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Like any of today’s young, health-conscious women, you’ve been hitting the gym at least three times a week, watching the calories and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.
But every so often, there are days when you can’t sleep, feel weak and depressed.
So why are you feeling so crappy when you’ve been doing everything right?
Well, there’s a chance you may have overlooked something that a lot of us have taken for granted, the essential vitamins our body needs to be truly healthy and in top shape.
Here are 6 of the most important vitamins you should be taking if you’re anywhere between 15 or 50 years old and what you can do if you are experiencing any deficiency symptoms.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Many of us know Vitamin D as the “sunshine vitamin” as our body is able to manufacture Vitamin D from cholesterol through a process that is triggered by the skin’s exposure to sunlight.
But you might not be getting enough of this important vitamin if you’re dark-skinned, obese like to cover up, or just plain hate the sun.
A 2010 study by the Nutrition Journal revealed that 42% of adults in the US are deficient in Vitamin D, with the highest rates among African Americans and Hispanics.
Check for the following signs that you may be lacking in this important vitamin.
- Chronic bone and muscle pain, weakness or cramps
- Daytime sleepiness
- Frequent infections
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive impairment
- Low sex drive
Why It’s Important:
- Bone health – Steven Clinton, a professor of medical oncology at Ohio State University says “Vitamin D, working with calcium, is very critically important for bone health, particularly in youth during skeletal development up through puberty and in your 50’s, 60’s and beyond, for the prevention of osteoporosis, fractures, and falls.” So, if you are deficient in this vitamin, most likely, you could be experiencing bone pain, muscle weakness, and cramps.
- Mental health – Feeling low? It could be you need more Vitamin D. A recent study by Norwegian researchers found a significant connection between low Vitamin D levels with higher levels of the negative symptoms of depression among people with psychosis. In addition, low Vitamin D levels were also associated with verbal fluency and cognitive impairment. They also found that the lack of sunlight, especially during the autumn and winter months are generally linked to depression.
- Libido – Not in the mood? Vitamin D deficiency can also cause low estrogen in women which, in turn, lowers sex drive. When it’s summer and you soak in the sun, your Vitamin D levels also rise, making you friskier than during the winter months when you tend to stay indoors. The same goes for the male species. Studies have shown that men who have adequate Vitamin D (30 mcg or more) have significantly more testosterone than men who have lower Vitamin D levels.
What You Can Do:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) puts the new 2010 recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Vitamin D at 600 IU for ages 1-70, including for pregnant or breastfeeding women and 800 IU for those ages 71 and above.
- Get more sun – Boost your Vitamin D when the sun is out. Just 10 minutes a day in the midday sun in shorts and the tank top is enough to produce 10,000 IU of Vitamin D (in the form of Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol ) for light-skinned individuals while darker-skinned individuals need longer time.
- Food sources – During the darker months, you can get enough Vitamin D from sources like fortified milk and dairy products, fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, egg yolks, and portobello mushrooms.
- Supplements – If you’re short on time, you can also take supplements in the form of Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). In some countries, ergocalciferol is added to breakfast cereal and margarine.
Vitamin C Deficiency
If there is one vitamin you should never ignore, it is Vitamin C.
This Vitamin has so many beneficial properties — mainly building your skin, tendons, blood vessels and ligaments, as well as boosting the immune system and preventing cancer.
However, since it is water-soluble, it is not stored in the body, thus requiring us to regularly replenish the supply.
You know you’re not getting enough of this powerful vitamin if you have the following symptoms:
- Dry and splitting hair
- Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
- Rough, dry, scaly skin
- Slow wound healing
- Easy bruising
- Decreased ability to resist infections like colds and cough
- High blood pressure
- Gallbladder disease
Why It’s Important:
The many benefits of Vitamin C include:
- Antioxidant – it prevents damage from free-radicals that can damage the body’s DNA which, in turn, leads to cancer. The build-up of free-radicals over time may hasten aging as well as heart disease and arthritis.
