Unlocking ‘hidden hunger’ – are Indian women at greater risk than men?
Dr. Nikhil Bangale, Head – Medical Affairs, Consumer Health Division, Bayer India
Reminiscent of enormous nutrition transition in India, undernutrition risks are becoming a measurement quibble. ‘Hidden hunger’, also known as micronutrient deficiencies (MiNDs), is the umbrella term used to represent the lack of essential vitamins and minerals required from the diet to sustain virtually all normal cellular and molecular functions.As supported by scientific evidence, MiNDshave reached an alarming peak in a large mass of Indians irrespective of them being in overweight or underweight states.Unlike energy-protein undernourishment, health impacts of MiND are not always acutely visible, thus termed ‘hidden hunger’.
According to the HCPs, the micronutrient diet intake of the urban Indian population is below than recommended dietary allowance (RDA). With MiND being highly prevalent in more than *62% of urban and semi-urban adults due to wrong eating habits, inadequate diet, and prevalence of anemia, results also suggest Indian women to be at a greater risk than men.
Why are ‘Indian Women’ more prone to hidden hunger than men?
The current risk of ‘hidden hunger’ is severe due to serious deficiency risks across plenty of essential micronutrients. Results suggest a widespread problem of more than 80% of the total Indian population being at the risk of micronutrient deficiencies with Indian women at greater risk of MiND than men.
Particularly, in Indian women, vitamin D deficiency and low intake of calcium are responsible for the high prevalence of osteoporosis. Indian females also have high MiNDs due to less consumption of nutrients than males in their diet (p < 0.001). A community-based cross-sectional study also showed a significantly lower intake of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B12, zinc, folate, and iron in Indian women than men.
Even ‘healthy’ individuals can be at risk of MiND due to sedentary behavior, and lifestyle-related factors. A cross-sectional Indian survey also reported how a large percentage of pregnant women had less than 50% of the recommended intakes of iron, calcium, and folic acid (81%, 77%, and 96%, respectively). More than 90% HCPs strongly agreed that increased micronutrient requirements are not met during pregnancy and lactation, in various diseases, lifestyle-related stress, nutrient-nutrient interactions, infections, or post-surgery.
Addressing the challenges
Scientific evidence suggests that zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin D are a few of the most important micronutrients that help in enhancing immunity, thus influencing the risk and clinical course of viral respiratory infections. Although, no single vitamin can work on its own for enhancing immunity; multivitamins can work in combination and in synergy for improving immunity by helping each other in multiple chain reactions, in the respiratory chain cycles, and various stages of development of immunity.
Nutrition is key to human well-beings. Micronutrients help increase energy levels, reductions in physical and mental fatigue, improvements in concentration, mental stamina, and mood, and reductions in feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. Leading a healthy, adequate, and nutritious diet is essential to fight hidden hunger, but nutrition education also has a pivotal part to play in helping people make healthier choices.
74% of Indiandoctors/nutritionists are positively inclined to prescribe multivitamin/mineral supplements to fulfill micronutrient deficiencies (as per RDA) in daily Indian diet. Considering the active role of micronutrients in immunity there is a rationale for micronutrient supplementationto restore concentrations to recommended levels, especially after an infection, and during the recoveryphase to support immune function and its maintenance. Scientific data has proved that supplements with micronutrients reduced fatigue (vitamins B1 and D, iron), increased activity and feelings of being energetic (vitamin B1), increased muscle endurance (zinc), improved exercise tolerance (magnesium) and physical capacity/performance and improved physical recovery. Compelling evidence also suggests that natural/herbal ingredients help stimulate and help in maintaining a healthy immune system. For example, Tulsi helps strengthen the immune response of the body by providing anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties while Turmeric has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, which help to modulate the immune system and prevent viral replication.
* According to a doctor-led consensus based on a nationwide advisory board comprising of 21 healthcare practitioners from across India
**According to a doctor-led survey covers a respondent base of 220 healthcare professionals (doctors and nutritionists) from across India