Dr. Harris finishes the six root causes of chronic disease with nutrient deficiencies. A 2019 study found that 10% of Americans (32 million people) have severe nutrient deficiencies that can cause or worsen chronic disease. This is worsened by new nutrition trends such as keto, veganism, and carnivorism. Learn how your nutrition plan may be causing nutrient issues and how you can plug those gaps.
Lifestyle Medicine with Dr. Harris
Join me, Dr. Richard Harris, as we strive to unlock the secrets of the human body, strive for wellness, Strive For Great Health. Follow the show on iTunes, Spotify, Google and Android, and Patreon.
Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Strive For Great Health podcast, and we’re going to be talking about the last of the six root causes of chronic disease, nutrient deficiencies. So when I talk about nutrients, what do I actually mean? And I’m talking about vitamins, minerals and other beneficial food based molecules. So this could be anything from B12 to folate to trace minerals like boron or zinc, and then other what we call Phytonutrients, meaning plant-based molecules. So these can be antioxidants and even things like turmeric and resveratrol, which are molecules from plants that we know have beneficial effects. So that’s what I mean by nutrients in general.
So nutrient deficiencies actually are not that uncommon anymore. Article that came out last year estimated that about 10% of the US population had severe nutrient deficiencies. That’s almost 30 million people who have nutrient deficiencies, and we know that certain nutrient deficiencies can be the root cause of chronic disease and can worsen any chronic disease that’s already there, so why are nutrient deficiencies so common in this day and age? The number one cause is processed foods.
You’ve heard me say that the American diet usually has about 60% to 65% of its intake of calories from ultra processed or highly processed foods. These foods are devoid of nutrients. The reason for that, the processing, using the chemicals to augment and increase the stability of these foods destroys all the nutrients that are inside. So a lot of them get destroyed in the processing, destroyed in the heat process or the chemical process of making the foods, then what happens is a lot of times they’ll start to add back in certain nutrients.
That’s why you see like these vitamin fortified cereals, right? Because the actual nutrients that are in the grains are destroyed in the processing of the cereals. So when you’re eating a high amount of processed foods, you’re getting a lot of calories, but you’re getting very little nutrients. So that’s why you can eat and eat and eat and eat processed foods and start gaining weight because your body is enough calories, but it’s not getting enough nutrients. And it would be great if your body could tell you, “Hey, I need some B12, go eat a steak,” but it doesn’t do that. It gives you cravings. It says, “I’m hungry, eat, eat, eat.” So you can eat a lot of calories, but then be very nutrient poor.
Another common reason for nutrient deficiencies is dysbiosis. If you listened to the second podcast, the dysbiosis podcast, what happens when the bacteria in your gut gets out of whack is the absorption of nutrients changes. So the bacteria actually help us out a ton. One of the ways they help us is by helping us digest certain foods. By also taking some of the things that we eat, like fiber and turning into something beneficial called short chain fatty acids. The number one, one is butyrate. Butyrate has amazing effects for the gut, trophic, it helps heal the gut, it decreases inflammation it helps feed ourselves.
So if your gut bacteria aren’t right, you’re not going to be absorbing and digesting nutrients correctly. Of course like anything else, there could be genetic abnormalities. Some people just aren’t able to absorb certain nutrients. One of the most common ones is a certain form of B12 deficiency. You are missing something called intrinsic factor, and intrinsic factor is how the stomach absorbs B12. So if you’re missing that factor, and this is a genetic thing, for the most part, it can be acquired if you have a lot of other immune problems or autoimmune disease, you can have problems with B12 absorption.
For instance, myself, I have a lot of genetic abnormalities and some of the genetic abnormalities I have are in enzymes that process the way certain foods are digested or the way certain fats are transported. So my supplement regimen is augmented based upon what my genetic deficiencies are as far as nutrient transport.
