Common Deficiencies in a Standard American Diet.

A Standard American diet aka the SAD diet, looks like a lot of frozen or canned vegetables, processed foods, genetically modified ingredients, pasteurized dairy, vegetable oils, and meat from animals that are grain fed. Although numbers vary from study to study, all conclude that as a country the United States is eating more food, and yet we more malnourished than ever. What does this tell us about our current diet, and how has it changed?

A more traditional diet included pasture raised animal meat. Rather than eating just muscle meats we ate the whole animal including the organs. Animal fats like lard and butter were rendered down and used to cook with. More traditional “old” grains and seeds like rye, barley, oat, quinoa, amaranth, teff, flax, and chia seeds were the bulk grains of our meals. These grains and seeds were soaked or sprouted to release phytic acid before consuming them. Phytic acid is considered “anti-nutrient” because it binds to minerals in the digestive tract making them harder for our body to absorb. Fermented vegetables and beverages were also extremely important. Both provided probiotics which assisted in maintaining a healthy microbiome and supported our immune system. In colder climates sauerkrauts allowed us to keep raw foods in the diet throughout the year. With such a significant change, what are we missing now? Some common deficiencies seen in the standard american diet are vitamin D, vitamin K2, essential fatty acids, and an imbalanced microbiome also known as dysbiosis. (This list does not include an iron or B12 deficiency for those that are vegetarian or vegan).

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, as well as vitamins A, E, and K. There are 2 forms, Vitamin D2 & D3. Vitamin D2 is harder for our bodies to utilize, but is present in sun dried fungi and yeast. The main source of vitamin D comes from absorption of sunlight through the skin and that is Vitamin D3. To a much lesser degree vitamin D3 can be found in animal products such as cod liver oil, oily fish, butter, cream, and egg yolk. Vitamin D is known as the “keeper of blood calcium homeostasis”. This means it regulates calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood by increasing absorption of calcium through the intestines. It does this by supporting the tight junctions between your cellular membranes. This has a very anti-inflammatory effect. When you have a lack of vitamin D the cell membrane of the intestinal wall becomes lax or weak, it eventually starts to break down, and this causes proteins to leak through the cellular wall and into the bloodstream. This is called Leaky Gut Syndrome. Not only does Vitamin D support our digestive system but our immunity as well. Vitamin D modulates the immune response to infection. It can be extremely therapeutic for certain individuals, especially those with autoimmunity or digestive issues. An average dose can range from 2,000 IU to about 5,000 IU’s a day. However with more chronic conditions, some practitioners will suggest up to 10,000 IU a day.  

Vitamin K1 and K2 were both discovered in the 1930’s. At the time researchers didn’t exactly know what Vitamin K2 did thus they assumed it did the same thing as K1, contrary to some belief it does not. Vitamin K1 comes from green leafy vegetables. It keeps blood clotting properly, so when we get a cut we don’t just bleed out. This makes it essential for human survival and because of this our body has come up with a way to recycle this nutrient. Vitamin K2 is found to be highest in a japanese superfood called Natto but also present in grass fed animal products like organ meats, egg yolks, and dairy products, particularly high in brie and gouda. Your body cannot recycle this nutrient, therefore we must get it in our diet often, and deficiencies tend to be much more common than Vitamin K1. The job of vitamin K2 is to pick up calcium in the blood and bring it to the right places (like the bones and teeth), while keeping it out of soft tissues (like kidneys and arteries). Today we’re seeing something that’s called the “Calcium Paradox”, our bone density is decreasing at the same time calcifications in soft tissues are increasing. This is not a result of too little calcium in the diet, but rather of too little vitamin K2, which largely controls where our calcium goes. Common symptoms of Vitamin K2 are tooth sensitivity/ tooth decay, calcification of arteries, kidney stones, and breast calcification and osteoporosis. Typically any symptom where there is calcification in the soft tissues of the body is a sign of a K2 deficiency. Vitamin K2, calcium, and vitamin D all work very synergistically together. Vitamin D supports the tight junctions between cells which increases the uptake of calcium through our intestines, vitamin K2 then brings that calcium to where it supposed to go in the body. Some practitioners won’t suggest supplementing with vitamin D without vitamin K2 as well, particularly if this person is prone to calcifications in the body. Studies have shown that vitamin K1 can be converted to vitamin K2 through the liver, but those same studies suggest that there is only about a 5% conversion rate thus making it important to get through the diet. Dentist and Anthropologist Weston A. Price studied indigenous diets and their effect on dental hygiene. He identified vitamin K2 before it was discovered and called it ‘activator x’. He noted it’s role in the traditional diet being responsible for the strength of people’s teeth. He said that this ‘activator x’ was found in grass fed animal foods such as organ meats, egg yolk, dairy products and fish eggs. He used a protocol of cod liver oil and grass fed butter to treat tooth decay. Not only did he find it stopped decay but in some cases also reversed it. He also noted incredible improvement in bone health. Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue wrote Vitamin K2 and The Calcium Paradox, she states children have a higher demand on K2 because of their growing skeleton, she suggests up to 240 micrograms of K2 a day for children and adolescents. As an adult approximately 120 micrograms is recommended.

