A surprising number of Americans fall short of vitamin and mineral intake recommendations, and will never know it.
It’s a state we know as ‘inadequacy’—insufficient micronutrient intakes for optimum health.
It is really hard to know if you fall into this category. Unlike true vitamin and mineral deficiencies, that manifest as diseases like rickets or pellagra, there is often no telltale sign of a micronutrient inadequacy – many have non-specific symptoms or no symptoms at all.
Yet the scientific evidence suggests inadequacies are very real and have long-term consequences on our health and well-being.
As an example, we turn to vitamin E inadequacy taking from LPI’s own Dr. Maret Traber and her recent review on the subject.
In contrast to severe vitamin E deficiency that often shows in neurologic symptoms, like poor balance and coordination, nerve damage, muscle weakness, and damage to the eye, marginal vitamin E status is difficult to define as it has effects on neurological function are often subtle. This is because the increased amounts of inflammation, susceptibility to infection, and oxidative damage are not severe enough to require hospitalization or specific enough to point to vitamin E as the only cause.
In other words, since many things can cause these types of problems in the body, you’re more likely to look elsewhere besides the amount of vitamin E you’re eating.
However, the consequences of inadequate vitamin E levels can be very real. Low vitamin E status has been implicated in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and complications from type II diabetes – but these can take a lifetime to develop.
Vitamin E is also critical in brain development, and this should of particular interest to expectant mothers. When a pregnant woman has a vitamin E inadequacy, the fetus bears the brunt of this low-vitamin status. Again, with deficiencies the consequences are severe – with extremely low vitamin E levels the brain fails to develop and the fetus will not survive; the mother may never know she was pregnant. But milder cases vitamin E inadequacy in the mother, may allow the nervous system to develop with some abnormalities. Vitamin E inadequacy has also been implicated in low birth weight, as well as stunted growth and impaired cognitive function in infants.
The effects of vitamin E inadequacy, however, are not restricted to fetal development and infancy. Many children are at risk for low vitamin E status, possibly resulting in various neurological disorders, anemia, and increased risk for infections. Moreover, adults with inadequate vitamin E status may be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease or other age-related neurological and cognitive disorders.
The good news is that vitamin E inadequacies can be prevented by consuming the recommended levels of alpha-tocopherol (15 mg) each day in the form of nuts, seeds, and oils. However, this may not be an easy solution for some, as many Americans don’t get enough vitamin E.
Vitamin E is not a lone standout in our micronutrient inadequacies. The average American consumes less than the recommended value of four or more vitamins and minerals each day. Again, we never know there’s a problem because symptoms of micronutrient inadequacies are mild or nonexistent, and the true effects of these inadequacies may not affect our lives until we are sick or older.
This is why the Linus Pauling Institute recommends a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement to ensure that you meet intake recommendations and increase your chance of a long and healthy life.