Doctors have been taught to think that we get all the nutrition our body needs from just eating a balanced diet. That may have been true 50 to 100 years ago, but most of us, today, don’t eat a balanced diet. In fact, most of the food we eat today does not contain the nutrients in it that our parents or grandparents ate. As a result, many of us are nutritionally deficient in the necessary nutrients our bodies require. The American Medical Association was so concerned about this deficiency that it published an editorial in 2002 that recommended that their doctors prescribe vitamins and minerals to all of their patients, including children.

As I talk to my physician friends or people asking for nutritional advice, I find that most people do not even understand what vitamins and minerals actually do in our bodies. So I went back to the literature and put together a series of charts to look at what nutrients (vitamins, minerals and acids)  are necessary to work together for a healthy body and mind.

Before I go into more depth about what vitamins and minerals actually do, it’s important to talk about where they are usually found. In medical school, we were taught all we need to know about nutrition, including vitamins and minerals, in our first biochemistry classes. Unless you were interested in nutrition, this was about the extent of our education.

Fifty to one hundred years ago, most produce was farmed by individual families. Proper nutrients were put into the soil and properly harvested food was more nutritious. Today, most farming is commercial with few farms owned by individuals. Few nutrients except for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are added back to the soil. Produce is harvested early, treated with pesticides to increase yields and not nearly as nutritious as the food our parents or grandparents ate. In 1997, a study from Rutgers study showed the difference between organic produce and conventional produce. The amount of nutrients in the organic produce was significantly greater than conventional produce. It remains the same today in more recent studies. So what’s the significance of these studies? It means that the food we eat today doesn’t contain all of the biologically-active vitamins and minerals our bodies require. We are what we eat! (or don’t eat!).

The tables below show what what each of the vitamins, minerals and acids our bodies need. They also show what each nutrient does, good sources for the nutrient and what the signs of a deficiency might be. One of the columns has the RDA, RDI and SONA values if available. RDA is the Recommended Daily Allowance, which is the minimal amounts recommended by UK health authorities to prevent deficiencies. RDI is the Recommended Daily Intake, which is the minimum amounts recommended by US health authorities to prevent deficiencies. The SONA is the Suggested Optimal Nutritional Allowance developed by Dr. Emanuel Cheraskin to maintain good health.

Vitamins

     

Fat-soluble vitamins

VITAMINWHAT IT DOESRDA/RDI/SONASYMPTOMS OF DEFICIENCYDIETARY SOURCESWHAT YOU NEED
TO KNOW
A (retinol/beta-carotene)Regulates our immune system. Helps protect against viruses & bacteria.2667/3000/12,400 IU (as retinol)
1333/1500/6,250 IU (as beta-carotene)
Measles, poor vision/night blindness, dry eyesRetinol (form of A in liver and eggs). Also found in carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and asparagus.You need Zinc to help absorb vitamin A.
D (calciferol)Helps maintain calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood. Also affects around 3,000 of our genes.200/400/20,000 IURickets, bone pain, cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, muscle weaknessSunshine, cod liver oilBesides helping to reduce bone fractures, vitamin D could help people with hearing loss.
E (tocopherol)In alpha-tocopherol form, a vital antioxidant that helps protect against several cancers. May help protect against hay fever and asthma. Works best when used with other forms of vitamin E.13.3/16.7/66.67 IUImpaired immune system, loss of physical coordination, retinopathy (acute eye damage)Vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetablesSynthetic form doesn’t work – make sure you take the natural form of alpha-tocopherol or tocotrienols
KThe K1 form helps clot blood. Also helps the healthy functioning of the kidney. The K2 form aids in bone growth and repair.75/80/NA mcgGum bleeding, easy bruising, osteoporosis and heavy menstrual bleedingDark leafy vegetables, cheese and green tea.For patients on warfarin (a blood thinner), low-dose K supplements may help stabilize the blood’s clotting factor (50-150 mcg/day)

Vitamins

     

