As a child, your parents probably had you take vitamins in addition to your meals. Today about half of the U.S. population take dietary supplements, and of those, multivitamins/minerals were the most frequently used (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21178089?dopt=Abstract). These nutrients are an important factor in your overall health.
A lack of proper nutrients could cause problems that may affect your overall long-term health. While they may be subtle and easily dismissed in the beginning, there are many different signs of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. If you lack iron, you may experience fatigue, anemia, decreased cognitive function, headache, glossitis and nail changes (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/985140-overview). According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia include:
- Shortness of Breath
- Pale or Yellowish Skin
- Irregular Heartbeats
- Weight Loss
- Numbness or Tingling in Your Hands and Feet
- Muscle Weakness
- Personality Changes
- Unsteady Movements
- Mental Confusion or Forgetfulness
So, how do you know if you have a deficiency and need to take supplements? There are several ways to determine the amount of nutrients in your body and whether you have too much or too little. When you discuss your symptoms with a doctor, he or she may perform a physical examination to check your abdomen, oral health, skin, hair and nails, as well as other areas of your body that may point to an absence of nutrients.
After an exam, the most common method to diagnose a vitamin or mineral deficiency is a blood test. Medical practitioners use blood tests during a routine checkup to evaluate your organ health and look for signs of an illness. There are many different kinds of blood tests, and the test your doctor chooses depends on what your doctor is looking for based on the symptoms you present with. To check for a deficiency, physicians may use a complete blood count or blood chemistry tests (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/bdt/types).
For an accurate diagnosis, physicians may also study your sedimentation rate and serum electrolytes, which involves a urinalysis and culture test (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/985140-overview). A nutritional assessment generally consists of a complete medical history including diet, plus growth measurements for your weight and height. For children younger than three years of age, this also includes a measure of the head circumference.
Why Are Minerals and Vitamins Important?
Nutrients from foods and supplements help your body maintain a healthy balance. That is why minerals and vitamins are necessary for your overall health. For example, calcium is used for vascular contraction and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling, as well as hormonal secretion (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/). Magnesium helps with the production of energy, in addition to oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/).
Most minerals can be found in everyday food, so check the nutrition labels to determine the amount of vitamins or minerals that are present in your favorite foods. Zinc can be found in oysters, red meat and poultry in large amounts. Smaller amounts can be found in beans, nuts, whole grains, as well as other common breakfast foods (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/). Most people know that bananas contain potassium and are usually prescribed for certain deficiencies and conditions that are caused by a lack of this mineral, such as hypokalemia (http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/potassium#deficiency).
You can learn more about the importance of vitamins and minerals in books such as Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements, which describes all of the nutrients your body needs, where to find them, how much you need and the results of deficiencies. If you have a deficiency, you can take supplements on a regular basis as prescribed by your doctor. Be sure to keep track of the vitamins and minerals you intake by checking nutrition labels.