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Star Bulletin Alan Titchenal & Joannie Dobbs Health Options
Alan Titchenal
 & Joannie Dobbs
                       Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Physical woes can indicate a lack of certain nutrients

Too often we take better care of our cars than our bodies. Possibly part of the reason is that our vehicles have gauges with warning lights to let us know when we need to add gas or oil or a part is about to fail. This visual warning helps us take precautionary actions that prevent the problem from occurring.

Humans have other types of warning signals that many people ignore or don't realize their significance. It's not surprising that we know more about maintaining our cars than our own health.

However, if you know what to look for, it is possible to identify when your body might be running low on an essential nutrient.

QUESTION: Do we have any gauge comparable to a fuel gauge or a warning light when a nutrient is running low?

ANSWER: Not exactly. The closest we get to fuel gauges are our senses of thirst and hunger. However, even the sense of thirst can fail under extreme heat and exercise conditions, as well as when people get older. Hunger and appetite also have their limitations, resulting in a strong tendency to overfill the fuel tank -- especially when high-calorie delicious foods are readily available.

One of the few nutrients that research has documented as having the equivalent of a fuel gauge is sodium. When sodium in our body is too low, we crave salt. The sensitivity of this gauge can also fail when individuals consume a diet too low in sodium for too long.

Q: Are there warning signs for specific nutrient deficiencies before a full deficiency causes health issues?

A: Yes, there are many indicators in the body that link to potential nutrient deficiencies.

Here are a few of the more common examples:

>> You fatigue easily, have episodes of dizziness, feel depressed, have difficulty concentrating, notice that your fingernails are flattening out and developing ridges, your hair is thinning and falling out easily or you really desire to chew on ice. These are a few of the possible signs of iron deficiency, the most common mineral deficiency in humans. Some of these signs could have other causes, but if several of them are present, you might have an iron deficiency.

>> You are feeling weak and tired more than usual, feel numbness and tingling in your fingers and toes, are having mood changes and may be depressed, or are experiencing memory loss and disorientation. A potential nutrient deficiency associated with these symptoms is vitamin B12. Again, which symptoms appear can vary from one person to another.

>> If your diet has been too low in fruits and vegetables, you could be running low on vitamin C. This could result in sore joints, bruising easily and gums that bleed during tooth brushing. These are some of the classic signs of vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy.

>> You have a sweet tooth that won't stop. Your feet and ankles seem to swell with fluid during the day. Maybe you have even been diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. These are potential indicators of protein deficiency.

These are just some of the more common nutritional problems people experience. The bottom line is that appropriate daily maintenance with a balance of wholesome foods from each of the major food groups is the best way to care for your body.

It is simpler to prevent problems than to try to decipher what nutrient is running short.


Alan Titchenal, PhD, CNS and Joannie Dobbs, PhD, CNS
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Services.

© 2013 Honolulu Star-Advertiser --

Human Nutrition, Food & Animal Sciences · University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
1955 East-West Road · Honolulu, HI 96822
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