Seven nutrient deficiencies common in women

There can be many reasons why women develop nutrient deficiencies - an improper diet, hectic schedule, and even a lack of knowledge about what constitutes a healthy diet. A balanced and healthy diet can help them tackle common nutrient deficiencies easily. Read ahead as we tell how to manage common deficiencies through a healthy diet.

Iron
Iron is a trace element. It’s the largest component of red blood cells and binds with haemoglobin and transports oxygen to the cells. Iron deficiency is more prevalent in women due to menstruation. It is also common amongst vegetarians. It may cause anaemia, fatigue, weakened immune system, light-headedness, dizziness, headaches and impaired brain function—signs like skin pallor, pale conjunctiva and thin concave nails with raised edges.

The food sources of iron are Red meat, shellfish, Rajma (kidney beans), lentils, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews and dark leafy greens such as spinach. Animal sources provide the most bioavailable iron. Plant sources are more difficult to break down. Adding vitamin C foods alongside with iron-rich foods can enhance iron absorption, for example adding lime to iron-rich foods.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is called the sunshine vitamin and is essential for overall health ranging from healthy hair, healthy bones and hormone health, including fertility. Deficiency symptoms are muscle weakness and bone loss. The deficiency contributes to calcium deficiency resulting in an increased risk of fractures. A healthy diet for women consisting of vitamin D rich sources like fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, egg yolks and natural sunlight would be beneficial. Having said that it would be a good idea to check blood work for vitamin D3 frequently and consume supplements, especially if you are a vegetarian.

Calcium
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It mineralises bone and teeth, is required for intracellular signalling, neurotransmission, muscle contraction, may also have a preventive role in weight management and a protective roll in polycystic ovarian syndrome. The main symptom of this deficiency is an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life, especially with multiple pregnancies seen in women. The dietary sources of calcium are dairy foods, almonds, beans, dark green vegetables.

Vitamin B12
B12 is required for proper neurological function and red blood cell formation. This vitamin is only found in natural form in animal products. Vegetarians and vegans are advised to take B12 supplements. Deficiency is common due to not enough B12 in the diet, inability to absorb B12 due to lack of intrinsic factor responsible for its absorption and particularly in people on acid- blocker medication and people with inflammation in the small bowel. Few deficiency signs are lemon-yellow tint to the skin and eyes and smooth, red, thickened tongue. The dietary sources of B12 are salmon, lamb, and eggs.

Protein
Protein is an important macronutrient, also known as building blocks of muscles. Hair, skin and nails are made of protein, and most importantly the high quality and adequate protein is imperative for the creation of the best hormones in the body resulting in better performance, productivity and overall well-being. Signs of deficiency are patchy brown skin on cheeks, atopy and loss of muscle mass. A balanced diet comprising of adequate protein would be beneficial. Dietary sources of protein are legumes, eggs, cottage cheese, curd, chicken, fish, nuts and seeds.

Magnesium
Magnesium is involved in many enzymatic reactions, is a major constituent of bones and is a part of the cell membranes. Being present in smooth muscles facilitates the contraction as well as relaxation of muscles and helps to reduce muscle cramps. Signs of deficiency include abnormal heart rhythm, muscle cramps, tremors, restless leg syndrome, fatigue, migraine, and tetany and personality changes. The dietary sources of magnesium are beans, nuts and sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Iodine
Iodine is a trace essential that is necessary for normal thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones. Deficiency can impair fetal and childhood growth. The most common symptom of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland known as goitre. The dietary sources of iodine are strawberries, eggs, fish, dairy and baked potatoes which include skin.