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Widespread nutrient deficiencies among younger adults can harm their fertility and cause them to age faster

Widespread nutrient deficiencies among younger adults can harm their fertility and cause them to age fasterLarge population studies of adults and their diet habits often tend to overlook certain groups such as younger adults. A British study therefore took a closer look at eating habits of adults in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. It revealed a widespread lack of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, iodine, zinc, and selenium. Being deficient in these essential nutrients can harm your fertility and increase your risk of different diseases, while speeding up concealed ageing processes such as loss of cognition and bone mass.

Classic deficiency diseases such as scurvy, beriberi, and rickets are pretty much a thing of the past. Still, many people are partially deficient in one or several nutrients, and that can easily affect their health in different ways by causing involuntary infertility, disease, premature ageing, and shorter lifespan.
An estimated one billion people worldwide are believed to lack essential nutrients, and we are not just talking about people in underdeveloped countries. Even people in places like Great Britain, the United States, Germany and Denmark are affected. The agricultural soil in these parts of the world are depleted of various nutrients, the staples are over-refined, and diets have changed, which means that we consume an ever increasing amount empty calories from various sources.
There is good reason to believe that being deficient in one or several nutrients may have serious consequences and could eventually contribute to the development of diabetes, thyroid disorders, neurological diseases, cancer, and many other ailments that are common in our part of the world. It can be rather tricky to identify these health problems compared to classic nutrients deficiencies that are normally caused by a deficiency of a single nutrient.

Why is it so important to get enough vitamins and minerals – throughout life?

We humans make our own energy from energy-providing nutrients such as fat, carbohydrate, and protein. In order for cells to be able to produce the energy, they need vitamins and minerals to fuel a host of different enzyme processes. Vitamins and minerals are important for growth, bones, the nervous system, cognitive skills, the hormone system, the immune system, and for reproduction. Different vitamins and minerals also function as important antioxidants that protect the body’s cells against oxidative damage and carcinogens. Many of the different vitamins and minerals also work in synergy, which is why it is important to consume them in the right balance.

WHO describes vitamins and minerals as magic wands that help the body produce enzymes and hormones for growth and development.

Dietary guidelines and food surveys overlook the younger adults

In terms of daily recommendations for vitamins and minerals and studies of adult nutrient consumption, adults are normally viewed as one big group. According to the official English recommendations for nutrient intake (Reference Nutrient Intake, or RNI), the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals apply to people aged 19-64 years. In the United States, the official recommendations (NHANES) apply to adults older than 20 years. In Denmark, there is the Reference Intake (RI) for adults and children from the age of 11 years. Some studies have focused on the diet habits of people in the age group 46-64 years, while no studies have looked at the diet habits of people in their twenties and thirties

How a new study revealed diet habits in different age groups

In the new British study, researchers looked at data from earlier studies conducted in the period between 2008 and 2014. The studies included a total of 3,238 adults from Great Britain (England, Norther Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) that had kept track of their daily eating and drinking habits during weekdays and on weekends. The study did not include possible use of nutritional supplements.
The daily notes about food consumption were accompanied by photos of small, mid-size, and large portions. The information about food and beverage consumption of each participant was plotted into a system (DINO) that calculated the nutrient content. Afterwards, these amounts were held up against the official recommendations for nutrient intake (RNI) and the lower reference nutrient intake level (LRNI). No data was provided for vitamin E and for vitamin D, which we primarily get from the sun. The participants were divided by gender and into the following age groups: 20-29 years, 30-39 years, 40-49 years, and 50-59 years.

The study revealed the following deficiencies and large differences with reference to sex and age

  • 19% of people in their twenties had magnesium intakes below the minimal intake level.
  • Women got significantly less vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and iodine than men did.
  • People in their twenties got too little vitamin A, vitamin B2, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, and copper was too low, and they got significantly less than people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.
  • 50.3 percent of women got less than the lowest recommended level of selenium, while the same was the case for 25.8 percent of men.
  • Around 25 percent of women were below the lower limit with respect to their iron and potassium intake.
  • The average intake of magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, and copper among men in the age group 20-59 years was below the official recommendations.

The diets of youngsters affects their health for the rest of their lives

As seen, there is a widespread lack of vitamin A, vitamin B2, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, zinc, and selenium. Apparently, young people in their twenties also eat a less healthy diet compared with those who are older, and women are more likely to lack nutrients such as iron because of their menstrual periods, because of consuming less meat, and because of other unknown factors.
The results of this study give rise for concern for different reasons. A sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals is not only important for fertility, it is also essential for a healthy pregnancy and for normal development of the fetus. Also, getting enough vitamins and minerals in early adulthood helps strengthen the body, it prevents various diseases, it can postpone ageing processes, and it can prevent early death.
For example, scientists have observed that certain psychological aspects of cognitive decline can set in as early as at the age of 18, which means that healthy adults can show signs of impaired memory and coordination when they are in their thirties.
It is a known fact that our bones start to lose their strength when we are around 35 years of age, and that our skin becomes increasingly saggy. The ageing process affects us in many different ways and perhaps even sooner than most people expect. Science therefore advises us to make sure to get the nutrients we need in optimal amounts, as this is a sound investment in youthfulness and good health.

Why nutrient deficiencies are detrimental in the long run

When the body lacks one or several vitamins and minerals, it shifts its priorities and makes sure to allocate the necessary nutrients to energy turnover and vital organs before anything else. This means that may not be enough vitamins and minerals to undertake functions such as protecting cells and tissues and the cardiovascular system. Eventually, there is an increased risk of infections, hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, rheumatism, blood clots, osteoporosis, cancer, dementia, depression, and other ailments.


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University of Bristol. Magnesium could prevent fractures, say researchers. ScienceDaily 2017

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A. Hata et al. Magnesium intake decreases Type 2 diabetes risk through the improvement of insulin resistance and inflammation: The Hisayama study. Diabetic Medicine 2013

Jefferys Amanda et al. Thyroid dysfunction and reproductive health. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. 2015

Hagemann-Jensen Michael et al. The Selenium Metabolite Methylselenol Regulates the Expression of Ligands That Trigger Immune Activation through the Lymphocyte Receptor NKG2D. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2014.

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