Addressing the Hidden Hunger Epidemic
When we think of eradicating hunger, our minds travel to impoverished underdeveloped countries. However, according to the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC) for Western Europe, “Contrary to common belief, fighting hunger is not about filling empty stomachs.” In fact, there is an epidemic of hidden hunger in developed countries like the United States where people are well fed but under nourished.
Hidden hunger is described as a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals. There are often no physical, pronounced deficiency symptoms so patients and healthcare providers may not be aware of the issue. The UNRIC reports that “…hidden hunger can lead to mental impairment, poor health, or even death.” This makes sense because the body needs the appropriate amount of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and other nutrients to function properly. Even marginal deficiencies can be problematic, especially when they become chronic.
Authors of a 2018 review featured in the journal Nutrients, reported that nutrient deficiencies can be common for vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and folate, as well as magnesium, calcium, zinc, potassium, fiber, and DHA and EPA. And that list is likely even longer.
Key contributors to nutrient deficiencies are soil depletion, food processing, pesticides and other chemicals. One way to avoid some of these contributing factors is by recommending organic foods, as well as natural meats and dairy products that are free of antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals.
According to a 2017 review on the health benefits of organic foods that was published in the journal Environmental Health, the authors conclude, “Organic food production has several documented and potential benefits for human health, and wider application of these production methods also in conventional agriculture, e.g., in integrated pest management, would therefore most likely benefit human health.” This review also mentions that organic foods have a higher content of phenolic compounds and essential fatty acids compared to conventionally-grown or raised foods. Other studies have also confirmed that organic foods have higher nutritional value.
In addition to recommending organic food when possible and talking to patients about improving their diet, recommending a solid nutritional foundation of dietary supplements is important to reducing the risk of hidden hunger deficiencies. Integrative practitioners often begin with a high-quality multivitamin supplement. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation is also important as most studies demonstrate that patients are not getting enough of these important fatty acids from diet alone. Probiotics and some flavonoids like curcumin and resveratrol have also become foundational for many patients. It’s also possible and essential to test and correct important nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D.
Integrative practitioners are playing a key role in trying to reverse the present hidden hunger trend.
Bruins MJ, Bird JK, Aebischer CP, Eggersdorf M. Nutrients. 2018;10(1):47.
Fiolet T, et al. BMJ. 2018;360
Mie A, Anderson HR, Gunnarsson S, et al. Environmental Health. 2017;16:111.
Papanikolaou Y, Brooks J, Reider C, Fulgoni V. Nutrition Journal. 2014;13:31.