June 26, 2012
Vitamin Deficiencies Widespread Across Europe and U.S.
Vitamin deficiencies causes many different types of symptoms and illnesses. We generally assume that these types of deficiencies are confined to third world and underdeveloped nations. However contrary to popular beliefs, this is not the case. Writing in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers reveal that despite the wide range of foods available, many developed countries -- including Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the USA -- suffer from 'widespread' vitamin inadequacies in the population.
Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer, senior vice-president for nutrition and science advocacy at DSM revealed that the research is built on publically available data, which was then analysed and visualised using a traffic light scoring system.
"I think that for the first time there is now comparative data which can differentiate between vitamin status in different countries in a visual way," said Eggersdorfer - who said he believes the traffic light system is an 'excellent tool' for visualising and communicating the sometimes stark differences between what is recommended for intake and what is actually achieved.
Research findings have emphasized the fact that vitamins are essential and indispensable constituents of food for maintaining health. Further, for providing protections from certain maladies intakes of many vitamins need to be much higher. If foods consumed are deficient, the vitamins must be obtained from some other sources such as vitamin supplements. The information however has yet to impact the life of a common man in developing countries. The intake of vitamins depends on three factors:
(1) Information about the roles that vitamins play in maintaining health
(2) Easy access to the desired types of food and supplements
(3) Ability to afford the foods and supplements.
It is common knowledge that all these factors militate against using the right types of foods and vitamin supplements by a very large segment of population in developing countries. One would therefore expect that the morbidity (ill health) and mortality caused by vitamin deficiency to be commonplace in these countries.
The DSM expert said the results show the need for a "call to action" on the topic of vitamin intakes, arguing that government bodies and policy makers need to help the public realise the right balance when it comes to dietary intake, fortification, and supplementation.
"We want scientists to engage with regulatory bodies and policy makers so that we can try to get the best recommendations for intakes."
A red light was assigned where more than 75% of the population has an intake status lower than the nationally recommended level. The results show that in Germany, the UK and the USA, Vitamin D has a red light status, indicating that at least three quarters of the population have a poor vitamin D intake, and are not meeting recommended intakes.
Vitamin D is vital to bone health and muscle strength, and it can reduce the risk of falls and fractures linked to Osteoporosis by 20%. It is also essential for children in the prevention of rickets.
Vitamin E was also branded with a red light in the UK and the USA, indicating that more can be done in these countries to raise intake levels to those recommended by national public health experts.
Vitamin B9 (folate), which is especially important for pregnant women, was given a red light in Germany; Vitamin A also received a red light in the USA.
Of the countries monitored, the Netherlands fared best, with fewer red lights than Germany, the UK and the USA. The variation between countries is most likely due to differences in recommendations, levels of fortification, and local dietary habits.
2012 is the 100 year anniversary of vitamins, and although diets have improved overall during this time, this research highlights that population-wide vitamin intake inadequacies still exist even in the Western World where plenty of food is available.
In recent decades, changing diets and lifestyles, and a shift towards fast or convenience foods with a lower density of vitamins and minerals, may be one of the factors involved. It is possible that many people who do not receive the recommended intakes are not aware of their deficiencies.
In 1912, Polish biochemist Casimir Funk coined the term 'vitamine' to define vital organic compounds that helped to prevent conditions such as beriberi and scurvy -- and with it modern micronutrient science was born. Since then, researchers have identified and characterized a wide range of vitamins -- 13 in total -- with a range of functions at both a molecular and a cellular level, all playing an important role in human health.
"Vitamins play a vital role in the diet, delivering long term benefits to health, and yet this research highlights that 100 years after their discovery there are still major gaps that urgently need closing - to improve people's long term health and to drive down healthcare costs," said Eggersdorfer.
"We know inadequate intake of vitamins does have an effect on long-term health, especially in terms of nutrition related diseases such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes."
"Sufficient intake will support lowering the risk of these non-communicable diseases and aid healthy aging."
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.