Soil depletion. This is a big cause of nutrient deficiencies, and if you look at the studies, some studies estimate that about 80% of people are magnesium deficient. And the reason for that is soil depletion. So yeah, based upon the law of conservation of matter, I’m going to get all physicsy on it for a minute, matter cannot be created or destroyed, right? It can be transferred, right? So you have to think there’s, what, how many people on this earth now, 7 billion people on the planet, right?
So all these trace minerals that used to be in the earth, where are they now? In people. So the soil itself is not as healthy. Our farming practices overall are not as healthy and help regrow nutrients in the soil. So even the vegetables and the fruits and things that we eat from the earth that are still very healthy and that we need aren’t as healthy as they were in our ancestor times. So it’s not inconceivable to think about a future where we have to supplement even the vegetables and the fruits we eat, augment them minerals and vitamins just because they’re not in the ground anymore.
And then another common cause of nutrient deficiencies, and this is what I’ll talk about later on the back end, is the nutrition plans that we eat. Any plan where you’re limiting or completely excluding an entire category of food can cause severe nutrient deficiencies. The most common of these that I see are carnivore and vegan, because you’re categorically excluding an entire class of foods. And even with Keto, you can still have some nutrient deficiencies, and we’ll talk about that on the back end of this talk.
So what are some common nutrient deficiencies? Again, I talked about magnesium because of soil depletion, zinc, B vitamins, antioxidants, and that’s usually what we call like flavanols and polyphenols. That’s usually because of the high processed food intake. The B vitamin intake is partially because of medications that people may be on. There’s a lot of medications that can deplete B vitamins. Birth control is one. Metformin is another. Zinc deficiencies, and the zinc deficiencies, usually not due to an intake issue. It’s because there’s a lot of inflammation. If you have a lot of inflammation in the body, zinc levels tend to drop because we’re using that zinc to fight off the inflammation, and copper levels increase.
You can also get zinc deficiencies when you’re not eating a lot of meat. Then the magnesium deficiency I talked about because of soil depletion. Omega-3 fatty acids. This is usually because of we don’t eat enough fish, and that’s enough cold water, fatty fish like salmon, halibut, Cod. Those things aren’t typically part of a lot of our diets, especially here in the US.
Potassium is another mineral that a lot of us don’t get enough of. The government recommends that we get 4,600 milligrams of potassium. If you talk to the functional medicine people, they recommend 2,600 to 3,400 milligrams of potassium a day. A lot of whole foods are nutritious and high in potassium. Avocados, sweet potatoes are another, dark chocolate, but the problem, why most of us are deficient in potassium again, is because of that 65% of our intake is processed foods.
Vitamin D is another very common nutrient deficiency. We don’t get enough sunlight, right? We don’t play outside anymore. And when we do, we’re using sunscreen and sunblock, that it blocks the sunlight actually penetrating our skin, getting to our cells, and then causing the vitamin D cascade to activate. We need sunlight to hit our skin to activate vitamin D, then it gets taken to the liver, then the kidneys, and then it’s the active form of vitamin D. So vitamin D deficiencies are extremely common, extremely common.
When I was working as an outpatient doc, I would diagnose at least two people a day as vitamin D deficient. In the same vein, another important fat soluble vitamin is vitamin K, especially vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 deficiencies are extremely common, that’s because food sources are basically just cheese, right? That’s the highest source of vitamin K2 in our diet.
This is not, you know, Kraft cheese, processed cheese that’s just garbage and chemicals. This is actually real organic cheese. Really cheese is actually very high in vitamin K2. But why is K2 important? K2 is necessary to move calcium in the bones. It’s also necessary to keep calcium from depositing in arteries, in those plaques making them hard and leading to heart disease.
Okay, so let’s talk about deficiencies by nutrition plan. In general, this is my disclaimer. I’m not against any well thought out nutrition plan. So if you’re vegan, be vegan, and if your carnivore, be carnivore. If you’re Keto, be Keto. If you’re low carb paleo, cool. The most important thing is that you eat nutrient-dense whole foods. That’s the most important thing.
