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As we seek to achieve our best health, we learn the importance of good nutrient status. We aim to achieve all of our nutritional needs through a nutrient-dense diet, but what happens if our labs show that we are deficient in key nutrients?
Iron deficiency, low vitamin D status and even low vitamin B12 could be indicators that there are deeper conditions at work that should be investigated. Today, I want to help you learn a bit more about nutrient status (1), testing, and what you can do about it.
Infections and Low-Iron Status
Our body has amazing mechanisms to prevent the spread of infections. For example, did you know that iron is necessary for bacteria and viruses to reproduce? If our body detects an infection, it begins to hide iron to prevent the spread of the infection.
This is what we know as “anemia of chronic disease1. There is a very famous case where volunteers in a malaria-prevalent part of Africa started giving kids iron because their iron levels were too low. Instead of replenishing their iron status, they allowed malaria to flourish2.
This makes total evolutionary sense. Your body hopes that by hiding the iron, you’ll be able to slow down the infection and maybe overcome it3. The problem is that when those well-meaning samaritans gave iron to the kids, they were, in fact, overriding the evolutionary mechanisms that protect us from infection4.
Bottom Line: If you have ever been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, you should also be tested for hidden infections! Malaria might not be the top priority, but intestinal dysbiosis, chronic viral infections, or parasites should be all considered.
Low B12 and Malabsorption
The malaria example is drastic, but many intracellular organisms have evolved strategies for altering your nutrient status.
For example, H. pylori create “wear and tear” in your digestive system, and thus creates malabsorption of nutrients like B-12. In lab tests, malabsorption could present as anemia or in extreme cases when the “wear and tear is bad enough, you could have signs and symptoms of an internal bleed5.
Bottom Line: If you merely supplement with B12, you are not correcting the underlying cause of the nutritional deficiency – instead, you are merely treating the symptom.
Vitamin D and Inflammation
Vitamin D has many functions (2), but for the purposes of our conversation today we are going to focus on its roles as an anti-inflammatory and an immune modulator6.
For example, it has been observed that people with genetic errors that prevent them from absorbing vitamin D are at higher risk of colorectal cancer7.
Imagine, if you don’t have an appropriate immune response to control cancer cells and you cannot decrease inflammation, it creates the perfect storm for cancer to flourish.
The Importance of Testing
Testing can be tricky when it comes to nutritional deficiencies because various things have to be taken into consideration. For example, many people test their blood levels of B12 regularly, but this can be misleading, testing the blood levels might give you an idea of how much B12 you have circulating, but not an idea if the B12 receptors are being activated.
For this reason, your doctor should test both your B12 blood levels (to see how much B12 you are getting, and your Methylmalonic Acid (MMA) which indicates your B12 utilization. This can get very complicated because for every nutrient there are multiple ways of testing.
This is why it is more cost effective to check using a Specialty Test Nutritional Analysis. At Integrative Health we utilize a test that measures intracellular and extracellular nutrient status, and in one test we can analyze all the major micronutrients and have a good idea of how to better satisfy the nutritional needs of our patients.
Bottom Line: Nutritional Status testing is more complicated than just measuring blood levels of micronutrients. Make sure to have a comprehensive analysis to be able to see the “whole picture”.
Achieving Perfect Nutrition
Today, we highlighted some of the nutritional deficiencies caused by infections, or ones that are symptoms of inflammation or poor immune function.
Having a poor diet is not the only reason we might have a low micronutrient status. I know I sound like a broken record, but we should always look for the underlying condition and root causes.
A good place to start is to have a nutrient-dense diet. The Metabolism Reset diet is a great 28-day program that covers all the bases (3).
It ensures you:
- Optimize liver health
- Boost your metabolism
- Benefit your immune health
After that, focusing on having a good multivitamin that is appropriate for you is important. Simply put, our food supply is slowly getting depleted of micronutrients and they are becoming more difficult to get from our diets alone8.
Key Insight: Checking your blood levels for micronutrient status could give you great insight into your health. I really like Vibrant America Nutrient test, since it tests nutrients inside and outside your cells giving us a complete picture of your nutrient status.
Understanding Next Steps
If after adhering to a nutrient-dense diet and checking your specific nutrient status you struggle with deficiencies, you should work with a doctor to investigate hidden infections. If you follow these simple steps, you will see that achieving optimal health is not a dream, but a very achievable goal.
Interested in learning more? Any of the doctors at Integrative Health would be happy to hear from you and to begin a deeper investigation into how your health can benefit from a more comprehensive understanding of your nutrient status.
1. Prentice AM. Clinical Implications of New Insights into Hepcidin-Mediated Regulation of Iron Absorption and Metabolism. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;71(3):40-48. doi:10.1159/000480743.
2. Sales MC, de Queiroz EO, Paiva A de A. Association between anemia and subclinical infection in children in Paraíba State, Brazil. Rev Bras Hematol Hemoter. 2011;33(2):96-99. doi:10.5581/1516-8484.20110027.
3. Gwamaka M, Kurtis JD, Sorensen BE, et al. Iron deficiency protects against severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria and death in young children. Clin Infect Dis. 2012;54(8):1137-1144. doi:10.1093/cid/cis010.
4. Sazawal S, Black RE, Ramsan M, et al. Effects of routine prophylactic supplementation with iron and folic acid on admission to hospital and mortality in preschool children in a high malaria transmission setting: community-based, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2006;367(9505):133-143. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)67962-2.
5. Faller G, Winter M, Steininger H, et al. Decrease of antigastric autoantibodies in Helicobacter pylori gastritis after cure of infection. Pathol Res Pract. 1999;195(4):243-246. doi:10.1016/S0344-0338(99)80041-7.
6. Sassi F, Tamone C, D’Amelio P. Vitamin D: Nutrient, Hormone, and Immunomodulator. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1656. doi:10.3390/nu10111656.
7. Lu R, Wu S, Xia Y, Sun J. The Vitamin D Receptor, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, and Colon Cancer. Curr Colorectal Cancer Rep. 2012;8(1):57-65. doi:10.1007/s11888-011-0114-1.
8. Fan M-S, Zhao F-J, Fairweather-Tait SJ, Poulton PR, Dunham SJ, McGrath SP. Evidence of decreasing mineral density in wheat grain over the last 160 years. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2008;22(4):315-324. doi:10.1016/j.jtemb.2008.07.002.
Written by Dr. Guillermo Ruiz of Integrative Health. Dr. Ruiz is an Associate Physician with Integrative Health, interested in the treatment of endocrine disease with a focus on thyroid health. Under the mentorship of Dr. Alan Christianson, Dr. Ruiz expanded his knowledge on the treatment of Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease and has completed advanced endocrinology training in order to better address and resolve endocrine disease.
Learn more about Dr. Ruiz here