Water-soluble vitamins

VITAMINWHAT IT DOESRDA/RDI/SONASYMPTOMS OF DEFICIENCYDIETARY SOURCESWHAT YOU NEED
TO KNOW
C (ascorbic acid)A most important antioxidant. Vital for a healthy functioning immune system. It has been shown to protect against heart disease, aids tissue growth and wound healing. Good for stress. At very high doses, may be given IV to fight cancer.80/60/750 mgSpontaneous bleeding, dry scaly skin, bleeding gums, persistent infections, gum disease, and frequent colds.Berries, broccoli, brussel sprouts, citrus fruits, peppers and cabbage.Adding a little C to your diet may help you live longer. Make sure the vitamin C you take is whole -food in origin so the assorted ascorbigens are present.
B1 (thiamine)Helps maintain calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood. Also affects around 3,000 of our genes.5/10/500 mcgRickets, bone pain, cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, muscle weaknessSunshine, cod liver oilBesides helping to reduce bone fractures, vitamin D could help people with hearing loss.
B2 (riboflavin)In alpha-tocopherol form, a vital antioxidant that helps protect against several cancers. May help protect against hay fever and asthma. Works best when used with other forms of vitamin E.12/15/60 mgImpaired immune system, loss of physical coordination, retinopathy (acute eye damage)Vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetablesSynthetic form doesn’t work – make sure you take the natural form of alpha-tocopherol or tocotrienols
B3 (niacin)The K1 form helps clot blood. Also helps the healthy functioning of the kidney. The K2 form aids in bone growth and repair.75/80/NA mcgGum bleeding, easy bruising, osteoporosis and heavy menstrual bleedingDark leafy vegetables, cheese and green tea.For patients on warfarin (a blood thinner), low-dose K supplements may help stabilize the blood’s clotting factor (50-150 mcg/day)
B6 (pyridoxine)Helps supress nausea and morning sickness in pregnancy. Keeps immune and nervous systems healthy.1.4/2/12.5 mgInability to remember dreams, cervical dysplasia, carpal tunnel syndrome, dermatitis, sore tongue and depression.Meat, beans, cereals, fish, bananas and potatoes.Important to take if you’re eating fewer calories.
B12Helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells.2.5/6/12.5 mcgCauses premature graying of hair, tingling and numbness in hands and feet, pernicious anemia , fatigue, weight loss and constipation.Miso, dairy, fish, meat and tempeh.Deficiencies are rare, even in vegetarians. Children, infants and individuals who have had portions of their stomachs removed.
B9 (folic acid or folate)Important in the development of new cells and the maintenance of old cells. Especially important in pregnancy and infancy.200/400/400 mcgRed, painful sore tongue., gum disease and cervical dysplasia.Leafy greens like spinach, dried beans, peas. cereals and grains.You should supplement along with B6, B12 and C.
B3 (Biotin)Biotin is essential for the utilization of fats and amino acids. Also helps keep skin, nails and hair healthy.50/30/75 mcgPoor skin, bad nails and hair loss.Organ meats, eggs, nuts broccoli, sweet potatoes and oatmeal.Biotin levels in the body are lowered with long-term antibiotic use.

