Officials: Chronic deficiency may lead to chronic disease – The Exponent Telegram (press release) (registration)
CLARKSBURG — The standard American diet is blamed for rampant diseases like diabetes and heart disease for its abundance of carbohydrates and fat. But, dietitians consider that all those issues are exacerbated by what it lacks: vitamins, minerals and fiber.
“Osteoporosis, fractures, osteopoenia, hypertension or diabetes — all these chronic diseases of old age could possibly be alleviated through better nutrition,” said Judy Siebart, registered dietitian and diabetes educator for West Virginia University Medicine’s Clark K. Sleeth Family Medicine Center.
For the deficiencies inherent in the standard American diet, especially magnesium, fiber, water and sunshine for vitamin D, Siebart simply calls this number of deficiencies malnourishment.
Research is showing that problems caused by vitamin deficiency are much more broad than previously thought, she said, potentially contributing to immune deficiencies, breathing issues and other health issues.
Dr. Mollie Cecil, family physician for West Virginia University Medicine, also stated that vitamin needs, especially concerning vitamin D, are still not understood.
“We know for sure that elderly people, people over the age of 65 with vitamin D levels that are not optimal, they’re more likely to fall,” Cecil said.
However, she said the reason for that is not fully understood.
Cecil said recent research shows deficiency in vitamin D can lead to preeclampsia in pregnant women.
“With pregnant women, we’re still trying to find out exactly what that level is,” Cecil added.
However, deficiency is very subtle, Siebart said, noting a distinction between overt deficiency and chronic, suboptimal deficiency.
“Do you know anyone who has scurvy?” she asked. “I don’t see scurvy or rickets.”
Because people do not present with symptoms of a serious deficiency — nausea, vomiting and poor appetite for example — which is rare, she said many people believe they are fine.
“I think it’s a suboptimal level of these vitamins and minerals may cause a host of things that we’re just discovering,” she said.
These chronic suboptimal deficiencies, she said, wreak havoc on our bodies in ways we’re just discovering.
“Today’s diet is not even slowly killing us; it’s killing us rather quickly,” she said.
The standard American diet requires minimal effort for convenient, cheap and heavily processed foods designed to be irresistibly appealing, she said.
“They have people engineering foods that make our brains light up,” she said. “Brussels sprouts really don’t do that to you.”
The western diet is full of refined grains, which Siebart said has all the bran and germ — where the fiber and magnesium are — milled away.
“White bread is nothing but this gooey carboyhdrate that spikes your sugar and your insulin,” Siebart said.
However, to combat deficiency, Siebart does not generally recommend a multivitamin or mineral supplements.
Suzanne Grossman, registered dietitian for United Hospital Center’s Outpatient Clinic, also advised against certain supplements.
“If you don’t feel like you get enough sunlight, it is not necessarily a good idea to self-prescribe over-the-counter vitamin D supplements because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin,” Grossman said. “This means it is not excreted, but stored in body tissue, which can lead to increased levels that are unhealthy and can cause health consequences.”
“On average, just try to get everything you need from food first,” Siebart said.
Good sources of fiber are oats, barley, legumes, fruits and vegetables, Grossman added.
“Insoluble fiber is important for digestive health because it increases stool bulk. Good sources are whole wheat products, bran, nuts, legumes and certain vegetables. Most plants contain both types of fiber, so it’s important to eat a wide variety of these high-fiber sources.”
A lack of fiber may also cause issues with cholesterol because it carries cholesterol out of the body, Cecil said.
For magnesium, Grossman said leafy green vegetables, legumes and nuts are good sources.
Although milk and yogurt contain some amount of vitamin D, she said the primary source for humans is sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes.