Almost daily, I interact with chronically ill people who have longstanding and confirmed vitamin or mineral deficiencies but who, like their physicians, have disregarded these deficiencies as meaningful contributors to their ill health. Indeed, it is often not until they have chased every unicorn diagnosis put forth by every specialist they can afford and have exhausted all other medical means do they consider that those nutrient deficiencies might warrant correction. Sadly, rarely do their doctors agree.
If I am honest, there was a time when I would have done the same. I was raised in the Western medical tradition where real disease was only real if it had a name, responded to a pill, or was caused by some ‘rare’ and ‘entirely-beyond-our-control’ genetic aberration. Nutrient deficiencies, we believed, while real, happened only to others in far off lands where food security was challenged. They did not happen to us in the west where food is plentiful. And, if one did become deficient in a particular vitamin, it was of little or no consequence to health and certainly not responsible for the constellation of symptoms one might experience. It’s just a vitamin deficiency after all.
From this perspective, pills are the real treatment, not vitamins, not minerals and certainly not diet or lifestyle changes. So when I see people with that same mind set, taking multiple drugs to treat what is essentially a nutrient deficiency, I get it. That is how we were brought up. It saddens me though because I know that, like a family member watching an alcoholic spiral, I can do nothing until they hit bottom. I know that nothing I say, no research I provide, or no proof that there is a better way will matter. I know that it is not until their health declines so severely that they consider those nutrient deficiencies, often identified years prior as the symptoms were just beginning to manifest, might warrant attention. Unfortunately, at this point, correcting the damage done by longstanding nutrient starvation and exacerbated by chronic polypharmacy, is incredibly challenging. Unwinding all of the molecular survival mechanism that the body was forced to institute is a tedious and often painful process; one that is difficult to navigate and even more difficult to live through.
Surely, I exaggerate. It’s just a vitamin deficiency, after all. How bad could it be?
Read any of the hundreds of case stories or research articles that we have on this site or read our book about all of the illnesses a deficiency in just one particular vitamin, thiamine, can cause and it will become quite clear that vitamin or mineral deficiencies are nothing to be trifled with. Think about it for a moment, why would we think otherwise? Seriously, what rational person would believe that nutrient deficiencies can be ignored or that the symptoms they evoke could be treated by throwing medications at the problem? Certainly, a particular medication might temper some of the symptoms for a spell, but it will do nothing to resolve the root cause, and because most medications deplete nutrients and damage the mitochondria, it is entirely likely that this approach will make matters worse. But sure, it’s just a vitamin deficiency.
The Body Requires Nutrition
The body requires vitamins and minerals to power the enzyme machinery that performs the functions of life. Every physiological function managed by these enzymes requires one or more vitamins or minerals to operate. When those nutrients are in short supply, the enzymes, and the functions they support, suffer. Bruce Ames, one of the leaders in nutrient research, proposes a triage theory of nutrient management wherein
…a modest deficiency of one of the nutrients/cofactors triggers a built-in rationing mechanism that favors the proteins needed for immediate survival and reproduction (survival proteins) while sacrificing those needed to protect against future damage (longevity proteins). Impairment of the function of longevity proteins results in an insidious acceleration of the risk of diseases associated with aging.
Insidious is the key here. The body is remarkably adaptable and will shift resources around for as long as it can. The problem, while this type of triage keeps everything ‘functioning’ to some degree or another, the damage accrues in the background, slowly and insidiously until everything breaks.
I Was Healthy Until…
“I was healthy until…” is a common refrain from folks who find themselves suddenly in ill-health. Unpeel a few layers and we see that while they were functioning, sometimes at a very high level, they were anything but healthy. Poor diet, regular medication use and other factors contributed to longstanding, albeit frequently unrecognized, nutrient deficiencies. Those nutrient deficiencies then, slowly but surely caused the body to sacrifice long term health for short term survival, until one final stressor catapulted it into crisis. This is the more common scenario. This is what leads to all of those ultra-complicated illnesses that breach every diagnostic designation used in medicine.
When one’s entire physiology is rewired to accommodate the persistent lack of nutrients, over time we get these illnesses that are refractory to any treatment, and sometimes even nutrient repletion itself. That is, individual ‘reacts’ negatively to the very nutrients he/she is deficient in and that are absolutely essential to life. That is what upsets me so much when I watch people downplay or outright ignore these deficiencies. The longer one waits, the worse it will get.
But hey, it’s just a vitamin deficiency.
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