Blame it on your busy life, stress levels, kids and/or even society’s pressure for women to be stick-thin, superheroes that can do it all in a day. Blame it on whatever or whomever you want, but when you’re having a preventable, major medical emergency, none of that matters. You instantly realize that you are, and always have been, the one person who is left with your choices, whether they are active or habitual.
Yowza. That’s a dose of reality to start things off.
I’m of the philosophy that you’ll continue to be presented with a lesson until you learn from it. Active self-care was a lesson I have taught for years, as well as continued to retake many times, albeit at an advanced level each time. Scored my Ph.D. at the School of Hard Knocks.
One of teachers and co-instructors for many years was my first acupuncturist, Dr. Stacy David of Peak Oriental Wellness. I scheduled my first appointment with her for seasonal allergies relief. I left my appointment without seasonal allergies for over a year and without the constant arthritic pain I’d known for 20 years. It would be another 9 months after that appointment before my joint pain returned.
The question in my mind instantly became, “if acupuncture works this well, then why doesn’t everyone get it for all their health problems?”
Stacy has noticed that a client’s nutritional status affects the outcome of their acupuncture appointments. As a nutritionist who practices what she preaches because I genuinely love healthy foods, Stacy said that my drastic results were exemplary, but not the norm. In fact, I was an outlier to the normal results. The better nourished the patient, the more they get out of their acupuncture appointments.
Over the years we discussed nutrition as it related to our clienteles, friends, family and selves. We saw a very clear pattern in the deficiencies women have and how that affects both their health and lives. We also saw the amazing benefits to their lives when they got their nutrition on track by eating healthy foods rich in these nutrients.
At that time I was practicing as a nutritionist is Casper, Wyoming. Over the years I began to notice patterns amongst my clients, who were mostly women. I saw that the most common nutrient deficiencies in women were minerals, interestingly enough. Iron may make the mainstream health education most often, and for good reasons, but it was one of four mineral deficiencies I saw time and time again in women: calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.
Whoa Nelly! Now stop right there. Finish this article before you even think about ordering a supplement. Let’s dig deep to find the root cause, as well as the signs, symptoms and best of all benefits of getting those nutrients from food.
For the most part when the word calcium comes up we think 3 things:
- I’m not getting enough.
- Calcium comes from dairy.
- Calcium is for bones.
But there is far more to this mineral than those 3 things. I recently got a review lesson on calcium and self-care. For months I struggled with painful joints, bones and muscles during my yoga practice, despite the fact that the meditation, spirituality and consistency components of my practice were going better than ever. Then in a Universal moment of “everything for a reason” I started working on an article about calcium that brought everything full circle.
Like many women, I limit my dairy consumption. For me it’s because dairy breaks out my skin, lowers my energy and upsets my stomach. Without even thinking about calcium, I switched to organic coconut milk with the ingredient panel that read only organic coconut and filtered water. The only dairy that I would get was on a rare occasion sprinkled on a salad or on my tacos – so I was getting an ounce or two of dairy every Tuesday. Ha! (I live for Taco Tuesday.)
In writing the article I rediscovered/remembered all the wonderful things that calcium does. It’s been a bit more than a quick minute since I’ve been in my nutrition college courses. As soon as I jotted down some notes about calcium’s role in muscle contraction/relaxation a huge, metaphorical light bulb clicked on above my head! I knew that I hadn’t been getting enough calcium for months.
I immediately took my work to heart. I took the very calcium rich food list I had made for people to download, printed it out and took it to the grocery store. While it’ll be a cold day in Hades before I purchase canned fish, I made a note of enjoying recipes that include them when I’m out to eat. Hello Caesar dressing and olive tapenade!
I basically grabbed one of everything else on the list and started eating them as snacks and creating recipes I also did some deep research on calcium supplements and discovered a plant based calcium supplement that works for me. It contains all the nutrients I need to absorb and utilize my calcium and because it’s plant based, it won’t have the detrimental effects of poor quality calcium supplements.