Now, if you’re on the extremes, all right, if you’re not just doing a low carb paleo type plan … that’s my favorite plan, I think that’s the plan that works for the most amount of people, then you can set yourself up from nutrient deficiencies. So my low carb paleo plan is usually a 50%, 30%, 20%, about 50% from fats, about 30% from protein, about 20% from carbs. You can kind of play with that. That allows you to have plenty of nutrients from all different kinds of sources, right? So that can dramatically decrease your chance of getting nutrient deficiencies.
Really, the only way to know is to do your blood work. Genova makes an excellent test called NutriEval, where you can check to see if you have a deficiency in a lots of different vitamins and minerals. The other way is by an app called chronometer. And you can download this from the internet, from the app stores, and the chronometer will track your calories, but it’ll also track the nutrients and the mineral intake of the food you eat.
So, and it’ll tell you, based upon government RDAs is, are you getting enough of these nutrients? So that’s a great way if you’re a vegan, if you’re carnivore, because these are the two extremes of the plans where you can get the most nutrient deficiencies, or even if you’re Keto or even if you’re low carb, paleo, am I getting enough of all the nutrients that I need?
So vegans, why is being a vegan a source of nutrient deficiencies? Well, there’s a couple reasons here. One, there’s a lot of things that we intake where our primary source are from meats. Also, the secondary cause of this is plants have defenses. Plants don’t like to be eaten, nothing likes to be eaten. I wouldn’t want to be eaten. You would want to be eaten. None of us want to be eaten, and plants don’t want to be eaten too.
So over the years, because plants have existed since basically the dawn of time, they’ve made defenses to keep themselves from being eaten. It’s extremely interesting. I mean, one of the things that they’ll do is they actually make chemicals that are similar to our hormones to make animals sterile. So one of the defenses that plants evolve was, “Hey, let’s sterilize part of the animal population so they breed less, so there’s less of them, so we get eaten less.
Another thing that the plants have evolved, another weapon that they’ve involved is there are things called oxalates and there are things called phytates. These are anti nutrients. They basically decrease the ability of the body to absorb nutrients. So studies estimate that, even let’s say calcium, let’s say calcium from dairy compared to calcium from spinach, the spinach, even though it has a good source of calcium, that calcium is 35% less bioavailable. What do I mean by bioavailable? That means how much of that is that taken into the stomach actually reaches the bloodstream.
So the data shows that 35% decrease in the ability to absorb nutrients from plant based sources, and that’s because of these anti-nutrients, the oxalates and the phytates. So knowing that, if you’re going to be vegan, again, use the chronometer, check. Then these are some of the key minerals and vitamins that you can be deficient in, B12. A lot of our B12 comes from animal sources.
So, people who are vegan maybe to supplement that. Calcium, again, most of our calcium comes from … the highly bioabsorbable calcium is from dairy, and actually our ancestors used to get it from a bone meal, actually, that’s where they would get their calcium from is that they grind up bones, and that’s how they get their calcium.
There is some evidence that oral calcium supplements increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. There’s some evidence that it doesn’t, we’re still trying to figure that out. In general, I recommend a whole bone calcium supplement, and I will put the name of that in The Strive For Great Health Group. I’ll put the link to that supplement in there.
Iron, another key deficiency in vegans. Iron sources are typically from meats. There are iron in vegetables. The problem is that it’s not the most highly absorbable form of iron, so the iron from meat is better absorbed. Again, that bioavailability I talked about, how much actually reaches the bloodstream, that matters. Zinc again, mainly from meat sources is where we get our zinc.
Vitamin A, so vitamin A you can get from plant sources and you can get from meat sources. Usually meats are grass fed meats and the organ meats. Now broccoli, spinach, things like carrots have betacarotene in them, right? And betacarotene is that antioxidant that we know. It’s really good for the eyes, for the skin. It gets converted to vitamin A in the body, but our bodies aren’t that efficient at the conversion. So meat eaters are getting more vitamin A from the direct source then are vegans from the plant sources of betacarotene.
So vitamin K, especially again that K2, there’s another deficiency that we see. There is vitamin K1 in leafy greens. Vitamin K2 typically comes from dairy sources. Again, like I said, cheese is very high in K2. Iodine. Iodine I should have put in a deficiency that we classically see in just about everyone, mainly because for people who are trying to be healthy, who are following certain of these nutrition plans, we’re all doing sea salt and Himalayan rock salt, which has great properties. It has trace minerals. It has less sodium than table salt, but table salt is iodised, right? The government added iodine to table salt because people weren’t getting enough iodine in their diet.
Well, where do we get iodine from in the past? Mainly fish heads, honestly. That’s where our ancestors mainly got their iodine from. So when you’re not eating the … Well, no one’s eating the fish heads really anymore, but then when you’re not using iodized table salt, you can have iodine deficiencies. What I recommend for that is kelp, kelp flakes. Kelp actually has a lot of iodine in it. I use main coast kelp flakes, and I put them on my food like twice a week, like salt. That’s how I use it. And that high in iodine. If you’re crazy, like my girlfriend and you like eating kelp, then eat kelp. You’ll get plenty of iodine from it.
Another key nutrient is Choline. Choline is very, very important. You’ve heard me talk about that methylation process, that process of how our genes turn themselves on and off in certain situations. Choline is absolutely essential for that. It’s also a member of a compound called phosphatidylcholine, which is involved in our cell membranes, [inaudible] the outer casing of our cells. So Choline is very important. The number one source of Choline in our diets is eggs. Actually eggs are a great source of Choline in the diet. A one egg has about 200 milligrams of Choline. The government just came out with an RDA for Choline of 450 milligrams for women, unless they’re pregnant or nursing. Then it’s 515, for men, 550. So you can see a couple eggs a day, and that’s the whole egg, the egg yolk. You have to eat the egg yolk, can get your Choline requirements.
There are other key amino acids that are lower in plant sources. Taurine is one, methionine is another, glycine is another. So sometimes what you’ll have to do to make sure you get enough of these key amino acids is actually supplement a full-spectrum, plant-based protein shake. I use … well, I don’t use plant-based, but I typically recommend NutraBio as my go to supplement company.
Then selenium. Selenium is very important for the thyroid. It’s also found mainly in meat sources. There’s good amounts of selenium in Brazil nuts, so if you are vegan, just pops in Brazil nuts every now and then and you’ll get enough selenium. So another popular nutrition plan that you’re seeing a lot these days is the carnivore plan. Carnivores eat only meat. Some people, because of those anti-nutrients though I talked about in the plants, and in the hormonal disruption that plant based foods have, are very sensitive to plants, very sensitive to vegetable intake.
So there are some people who respond better to a carnivore plan. Now, like all these other plans, like vegan, like Keto, like carnivore, a lot of people do these wrong and they’re doing the dirty versions where they’re still eating a lot of processed foods. No, you need to eat whole foods with all these nutrition plans. If you take away anything from this talk, eat whole foods. That’s really all that matters. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see I posted a study that showed that basically, if it is a whole food nutrition plan in people who don’t have any certain medical conditions, then it doesn’t matter if you’re low carb versus low fat on the outcomes, and that corroborates some other studies that show the same thing. So the most important thing is eat whole foods. If you have certain medical conditions or you found you’re allergic, or your body doesn’t respond well to certain foods, that takes some guesswork.
But back to carnivore, so where do carnivores get deficient in? B vitamins, and this is the other B vitamins, not B12. Plant sources are great sources of these vitamins. Vitamin C, which we think of our citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. Vitamin E as well. Vitamin E, most of ours comes from nuts, avocado. Salmon’s also a good source of vitamin E. The vitamin K2 that I talked about mainly from dairy, and then some trace minerals like boron. There is no RDA for boron, but low boron intake has been associated with some chronic diseases. Then calcium, again, most of our calcium intake comes from dairy.