Studies suggest about 70% of Americans are magnesium deficient. This is because the soil in the U.S. has been depleted of magnesium due to farming practices of the agricultural industry. Magnesium is a major mineral along with calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfur. Magnesium plays an essential role in our body as it participates in over 300 enzymatic reactions. It supports our structure, over 60% of the magnesium in our body is stored in our bones. Both calcium and magnesium work together, 2 to 1. Our muscles use calcium to contract and magnesium to relax. Because vitamin D and K2 support calcium uptake, they also enhance absorption and utilization of magnesium. There are many symptoms that can be associated with a magnesium deficiency but some more common ones are cramping and twitching of the muscles, anxiety/ depression, fatigue, insomnia, panic attacks, chest tightness, memory loss, confusion, headaches. A common suggestion for dosing from clinicians is to find the amount of magnesium that makes your stool loose and take just under that amount. An average dose can range anywhere from 120-500 mg.

Essential fatty acids are called essential because they have to be obtained through the diet. They play a significant role in our bone health, digestive health, they promote cardiovascular health, and support our nervous system. These fatty acids are partly responsible for reducing and controlling systemic inflammation. Omega 6 is called linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA). It’s found in nuts, grain fed meat, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and vegetable oils. Because we get a lot of omega 6 in the standard american diet it typically doesn’t need supplementation. Omega 3 on the other hand is more commonly deficient. Omega 3 is called alpha linoleic acid (ALA), which the body then converts to EPA or DHA. Alpha linoleic acid is found in foods like flax seed, hemp seed, chia seeds, cold water fish, wild game and grass fed domesticated animals. Some practitioners will suggest supplementing with fish oil or algae oil because it already contains DHA, which means the body doesn’t have to convert it and can utilize it immediately. An ideal diet should have a 1:1 or 1:4 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, however it’s suggested that most americans are closer to a 1:15 ratio. Because the eicosanoid cascade is extremely complex, rather than thinking omega 6 is inflammatory and omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, it’s best to try and think about it as a balance.

The human body has about 10 times as many microbial cells as we do human cells. There are bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa, and viruses all living inside and on our skin. Dysbiosis is when all of these microbes become imbalanced within ourselves. Microbes assist in training and modulating our immune systems, it protects our mucosa, inhibiting overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, fungi and yeasts. It reduces inflammation, and encourages digestion and uptake of nutrients. This helps to accurately distinguish between ‘friend’ or ‘foe’. Some theorize that the rising number in autoimmunity disorder is in part due to this microbial imbalance. Common symptoms of dysbiosis include autoimmunity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or constipation, leaky gut syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), candida overgrowth, urinary tract infections, or yeast infections. A low sugar and low carbohydrate diet along with high quality probiotics can be beneficial at starting to balance your microbiome. The best medicine is our fermented foods; try eating a spoonful of sauerkraut with each meal, drinking a small glass of jun or kombucha. You could also try supplementing with a prebiotic. The preferred food beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts preferred food is an insoluble fiber called inulin. Some herbs that contain inulin are artichoke, burdock root, chicory root, dandelion root, elecampane root, and echinacea root. Heat and a longer saturation time is what pulls the inulin out of these herbs. Make a decoction with these herbs to make a prebiotic tea.