- Builds collagen – an important protein used to make skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels.
- Heals wounds.
- Repairs and maintains bones and teeth.
Studies have also suggested that Vitamin C may be helpful for:
- Boosting immunity.
- Preventing allergies like asthma.
- Decreasing blood sugar, total, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol).
- Improving vision for those who have uveitis (inflammation of the middle part of the eye).
- Reducing the harmful effects of sunburn.
- Maintaining healthy gums.
- Help neutralize effects of nitrates (preservatives found in some processed foods and is linked to certain forms of cancer).
What You Can Do:
The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily allowance of 75 mg per day for women over 19 years of age.
A little higher at 85 mg per day for pregnant women and 120 mg per day for breastfeeding women.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables – The most readily-available sources high in Vitamin C come from plants which include citrus fruits (oranges, mandarins, grapefruit), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and red peppers and leafy greens, potatoes, and fortified cereals.
- Animal sources that are high in Vitamin C are raw beef liver, raw oysters, cod roe, and pork liver.
- Fresh is best – Cooking and long periods of storage lower the Vitamin C content in food. To prevent losses, steaming and microwaving is recommended. All fruits and many leafy vegetables are eaten fresh and five or more servings a day of different fruits and vegetables is adequate to supply all the Vitamin C needed.
- Supplements – If you find it difficult to find fresh sources of Vitamin C, supplements of this vitamin in the form of ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate are available as 500 mg capsules.
- Kick the habit – Smoking impairs the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin C. If you can’t quit smoking, increase your Vitamin C intake to 250 mg/day.
- The good news about Vitamin C intake is it is almost impossible to overdose because the body will just eliminate what it doesn’t use. In fact, a recent 2017 study by researchers at the University of Iowa showed that ultra-high doses of Vitamin C applied intravenously selectively kills cancer cells and not healthy cells.
Vitamin A Deficiency
“Eat your carrots!” That’s what our moms always say. “It’s good for your eyes.” And she’s right.
However, a lot of children and pregnant women, especially in developing countries, fail to get adequate amounts of this vitamin.
This could cause serious health problems like severe visual impairment and blindness.
- Night blindness
- Extreme dryness of the eyes
- Dry, scaly skin
- Respiratory infections
Why It’s Important:
- Eye Health – Vitamin A is a critical component of rhodopsin, a molecule that is activated when light enters the eye and sends a signal to the brain telling us what we see. Beta-carotene, a form of Vitamin A found in plants like carrots and squash is important in preventing macular degeneration, the leading cause of age-related blindness. A study at Columbia University Medical Center in New York found that a synthetic, altered form of Vitamin A was able to slow the progression an inherited eye disease called Stargardt’s disease, which leads to severe loss of vision, especially in young children.
- Strengthens the Immune System – Many genes that are involved in immune responses are regulated by adequate amounts of Vitamin A, thus making it essential in fighting cancer as well as colds and flu. Vitamin A also acts as an antioxidant and helps prevent many chronic illnesses like measles and diarrhea.
- Helps fight Inflammation – As an antioxidant, Vitamin A neutralizes free radicals in the body which can cause cellular damage. Vitamin A also helps prevent inflammation caused by severe allergic reactions by neutralizing the cells’ tendency to overreact in the presence of allergens.
- Helps you get better-looking skin and hair – Studies show that Vitamin A can help fight acne and improve overall skin health. It helps keep skin younger-looking by producing collagen that keeps the fine wrinkles at bay. What’s good for the skin is also good for the hair.
- Keeps cancer at bay – A study at the University of York showed that Vitamin A can help treat several forms of cancer due to the effect of retinoic acid, a form of Vitamin A that can suppress malignant cell growth.
What You Can Do:
The U.S. RDA for Vitamin A for adults is 3,000 IU for men and 2,300 IU for women.
But if you are pregnant, 19 years and older, you should be taking at least 2,600 IU of the vitamin.