Then you get the beneficial things in plants, like the polyphenols. Polyphenols are the antioxidants that we think of when we think of antioxidants. These are a large class of molecules, like flavonoids, like anthocyanins that have a lot of different benefit in the body. So a lot of the carnivore grooves will recommend that you supplement some polyphenols, so you do that by one of those super green type extracts. I have one in my [inaudible] that I recommend that’s just an extract of a lot of different fruits and vegetables.
Fiber. Fiber is extremely beneficial. Most of us are extremely low in fiber intake. The government recommends that you get about 14 grams of fiber per every 1,000 calories, or 25 grams in women, about 38 grams of fiber per day in men. Fiber has been shown to decrease cholesterol, improve blood sugars, improve satiety. Fiber intake has been associated with lower body weight. One of the main benefits of fiber is, especially the nondigestible fiber, the fiber that our bodies can’t take in, is that our gut bacteria can take those and digest them. Then our gut bacteria turn them into those short chain fatty acids that I mentioned above that, butyrate, and these chemical … butyrate is extremely beneficial for the gut, helps our gut cells grow, lowers inflammation, helps feed good gut bacteria.
And because it’s an acid, certain bad gut bacteria don’t like it, are actually killed off by it. So fiber is one of the most beneficial things for our gut. There’s lots of good fiber out there. Soluble corn fiber is the new guy on the block that a lot of people like. Inulin fiber is really good. So fiber intake mainly comes from from plants, from fruits, those kinds of tough things, like celery, stuff like that. So a lot of the carnivore Gurus recommend that you supplement fiber.
Another thing is a Inositol. Inositol is mainly from leafy greens. Inositol has been linked to ovarian health, linked to mental wellness, as well as helping out muscular development. So that’s another thing that you may have to supplement if you’re on the carnivore plan. In order to help prevent some of these nutrient deficiencies, on carnivore, you have to eat organ meat, you’ve got to eat the liver. You’ve got to eat some of these, you know, head to tail kind of approach where you’re eating the whole animal, because a lot of these vitamin sources aren’t in the muscle meat, they’re in the liver, they’re in some of these other organs. So a lot of the carnivore Gurus will recommend that you eat organ meat, that you eat liver once or twice a week, and that you can take whole organ supplements as well.
Okay. So last one, Keto. Keto can cause some nutrient deficiencies, especially at first when you first start taking Keto or are on the Keto plan. The number one thing that happens is electrolyte problems, sodium, potassium. The reason for that is insulin levels lower, insulin is how our bodies deal with blood sugar. Insulin levels lower on Keto and insulin will cause your body to retain sodium and potassium. So especially for the first month, especially if you’re exercising, you have to take electrolytes. The Keto flu that people experience, the headaches, the fatigue, the lethargy, those symptoms of Keto flu are caused by electrolyte abnormalities. So I highly recommend replay electrolytes. I take them after my workouts. I take them when I fast, basically they are like getting an IV. So that’s amazing. It’s especially great for Keto. You need those electrolytes. That’s a number one thing I see people when they start Keto, they fail on, is they don’t get in enough electrolytes.
Another deficiency, calcium. Again, calcium deficiencies are not uncommon because a lot of us don’t do dairy. Almonds also have a little bit of calcium in them. And as above, like I said, I recommended that you supplement with organic whole bone calcium and I’ll put a link to the supplement that I recommend in my Strive For Great Health Group.
Folate. You can get folate deficiencies on Keto. Like I said, these are mostly for people doing dirty Keto, who aren’t eating any fruits, who aren’t eating any vegetables. It’s okay to eat fruit. Sure, for sure should be eating vegetables on Keto, those low net carb vegetables. You still need vegetables on Keto. Keto is not a carnivore plan. It’s not eat only meat. You do eat plenty of good vegetables. You can also eat some fruits to help meet your carb daily requirements. So if you do that, your folate levels will be okay. And then again, those other B vitamins, again, mostly from leafy greens and other plant sources. So if you are doing, one of those dirty Keto people or people who are doing Keto without any fruits or vegetables, you can get B vitamin deficiencies.
