Our understanding of how nutrient depletion leads to disease has been developing since sailors were getting scurvy and rickets centuries ago. Those experiences lead us to our basic understanding of vitamins and nutrients. In the last decade, as more and more money has been put toward research in these areas, it's becoming clear that a combination of the right nutrients is key for disease avoidance and healthy living. The body needs nutrients for myriad important and complex processes that we have yet to fully understand.
It is also becoming clear that there is more than one reason why we might become depleted of certain nutrients.
Here are three big reasons we're becoming nutrient deprived, and some ideas about how to counteract each one of them. Can you think of any others?
1. You're eating the wrong food.
This is the most obvious of the three reasons. There can be no substitute for nutrient dense food. Whatever dietary regime you align yourself with, whether it's Paleo, low carb, vegan, flexitarian or whatever the new craze of the month is, eating a diet complete with sufficient nutrients has to be the starting point.
A recent study from the UK showed that people eating seven or more daily portions of fruit and vegetables had a 42% lesser chance of death at any point in time compared to those who ate fewer than one serving. You can’t really get more compelling than that.
Many of my functional medicine clients, who are doctors dealing with chronically ill patients, will add a green powder supplement (made up of key organic fruits and veggies) to their patients’ regimen to make it easy to get ‘caught up' with important nutrients from fruits and vegetables they may have been missing.
2. Nutrients aren't being fully absorbed in your gut.
Are you what you eat? Or are you what you absorb? The body’s process of breaking down our food into nutrients that can actually be used is complicated. It requires not only that our own ‘human resources’ (saliva, stomach acid and gut lining integrity) be in balance, but also the help of our microbial friends in the gut that do a lot of the ‘heavy lifting.’
Our new understanding of the microbes that live in, on and around us all the time has lead to a new appreciation for their roles in metabolism and digestion, and making sure that we are taking steps to maintain optimal microbial balance is key for long-term health.
Another reason we need to get a good number of raw and ‘al dente’ vegetables is that they contain key live enzymes that help to break down the food in our guts. Again, there are many natural strategies to optimize gut function and nutrient absorption, and now that 'leaky gut' has become mainstream, many more doctors are getting trained in these strategies.
3. The role of pharmaceutical drugs in nutrient depletion.
This is the most commonly overlooked cause of nutrient depletion, but the number of studies backing it up has jumped significantly. One of the most discussed among these is how statin drugs (used to lower cholesterol) deplete the body of CoQ10, which is key for cellular and mitochondrial health.
But that's just the start. A good friend and functional medicine innovator, Dr. Jeffrey Gladd, has created an awesome free tool to help anyone to see what depletions their prescription might be causing. It is called Mytavin.
Simply add in all the drugs that you take regularly (or have ever taken), especially those over-the-counter medications, and the simple calculator shows you: