Are Nutritional Deficiencies Dangerous?
Menopause doesn’t just change hormone levels; it also changes how your body regulates itself. Menopause increases the likelihood of osteoporosis, muscle loss, neurological issues, heart disease, and more. Maintaining proper nutrition is crucial to help lower the risk of developing severe conditions. However, for many women, fulfilling their nutritional needs is a challenge on its own.
According to the CDC, nearly 10 percent of people in the United States have some sort of nutritional deficiency. It’s thought that around 41 percent of women between the ages of 19 and 50 will suffer from some kind of nutritional deficiency in their lifetime.
Why? What causes a nutritional deficiency, and how can it affect your health as you transition into menopause?
What is a Nutritional Deficiency?
A nutritional deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t obtain or absorb the necessary amounts of essential nutrients from food. The body needs vital nutrients to help regulate all of its systems. These nutrients are broken into two categories, macronutrients, and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. These include things like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Micronutrients are nutrients that the body requires in smaller amounts. These include things like vitamins and minerals (i.e., zinc, Vitamin D, etc.).
With enough of both, the body can better regulate all of its systems, ranging from metabolism to weight to brain and bone health.
What Causes a Nutritional Deficiency?
Many things can cause or contribute to a nutritional deficiency. The three most prominent factors are poor diet, underlying illness, and interactions with certain medications. It’s possible only one of these things is the direct cause of a nutritional deficiency, and it’s also possible that all three of these can occur at once.
One of the most common causes of nutritional deficiency is poor diet. More people suffer from a lack of nutrition due to their diet in the U.S. A typical American diet does not supply people with enough micronutrients to help regulate many of their bodily systems and often exceeds the requirements for macronutrients (especially in fats). This nutrition gap is one of the leading causes of nutritional deficiencies. It can create a series of problems, especially for women in menopause, as the body becomes more dependent on nutrients to regulate itself properly.
One of the significant macronutrients that people don’t get enough of in their diets, which can help with the absorption of essential micronutrients, is fiber. The body uses fiber to slow down the digestion process, allowing more time for nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Without enough fiber, it can become more difficult for menopausal women to gain the nutrients they need from foods. It’s important to eat fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Many people may suffer from nutritional deficiencies caused by underlying conditions, including certain autoimmune disorders. It’s speculated that up to half of the people in the U.S. may suffer from a pre-existing condition. Not all pre-existing conditions may cause severe nutritional deficiencies, but they should be treated with care.
A common underlying condition is anemia. There are many types of anemia, but one of the more common types is pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is a condition in which the body does not receive enough Vitamin B12 to help produce red blood cells (and regulate other systems). People with pernicious anemia may not be able to produce specific enzymes that help break down and absorb Vitamin B12. Symptoms of pernicious anemia can include fatigue, rapid weight loss, shortness of breath, and an inflamed stomach.
Conditions like these can contribute to a lack of nutrition and should be treated with help from your doctor. There are medications out there that can help suppress these conditions’ effects to a degree and may help improve nutrient absorption. You should speak to a doctor about the kinds of treatment options available to you and decide upon a treatment that will be the most effective for your individual health needs.
Of course, in other cases, some medications can have side effects that cause or contribute to nutritional deficiencies in certain people. Some individuals may have underlying conditions that require specific medications and treatments that may interfere with the production or absorption of essential nutrients and enzymes. If you are currently being treated for a heart condition like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, you should speak to your doctor about the potential side effects of any medications that you may be prescribed.
Medications designed to lower cholesterol may have an impact on nutrition by inhibiting the production of coenzymes. The Q10 coenzyme plays a crucial role in preserving the energy of cells. Cholesterol-lowering medications can impact the rate at which this coenzyme gets produced.
Additionally, some blood pressure medications can deplete levels of magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), medications that reduce stomach acid production, may also impact calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin B12. Blood thinners can also affect Vitamin K levels. Vitamin K is a nutrient the body uses to help with blood clotting and reducing calcium buildups along the arterial walls.
It’s important to work with your doctor to better understand how certain medications can impact your body’s nutritional needs. If you have questions about these medications’ risks, speak to your doctor to determine the best treatment method for you.
What Can You Do?
Nutritional deficiencies have a considerable impact on women’s overall health as they progress through menopause. Menopause’s effects on heart health, bone health, and other bodily systems can increase the risk of developing certain diseases and conditions. Heart disease, osteoporosis, weakened immunity, and even Alzheimer’s disease increase in risk after menopause, and added nutritional deficiencies could make that risk even greater.
So, what can you do to help lower those risks and maintain proper nutrition?
The typical American diet is lacking in nutrients. Heavily processed and refined foods strip nutrients from food sources. Consuming foods that are unrefined or unprocessed can be a challenge, but these foods can supply you with the most amount of nutrients your body needs. Additionally, it’s crucial to eat a variety of foods to provide your body with the right kinds of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Vegetables and fruits offer the most micronutrients to help maintain immune health, heart health, and neurological health. Antioxidants, vitamins, phytonutrients, and minerals can all be found in various fruits and vegetables. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, which your gut bacteria need to improve nutrient absorption. You can also get a great deal of fiber from whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Meat and dairy products can help supply your body with some micronutrients but are mainly your best sources for macronutrients like proteins and fats. It’s important to consume various meat sources, seafood, poultry, some red meats to gain the most variety of macronutrients and micronutrients in your diet. Dairy products should be eaten in moderate amounts to supply your body with healthy bacterial strains and some fats. However, large portions of dairy products can raise cholesterol levels, increase blood pressure, and so on.
Finding the right balance of food sources is dependent on your individual nutritional needs. If you have low iron levels, you’ll want to increase your intake of certain meats. If you have low levels of vitamins, you’ll want to see which foods can give you the most amounts of those vitamins and adjust your diet accordingly.
Some people may not have access to the freshest foods and ingredients. Some people may choose not to eat meat or dairy, and that’s okay. You can find ways to supplement nutrients from those foods. Dietary supplements are designed to supply the body with compounds that act similarly to those nutrients. Some supplements are bio-identical forms of those nutrients, and some supplements are modified compounds that mimic the behavior and responsibilities of certain nutrients. Deciding on which form works best for you is dependent on individual health needs and should be confirmed with your doctor before starting a supplemental regimen.