Now, overall, with any of these plans, with Keto, with carnivore, with vegan if you have a medical issue, which is why you’re doing them, then follow up with whoever puts you on that plan about cycle options. But in general, if you don’t have any medical issues, if you’re just trying these on your own or doing it because your friend’s doing it or something like that, I highly recommend cycling off these plans. So there’s no data that I know of to guide this, but in general, what I recommend is do Keto or carnivore, vegan for one to two months and then cycle off one month to a low carb, paleo whole food nutrition plan.
I have that in my Strive For Great Health Group. It’s a free download for everyone. How do you do a low carb, whole food nutrition plan? Then, so your cycle, I’d say two months Keto, one month whole food, nutrient dense plan, low carb, then two months Keto, then back. And that will help keep you from getting these nutrient deficiencies from classically eliminating an entire group of foods.
Okay, so let’s talk about the articles. These two articles that we posted in the Strive For Great Health Facebook group. One is on the benefits of intermittent fasting. If you’ve heard me talk, intermittent fasting is one of the two things that you can start doing tomorrow to improve your health. The other is meditation, and the both of these you can pick up tomorrow, improve your health dramatically. So intermittent fasting, the research keeps coming in and day by day, this study was in the new England journal of medicine, which is the preeminent medical journal. It was a review article of the benefits of fasting. Fasting, we see improved memory, fat loss, muscle preservation, decreased inflammation.
It helps your body get into a state called autophagy. The body can’t grow and repair at the same time. They’re two different signals. So when we don’t have food, we’re not in the fed state, our body will start repairing itself. It’ll destroy cancer cells. It’ll destroy underperforming cells. It is like putting your body into self-cleaning mode. Intermittent fasting always lowers blood sugars, lowers cholesterol. So there’s a couple of different ways you can do intermittent fasting. A lot of people will do the time restricted eating version, where they’re doing the 16/8 method. They’re eating all their calories in an eight hour window per day, and then fasting for 16. That usually involves skipping breakfast for most people, then eating from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
Another method is the 5/2 method, where you’re eating normal five days, normal calories, five days out of the week. Then you’re eating about 500 calories a day for two days out of the week. The third method is the alternate daily fasting. I typically don’t recommend this method. It’s the hardest to sustain. The studies show that most people who did this actually converted to the 16/8 method afterwards, where you’re eating normal 500 calories the next day, then normal, then 500 calories, and you’re alternating between the two.
Me personally, I do time restricted eating in the form of about 14/10 or so per day. Then every Sunday I do a 24 to 36 hour fast. The data shows you need about 16 to 24 hours, depending on the person, of fast time to actually get into Ketosis, to generate those benefits. And I will be having a podcast soon about Ketosis and the benefits of Ketosis.
So the second article, this is an interesting article because it started to look at the mechanism or one of the mechanisms for type 2 diabetes. So this article found that our bodies have a fat threshold. What will happen is usually when we start gaining body fat it accumulates under the skin, but once enough of it has accumulated under the skin, it gets stored in the liver and then it spills to other organs, like the pancreas. What this study found was that fat infiltrating the pancreas shut off some of the genes dealing with insulin, dealing with how to produce insulin effectively. So this leads to the state of insulin resistance, leads to diabetes. Well, interestingly enough, weight loss reversed this effect. So losing weight, losing fat, the fat got out of the pancreas, then those genes were able to recover. People’s diabetes reversed. So it’s a very interesting study about how the linking body weight to diabetes and how that occurs.
Well, I hope you found this information informative. If you have any requests for any podcast topics, please head over to Strive For Great Health Facebook group. I will also post the articles that I mentioned there, as well as links to the supplements I talked about today. All right, everyone have a blessed day.
The journey towards great health continues. Thank you for listening to The Strive For Great Health Podcast by Dr. Richard Harris, please subscribe and give feedback by leaving a positive rating and review on your preferred podcast listening platform. Follow the show on iTunes, Spotify, Google and Android, and Patreon.