Scott W. Tunis MD FACS •
Before answering that question, it is necessary to define the term “vitamin deficient”.
Vitamin deficiencies can be absolute, wherein there is a complete lack of an essential vitamin in the diet, or partial, wherein there is a relative lack of of an essential vitamin in the diet.
An absolute deficiency of any one of the 13 essential vitamins causes clinical disease with an identifiable syndrome of symptoms and signs. Absolute vitamin deficiencies are lethal in 90-120 days. That’s why they are called essential vitamins.
As recently as between 1900 and 1940 in the United States there were approximately 300,000 cases and 100,000 deaths from Vitamin B3 (Niacin) deficiency. The disease is called pellagra.
Fortunately, absolute vitamin deficiencies are a thing of the past in developed countries. In Western society, however, an abundance of foods that are high in simple carbohydrates and lipids has led to other problems. Diabetes, hypertension, arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, obesity etc. Let’s face it… our highways, shopping centers and neighborhoods are not exactly teeming with fresh fruit, vegetable, and whole grain stands offering high nutrition value meals.
Even if we are highly motivated to eat healthy and nutritious diets, too often our unyielding schedules, our commitments to family, faith and work, and our frequently limited dietary options can cause our diet to be low in essential vitamins.
Which brings us to the definition of “partially vitamin deficient”.
The human body cannot store most essential vitamins. What you ate yesterday is gone today. You need to consume 100% of the Daily Value (DV) every day. That’s why it’s called a Daily Value.
A partial vitamin deficiency means your level is below normal. This type of deficiency is actually quite common in the United States.
Approximately 35-40% of the US population is partially Vitamin D deficient. That number is higher in the elderly and in the African American community. Iron deficiency anemia has been estimated to be present in approximately 30% of young adults and 50% of reproductive age women. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey performed by the CDC found that the prevalence of mild deficiencies in vitamin B6 and and B12 in the US population were 10% and 4% respectively.
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