What Is the Difference Between Deficiency and Insufficiency?
If you’re a regular reader of our Get More Vits blog, you will have seen plenty of mentions of vitamin and mineral ‘deficiencies’, and while this is a well-known term used to describe low levels of the nutrients we need to thrive, the term ‘insufficiency’ paints a more accurate picture to explain a situation that applies to many of us.
Deficiency Vs Insufficiency
When the body does not obtain enough of a particular vitamin necessary for normal physiological processes, we may start to experience health problems and suffer with symptoms. Deficiencies often lead to negative health outcomes that are specific to missing nutrients, such as the disease rickets in children, which is a condition linked to vitamin D that affects bone development and can lead to bone deformities. Adults can experience a similar condition, known as osteomalacia or soft bones.
Rather than an almost absence of certain vitamins and minerals, being insufficient describes a lack - that the body is not receiving the optimal amount of a particular nutrient. In this case, deficiency is not severe enough to cause significant health issues or specific deficiency-related diseases. However, suboptimal levels may impact overall well-being, and despite not causing immediate health problems, if not resolved, may become chronic and negatively impact health.
Symptoms of Long-term Insufficiencies
Long-term ‘insufficiencies’ can affect the body in the following ways:
- Reduced nutrient intake: such as vitamins, minerals, or essential fatty acids. Over time, this can affect the body's ability to carry out certain functions optimally and may contribute to nutrient imbalances.
- Suboptimal body functions: a lack of essential nutrients can impair physiological processes. For example, inadequate iron may lead to reduced capacity for carrying oxygen in the blood, resulting in fatigue and decreased physical performance.
- Weakened immune system: low levels of certain nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin D, or zinc, can weaken our immune response to pathogens, making us more prone to infections, slow our recovery, and open to other immune-related issues.
- Impaired cognitive function: omega-3 fatty acids and certain B vitamins are important for brain health and cognitive function. Not getting enough may impact memory, concentration, mood, and overall cognitive performance.
- Decreased energy levels: not taking on enough macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats can lead to low energy levels, fatigue, and reduced physical stamina.
- Impact on growth and development: during critical periods like childhood and pregnancy, inadequate intake of key nutrients can hinder proper growth, impair organ development, and increase the risk of developmental issues. An example of this is the role of folate/vitamin B9 in pregnant women as it is needed to prevent neural tube defects in the foetus.
- Increased susceptibility to chronic diseases: A lack of dietary fiber or antioxidants, can contribute to an increased risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.