If you are breastfeeding, 4,300 IU should keep you and your baby healthy.
Vitamin A overdosing is an issue and the upper limit set by the Food and Nutrition Board for Vitamin A is 10,000 IU.
If you think you can benefit by having more Vitamin A, here’s a list of the best sources of Vitamin A.
- Vegetable sources
Carrots – One cup of raw, carrots delivers more than 100% of your daily requirement
One whole sweet potato (18,000 IU)
One cup chopped kale (6,700 IU)
- Fruits – usually yellow-colored
Mango – one cup sliced (36%)
Papaya – one cup cubed (36%)
Apricots – one whole (13%)
- Animal Sources
Beef Liver – 3 ounces gives more than 300% of your recommended daily allowance
Tuna – 3-ounce filet (43%)
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
This is one critical vitamin that is increasingly lacking especially in young women, probably due to increased popularity in vegan diets.
In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, German researchers found that 92% of people on a strict vegetarian diet (zero meat products) suffered from Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Compared to those who ate meat and eggs, only 5% had the deficiency.
So, if you’re on a purely vegan diet and have totally eliminated animal products, there’s a strong likelihood you are lacking in this important vitamin.
Vitamin B12 is available mostly in animal foods (meat and dairy products) or yeast extracts.
Unfortunately, Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms tend to appear only when severe and are not immediately recognized.
In many cases, the symptoms are misdiagnosed and not attributed to Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Here are some signs that you should look out for:
- Anemia (pernicious anemia)
- Weakness and fatigue
- Light-headedness and dizziness
- Palpitations and rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- A sore tongue that has a red, beefy appearance
- Nausea and poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Yellowish skin and eyes
In cases of severe deficiency, the nerves can be irreversibly damaged and can cause the following symptoms:
- Numbness and tingling of hands and feet
- Difficulty walking
- Muscle weakness
Why It’s Important:
The Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University lists the following as the essential roles of Vitamin B12:
- Vitamin B12 or cobalamin plays an essential role in folate metabolism.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency is commonly associated with chronic stomach inflammation which may contribute to pernicious anemia.
- Vitamin B and folate (Vit B9) are important in homocysteine metabolism. High homocysteine levels as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- The preservation of DNA integrity is dependent on folate and vitamin B12 availability.
- Low Vitamin B12 in pregnant women has been associated with increased risk of neural tube defects.
- Vitamin B12 is important for the preservation of the myelin sheaths around neurons and for the synthesis of neurotransmitters.
- Both depression and osteoporosis have been linked to low Vitamin B12 status.
What You Can Do:
- It’s important to note that many of the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency like mood swings and depression can be misdiagnosed and treated as a psychiatric case. If you think your symptoms are caused by Vitamin B12 deficiency, ask your doctor to test you for serum B12, folate, ferritin (iron storage) and full blood count (FBC).
- Get more from food. For women ages 14 and up, the RDA for Vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg per day. For pregnant women slightly higher at 2.6 mcg a day. You can easily get your daily allowances with the following:
|Fortified breakfast cereal||1 serving||6 mcg|
|Cooked Sockeye salmon||3 oz||4.8 mcg|
|Cheeseburger, double patty||1 serving||2.1 mcg|
|Low-fat milk||1 cup||1.2 mcg|
- Take supplements. For vegans who prefer non-meat sources of food, supplements can adequately cover their Vitamin B12 requirements. Most multivitamins contain Vit B12.
A healthy diet should be composed of adequate amounts of nutrients coming from both plant and animal sources to supply you with all the vitamins and minerals you need.
If you think you are suffering from the symptoms due to lack of one or two essential vitamins, always see your health professional.
You made need more than adjustments to your diet.
If you are using over-the-counter supplements, always read labels for correct dosages and contraindications.
Make sure that you only buy from reputable manufacturers.
Food supplements are not monitored by the Food and Drug Authority and you may be at risk for additives that might be harmful.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.
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