Vitamin deficiency and nutrition: How to start feeling your best

(Stacy Yurishcheva/Emerald)

For many students, moving away from home for the first time and adjusting to college life can mean significant dietary and lifestyle changes. These changes can play a large role in vitamin and mineral intake, affecting your everyday life. Some common symptoms include memory loss, fatigue and a weakened immune system.

According to University of Oregon Medical Director Richard Brunader, an unbalanced diet can contribute to vitamin deficiency. If you haven’t been feeling your best, a lack of certain vitamins and minerals in your body may be the reason.

So how do you know if your vitamin intake is at a healthy level? A simple blood test can be done to determine this, and if vitamin deficiency is the cause, you will most likely need to make dietary changes or take supplements.

“If you’re 21 and otherwise healthy, there’s not a strong reason to have blood work done,” Brunader said. However, if you are having symptoms that are causing you to feel run down, he suggests talking to a doctor.

Two of the most commonly deficient vitamins among young adults in Oregon are vitamins B12 and D, according to Brunader. Oregon’s lack of sun contributes to lower levels of vitamin D in the body.

“There just isn’t any sun,” Brunader said. “In the winter it’s worse, and in the summer it can get better.”

Some of the nutritional sources that can increase your vitamin D levels include fish, milk and egg yolks. Vitamin B12 can improve memory and help to limit fatigue. Many vitamins and minerals rely on working together in order for your body to properly absorb the nutrients it needs.

“Vitamin D is important with calcium because it helps calcium absorb into your bones,” Brunader said. “You need adequate amounts of these, especially when you’re young in order to build up your bone mass.”

Brunader doesn’t suggest supplementing unless you have had blood work done. Having excess amounts of certain vitamins and minerals in your body can be more harmful than helpful.

Brunader believes it’s important to understand why you aren’t feeling your best and why the situation happened in the first place. He recommends speaking with a doctor to find out if your situation might be improved by taking supplements.

“We need things at a proper balance,” he said. “If there’s a provider you like, it’s good to stick with them because they get to know you better,” he said. “That two-way communication is critical.”

The length of the deficiency can play a role in how long it will take for those nutrients to build up in your body. According to Brunader, the time it takes to notice a change varies for each individual — everyone is different, but on average it takes as long as one to two months. If you’re not feeling better after a long period of consistently taking supplements, then something else may be contributing to the way you’re feeling.

According to Brunader, vitamin deficiency should be more heavily addressed on campus because the solution to it can be simple. Taking supplements or making dietary changes are easy solutions that can help you get back to feeling your best. 

“Diet can contribute to deficiency in a big way,” he said. “If we have a good outreach on nutrition, we will have less students getting sick.”