*Scurvy, What you donít eat CAN hurt you:*
Micronutrients and refugee preparations
10 February 2006
This is not intended to be an exposition on food preparation or storage. There is ample material on that subject. Instead, this article will serve as a reminder of some considerations you should make when selecting food for storage and use during emergency situations, based on nutrients the body needs in minute amounts in order to function properly ("micronutrients".)
It is easy to collect a couple of 50-pound bags of beans and rice, some cans of SPAM, and a barrel of water and call yourself prepared. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these items (unless you have an aversion to SPAM as most people do), without the micronutrients supplied by a variety in your diet or appropriate supplements, over the long haul a restricted diet can lead to a number of health problems and impair your ability to function, or worse.
This article will cover several of these problems, and make some suggestions on what to include in your preparations in order to avoid them.
I am not a doctor, and I am not proposing to give medical advice or diagnose any illness here. Rather, my purpose is to raise awareness of some nasty things that are out there that will bite if you donít put some thought into your preparations.
Now, before anyone gets up in arms over the use of the term "refugee", I am not speaking of the unprepared population that heads for the government handouts during and after natural disasters and such, aka "Sheeple." In this article a refugee is one who is taking refuge and for any number of reasons exists off of stored or emergency food sources. For those who practice preparedness, this could be us.
There are a number of medical conditions that are common among individuals living off of restricted diets, known as micronutrient deficiencies. Your belly may be full, but that doesnít make you healthy. For the most part, these are common in underdeveloped countries, refugee camps, and individuals who for other reasons do not have access to proper nutrition. In a SHTF scenario, that latter could be us without proper preparation. Listed below are some of the more common micro-nutritional disorders, common symptoms and consequences, and recognized preventative measures.
- Scurvy: Far from dying out after discovery by naval doctors in the age of exploration, scurvy occurs today in individuals who have a deficit of Vitamin C / ascorbic acid in their diet. It is common in teens that have a diet high in junk foods. Some symptoms are recession and bleeding of gums, corkscrew hair, and small hemorrhages around the fingernails. Lack of vitamin C also impairs the bodyís ability to use protein and diminishes circulatory health. Prevention involves consumption of fresh fruits (especially citrus) and most vegetables.
- Pellagra: Common in people whose diet consists mainly of corn and starch, pellagra is caused by a lack of the B-complex vitamin Niacin (B-3) and the amino acid tryptophan. Pellagro may cause skin sores, inflamed mucous membranes, diarrhea, confusion and delusions. Eggs and dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meat and nuts are good sources of Niacin, and to a lesser extent legumes and enriched grain products.
- Rickets: Caused by a deficiency in Vitamin D, rickets affects growing children by impairing skeletal growth. Breast-fed infants and dark-skinned individuals are most at risk. Largely wiped out by Vitamin D supplementation in milk, rickets is a concern particularly where Vitamin D deficiency is aggravated by lack of exposure to sunlight on the skin. Vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient found in cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel and tuna, and can also be synthesized in the skin through exposure to UV rays in sunlight.
- Vitamin A deficiency: This is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies found in refugee populations, often in conjunction with protein-energy malnutrition. Eyesight is linked directly to Vitamin A consumption. Lack of Vitamin A can cause deterioration of eyesight, night blindness, blindness, susceptibility to infection, or death. Green leafy vegetables, carrots and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin A.
- Iron deficiency anemia: Another of the top three deficiencies, this is most often caused by a lack of dietary iron, but may also be caused by parasitic infestations. Preschool children, adolescent girls, and women in child-bearing years are most at risk. The disorder causes retardation of mental and motor development in children, and in adults fatigue, loss of work capacity, and dangerous blood loss during childbirth. Consumption of red meat and fish, in conjunction with Vitamin C to enhance absorption is commonly recommended as treatment.
- Iodine deficiency: The third of the three most common deficiencies, and the greatest cause of preventable mental retardation in the world. Less common in the developed world since the introduction of iodine into table salt, visible goiter, impaired physical and mental development, stillbirth and birth defects are some results of this deficiency. Seafood consumption and supplemental iodine in salt are the most common and effective methods of prevention.
- Beriberi: A deficiency in Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin), beriberi is common among populations whose diet consists mainly of milled white rice. Common symptoms include fatigue, apathy, irritability, drowsiness, and depression, and in advanced cases can cause congestive heart failure. Whole grains, lean pork and legumes are good sources of Thiamin. Freezing does not affect thiamin, but heat and pasteurization destroy it.
- Zinc deficiency: Commonly associated with increased mortality from malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia, zinc is important for the healing of wounds, healthy skin and proper immune function. Because zinc is not stored in the body, regular zinc intake is crucial. Men require roughly 30% more zinc than women. Early signs of deficiency are decrease in taste and poor immune function. Common sources of dietary zinc include meat, beans, lentils, nuts, yeast, and whole-grain cereals.
As you can see, little things in your diet can make a big difference in key survival functions such as energy level, wound healing, immune function and vision. For children and adolescents, micronutrients are crucial to proper mental and physical development, and contribute to pre- and post-natal survivability and health. Whether making food selections or adding vitamin supplements to your list of supplies, micronutrients should be a top consideration when choosing food preparations.
Studies by the United Nations, World Health Organization, Red Cross and others consistently point to limited dietary variety and lack of appropriate supplements as major causes of malnutrition and associated illnesses, resulting in elevated mortality rates and decreased productivity in refugee populations.
Prepare now, donít let it happen to you.
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