentils, nuts, yeast, and whole-grain cereals.

As you can see, little things in your diet can make a big difference in key survival functions such as energy level, wound healing, immune function and vision. For children and adolescents, micronutrients are crucial to proper mental and physical development, and contribute to pre- and post-natal survivability and health. Whether making food selections or adding vitamin supplements to your list of supplies, micronutrients should be a top consideration when choosing food preparations.