BY THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
It’s called “hidden hunger,” and it doesn’t refer to the abject poverty that prevails in rural and undeveloped parts of Mexico.
No, it is a serious public health concern that affects up to 90 percent of all Mexican men, women and children, regardless of their economic status.
Hidden hunger is a micronutrient deficiency that is becoming a global issue because people today do not eat healthy diets, explained Sara Bistre Cohen, antiaging specialist and member of the Mexican Associaton of Medicine and Orthomolecular Nutrition, during a press conference sponsored by the French wellbeing and dietary supplement pharmaceutical company Besins Healthcare to introduce its new Inversion Femme, a vitamin and mineral supplement aimed at women over age 30.
“Poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors can dramatically effect our health, often leading to chronic diseases such as diabetes 2 and cardiovascular disease,” Bistre Cohen said.
“And people who suffer from chronic illnesses have 10 years less life expectancy than those who are healthy.”
Hidden hunger is a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals that often has no visible warning signs, so people who suffer from it may not even be aware of it.
And hidden hunger can lead to chronic malnutrition, which in turn can lead to serious health problems that run the gamut from anemia and osteoporosis to heart disease and cancer.
In Mexico, which has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most obese nation (with over 70 percent of the adult population characterized as either obese or morbidly obese) and the highest incidence of type 2 diabetes, hidden hunger is rampant, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Health.
With the sole exception of vitamin C, most Mexicans are lacking in every important micronutrient, including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, iron, zinc and selenium.
A daily dietary supplement such as Inversion Femme can help to reduce a person’s likelihood of suffering from malnutrition, added nutritionist Paola Zarza Reynoso, who also spoke at the conference.
“The important thing is to have a balance in all areas of your life,” Zarza Reynoso said.
“It isn’t enough to just take vitamins. You need to have a healthy lifestyle in general, which includes diet, exercise, getting enough sleep and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption.”
Zarza Reynoso said that all these factors play a role in how people absorb micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
She also pointed out that despite living in a country with a lot of sunshine, about 70 percent of all Mexicans suffer from a shortage of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) because being overweight can prevent your body from absorbing this crucial nutriant.
Bistre Cohen said that because most modern food is processed, it tends to not have as many micronutrients as the food our parents and grandparents ate.
Natural oils, for example, are rich in vitamin E and other nutrients, but when they are processed, they lose their nutritional value.
The same holds true for processed grains and cereals.
And because Mexicans love to fry food or zap it in the microwave oven, Zarza Reynoso said that even if we start off with healthy, nutrient-rich ingredients, we often disable their healthy elements by overexposure to heat.
“Even if we try to eat correctly, we basically cannot get all the micronutrients we need each day,” she said.
“That is why most people need to take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement. But before you take any dietary supplement, you should consult with your physician.”
There is such a thing as vitamin toxicity, and loading up on the maximum daily requirement of every micronutrient can be dangerous.
“Some vitamins and minerals will simply be excreted from your body if there is more than you need in your system, but, for example, in the case of vitamin A, it is possible to have an overdose,” Zarza Reynoso said.
In other words, dietary supplements can help fight malnutrition, but should not be overused or serve as a substitute for a healthy diet.
Bistre Cohen also said that men and women need different micronutrients because men need more support for muscle growth and women need more support for skin and soft tissue and need to replace iron more frequently.
Also, our needs for micronutrients change as we age so companies such as Besins Healthcare produce special dietary supplements for specific age groups.
Hidden hunger can also lead to obesity, said Zarza Reynoso.
“What happens is that people eat a lot of sweets and carbohydrates that fill them up but don’t meet their nutritional demands, so they keep on eating and eating,” she said.
In some cases, the body’s natural consumption gauge is disrupted by the excessive intake of sugars and fatty acids and victims simply don’t know when to stop eating.
“Ideally, we should all be eating healthy diets, but the truth is that most of us don’t,” said Zarza Reynoso.
She said that most people in Mexico suffer from no shortage of calories, but warned that not all calories are created equally.
Malnutrition does not produce hunger as we know it.
“You may not feel it in the belly, but it strikes at the core of your health and vitality,” Zarza Reynoso said.
“So don’t depend on your stomach to tell you that you are suffering from malnutrition.”
Just because you are full doesn’t mean you have gotten all the nutrients you need.
“Every person should check with their doctor before they start self-administrating any pharmaceutical product,” Zarza Reynoso said.
“But unless you have a special problem that prevents you from taking certain micronutrients, you should take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement to make certain you are meeting your daily minimum requirements.”