IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians

Nutrients: Essential for Life

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March 15, 2019

Are you getting what you need?

Slightly trembling fingers, sudden loss of weight, inability to concentrate, tiredness — these could be signals from your body that something is missing. Specifically, it could mean that your body doesn’t have the nutrients it needs to function properly.

“A nutrient is a substance which humans need to live and grow,” said IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians provider Shaina Schochat, MD. “Essential nutrients by definition must come from food because a human body either cannot synthesize the substance on its own, or can’t get enough quantities needed for life functions.”

The problem could be absorption, or it could also be that the individual isn’t eating a balanced diet. A person’s diet needs to be individualized.

“The biggest issue we see, nutrition wise, is really lack of awareness of the types of food people eat,” said IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians provider Amar Pinto, MD.

Key Nutrients

“There’s not a magic diet; it’s important to just incorporate a balanced set of foods into your diet,” said Schochat. “Plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and avoidance of processed foods will generally provide the best results.”

“I recommend my patients eat more natural foods, less processed foods,” said Pinto. “For me, it makes sense that the less additives you have in your food, the better it is.”

Some of the main nutrients needed are calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, protein, iron and vitamin B12.

These nutrients are all necessary to make sure the body is performing as it should. For example, a person’s blood and body tissues need protein and iron to perform as they should.

“Protein is needed to build and repair tissues in the body. Protein is also used to create enzymes, hormones and chemicals in the body,” said Schochat. “Iron is used in red blood cells – it helps transport oxygen to all the cells.”

Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health. Calcium also helps a person’s neuromuscular and cardiac functions while vitamin D supports the immune system and inflammation reduction.

One lesser-known essential nutrient is vitamin B12.

“This is important for the formation of blood and nerve function,” said Pinto. “So typically people with B12 deficiency are anemic and their nerve function is somewhat poor ... it’s also important for other metabolic functions.”

Deficiencies in Nutrients

“We can become deficient in nutrients either from inadequate dietary intakes or as a consequence of various disease processes,” said Schochat. “For example, there are certain conditions in which we do not absorb nutrients properly from the gut and can become deficient in various nutrients as a result of that disease process.”

These deficiencies can be a symptom of a larger health issue including diverticulosis, celiac disease or fatty liver. Dietary supplements and other medical intervention may be necessary for individuals due to their health issues.

Work with a Team

The human body needs help in order to perform at its best. Working with a primary care provider or other healthcare professional is important for people dealing with nutritional issues. But for the average person, key nutrients can be obtained by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Sometimes additional help may be needed in the form of a specialized diet, supplements or medical intervention.

“I would say it’s better to get checked out sooner rather than later. Sometimes the symptoms are subtle. Sometimes they can be dramatic. As a general rule, if you’re feeling out of the ordinary, see your doctor,” said Schochat.

Pinto said to talk to a doctor, “If you think that there’s something going on that you don’t understand.”

Some of the signals include:

  • Spontaneous weight loss, especially when digestive symptoms are included.
  • Anemia, or low blood count.
  • A strong family history of problems.
  • Symptoms that interrupt sleep.

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