Within a few weeks I had a magical ‘aha’ moment when I was able to bend my knees during my yoga practice for the first time in months. My entire practice physically went deeper than it ever had. All because I had given my joints, bones and muscles the nutrient they desperately needed.
Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) affects over 2 billion people worldwide! YOWZA! That is a huge number. Unless you have one of the few genetic conditions that causes lifelong iron deficiency anemia, such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, IDA can be resolved through diet, and in extreme cases supplementation per your healthcare provider’s recommendation.
Unless need be, iron supplementation is generally not the way to go as supplements can cause severe gastric distress and constipation. Your healthcare provider can direct you to or prescribe a supplement that doesn’t have these effects.
In 8 years that I practiced nutrition, countless women I saw had IDA and accepted it as who they were. IDA is a deficiency that drains your quality of life as the signs and symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, hair loss, pallor (pale appearance), dark circles under your eyes, impaired immune system, delayed wound healing, irritability and impaired thought process.
Eating iron rich foods on a consistent basis, paired with foods rich in vitamins A and C can amend an iron deficiency. What’s super cool is that since the body really needs iron, when you’re deficient, your cells create more iron receptors to increase your iron absorption. That’s why one of the clinical biomarkers for IDA is having an increased Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) on your bloodwork.
In all the years I practiced nutrition, I only had 23 clients without a magnesium deficiency. That’s because magnesium is found in seeds, nuts and beans: foods that Americans don’t generally gravitate towards. What’s worse is magnesium is needed for over 300 functions in the human body ranging from nerve functions to bone health.
Hold you horses before you reach for a supplement. If you’ve ever had a colonoscopy you’ve been given a bottle of magnesium citrate by your doc to ‘clean you out’ before the procedure. It comes with instructions not to leave the house for 24 hours dues to its efficacy. Glad you didn’t order a magnesium supplement before you knew that?
Magnesium is an electrolyte and a sudden influx is going to cause a host of issues, inclusive of, but not limited to, diarrhea. If you want a supplement see your healthcare provider to get the correct form that’s not going to leave you feeling miserable. In the meantime, make consuming seeds, nuts and beans a daily habit for the rest of your life. If you’re allergic to one of those categories of foods, try the others. Get creative with seeds: bananas, raspberries, strawberries, zucchini and cucumbers all have edibles seeds.
Potassium is a major electrolyte used to pump your heart, amongst other things. Do not take a supplement unless your healthcare provider prescribes one for you – no exceptions. Improper supplementation can cause heart problems, as well as the same issues as improper magnesium supplementation.
Potassium is needed for healthy blood pressure, as well as healthy muscles as a whole. Because we need it for important functions, it’s found readily in nature in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
This deficiency can be easy to spot. A big sign of chronic potassium deficiency is an overwhelming craving for something sweet, bready or crunchy. Before processed foods or even agriculture, if you wanted something sweet, bready and/or crunchy your only options in nature to satiate those cravings were fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
In today’s food supply, if you’re craving sweet, bready and/or crunchy you’re in trouble because your options are a bevy of potassiumless foods like cakes, breads, cookies and chips. If you’re fighting a sweet tooth, your best ally maybe eating a bowl of organic berries and bananas instead of a candy bar. Consistently eating potassium rich foods is great for your health and can finally help you cure that darn sweet tooth!
Bringing It Home
In nature, no nutrient travels alone. Eating foods rich in calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium can have tremendous positive effects on your body and mind. As Stacy Davis has pointed out it can make your help you get more out of your health treatments. Furthermore, when you’re feeling better and thinking better, you’re going to get more out of your day. All of which translates to better job performance, better human interactions and more joy. Now that’s a beautiful life lesson.
Sheila Amir is the Sheila of NutritionSheila.com, a swell website loaded with nutrition, health and wellness information sprinkled with wit.