Minerals

     
MINERALWHAT IT DOESRDA/RDI/SONASYMPTOMS OF DEFICIENCYDIETARY SOURCESWHAT YOU NEED
TO KNOW
Calcium PLays a very vital role in growth of strong bones, gums and teeth. Important for heart health.800/1000/700 mgNumbness in fingers, tetany, irregular heart beat (arrhythmia), osteoporosis, easy fractures.Dark green, leay vegetables, sardines salmon, almonds and tofu.The average women’s diet is already deficient in calcium.
PhosphorusAn essential mineral needed by every cell in our bodies. Most used in bone formation. Also plays a minor role in balancing the pH of the body.1250/1000/200 mgNo obvious symptomsMeat, fish dairy beans, almonds and eggs.If your diet is rich in protein and calcium, you should be OK.
MagnesiumImportant for steady heart rhythm. Keeps bones strong. Maintains muscle and nerve functioning.420/400/350 mgBrittle nails, PMS, persistent diarrhea, high blood pressure, light sensitivity, shaky hands, child hyperactivity.Green vegetables (spinach), nuts & seeds.You can’t get your daily requirement from any one food. Need to have multiple sources. Important to activate vitamin D.
PotassiumMaintains healthy blood pressure levels. Most predominate mineral inside our cells.NA/NA/180 mgCramps, constipation, palpitations, muscle painDried fruits, vegetables & nutsHigh doses can cause hyperkalemia (can stop the heart). Kidneys can’t cope with the high load.
ZincMaintains our sense of taste and smell. Needed for DNA synthesis. Important for wound healthy. Supports a healthy immune system.10/15/25 mgLoss of taste or appetite. Poor night vision, stretch marks, hyperactivity. Loss of taste or appetite. Poor healing, frequent colds persistent infections.Oysters, red meat, bean, nuts, whole grains and dairy are good sources of Zinc.Zinc levels are higher in the prostate than anywhere else in the body for men.
IronHelps transport oxygen through hemoglobin to all cells of the body.14/18/15 mgPale tongue, hair loss, itchy skin, brittle nails, restless legs, tires easilyMeat, fish & lentilsElevated iron levels may contribute to Parkinson’s.
CopperImportand and essential for a healthy immune system functioning.900/700/NA ugNo obvious symptoms.Organ meats, shellfish, nuts & seeds.Women who are on the pill or taking HRT can have dramatic rising of copper levels.
ManganeseImportant for wound healing.2.3/2/10 mgBone loss, slow healing wounds.Leafy vegetables, tea, nuts, whole grains & branNutritionally essential, but potentially toxic.
ChromiumImportant for healthy hearts and arteries.40/120/100 mcgCataracts, sugar cravings, low blood sugar & blood sugar swingsMeats, whole grains, bran, green beans and broccoli.Levels fall after age 40. People who die from coronary artery disease almost always have low levels of chromium.
SeleniumNeeded to protect cells from free radical damage. Important for healthy thyroid gland functioning. Supports a healthy immune system.55/70/50 mcgCancer, especially prostate, cardiomyopathy.Brazil nuts, plant foods and walnutsGI problems like Crohn’s prevents proper absorption of selenium. Whole food selenium works best.
IodineNecessary for healthy thyroid functioning150/150/125 mcgGoiter (swelling of thyroid), hypothyroidismSeafood, wakame, seaweedIodine deficiency most common cause of preventable brain damage

ACIDS

     

Non-Essential Fatty Acids

ACIDWHAT IT DOESRDA/RDI/SONASYMPTOMS OF DEFICIENCYDIETARY SOURCESWHAT YOU NEED
TO KNOW
Co-Enzyme Q10Important to convert nutrients into energy. Helps normalize blood pressure. Improves exercise tolerance. Increases general immunity.NA/NA/NAPoor heart function. Lack of stamina.Sardines, mackerel, pork, walnuts and spinachPeople with Lyme disease need up to 300mg of CoQ10 daily.

 

     

Essential Fatty Acids

ACIDWHAT IT DOESRDA/RDI/SONASYMPTOMS OF DEFICIENCYDIETARY SOURCESWHAT YOU NEED
TO KNOW
Omega-3 Fatty Acid
EPA/DHA
Helps prevent heart and artery disease by keeping blood triglycerides in check. Has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.NA/NA/NAInflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s and rheumatoid arthritis.Cold, oily fish, cod liver oil.Helps balance Omega-6 intake from vegetable oil. Imbalance linked to inflammation, schizophrenia and asthma
Omega-6 Fatty Acid
Evening primrose oil (GLA)
Converted by the body into prostaglandin E1 which has some anti-inflammatory effects on the body. May help thin the blood and dilate blood vessels.NA/NA/NARA, elevated cholesterol levels, itchy skin, eczema and even PMSPolyunsaturated fats (vegetable oil)Try to consume 2 units of omega-3 for every 1 unit of omega 6. The Standard American Diet is closer to 25 units to 1.

What other factors can create deficiencies?

Most healthcare professionals, including physicians, don’t realize that pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for medical conditions can also create nutritional deficiencies. When patients develop symptoms while on medications, they sometimes return to their physicians  and are sometimes given additional medications for the symptoms. The deficiencies are not corrected. These deficiencies and the common medications that cause them are detailed in a previous blog, Drug-induced nutritional deficiencies.