We know vitamins and minerals work very synergistically together so rarely do we see a deficiency in just one. Take a moment to reflect on how your families diet has changed each generation. I myself have heard my mother talk a lot about liver and onions, or my grandmother talk about their garden and her chore of getting eggs every morning. As a culture we’ve forgotten important steps into maximizing our foods nutritional value, and unfortunately our health is paying the price.



Monograph of Viola Species

Viola spp.

Violet commonly known as Heartsease Herb

Family- Violaceae

Energetics of Violet: Cooling, Moistening, Astringent, Bitter (to some), Aromatic (some species more than others)

Vitalist Actions: Mucilaginous, Nutritive, Emollient, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Antiseptic, Expectorant, Anti-oxidant, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-allergenic

*The strength of these actions can differ between species.

Some herbalists suggest Violet is a nervine, however Jim Mcdonald believes this quality comes more from the way violet nourishes, strengthens and soothes. He states he uses Violet to “comfort and strengthen the heart”.

Common Forms & Dosages:

Because of Violet’s gentle nature and nutritive quality it can be taken for long periods of time without any toxicity. The flowering herb of violet is used, both leaf and flower.

Most commonly used in tea form or tincture of the fresh plant.

Used topically in poultices or salves.


Ascorbic Acid commonly known as vitamin C, is an important water soluble antioxidant. Vitamin C occurs and acts with flavonoids to protect plants from photo oxidation and UV damage. In humans it acts as both an enzyme co-factor for collagen synthesis and supports capillary integrity. Vitamin C also plays an important role in the antioxidant system and acts as an enzymatic partner for glutathione; an enzyme that attaches to certain molecules to make them more water soluble so they can be excreted through the urine. Glutathione conjugation plays an important role in both phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification systems. This ultimately making violet a valuable partner to support your daily detox.

High levels of rutin in Violet could contribute to the beneficial aspect to the heart. Rutin is a water soluble glycoside of quercetin (a plant pigment flavonoid). It’s often taken in supplemental form for its effect on the vascular system. Supplementation is intended to strengthen the heart and increase flexibility in the blood vessels. It’s been used in cases of hemorrhoids, spider veins, and bruises.  

Methyl Salicylates is the constituent found in ibuprofen. It’s commonly thought with herbs that contain this constituent that if you drink it, you’ll reduce your aches and pains. However, this logic seems to be too reductionistic and doesn’t always work for everyone.

Clinical Actions:

Violet is used to clear heat inward and outward. It is used for choleric humours and is known as a liver cooling herb. Homer and Virgil used it to moderate anger, a symptom often associated with choleric humours. It is often used when gout, arthritis, or pains of the back or reins is present. It’s cooling and moistening nature is used to cool the heat and quench the thirst. In my own experience this anti-inflammatory effect on the liver can be useful for people with gallbladder issues. When the gallbladder is inflamed the muscles around the right shoulder can become extremely tense. Paired with something like Nepeta cataria (catnip) it can be really useful to ease that muscle tension.

The mucilaginous quality in Violet is nourishing, relaxing and soothing to tissue that is inflamed and dry. Because of it’s additional diuretic action Violet is often used in nephritic diseases, this is inflammation of the kidneys and as well as diseases of the chest. It’s found effective in pleurisy, diseases of the lungs, hoarseness of the throat, sharpness in the urine, and bladder. Professor Scudder states he’s seen violet “stimulate waste and secretion, relieve nervous irritability, and improve nutrition.”

Violet is used for diseases of the skin both internally and topically. Anything from swelling of the eyes, boils, acne, hemorrhoids, inflamed sinuses, or acute congested states when lymph nodes are tender, swollen and seem hot to the touch.

Violet can often be a perfect ally for the pregnant or postpartum woman. It’s nutritive and mucilaginous quality is beneficial to both in supporting the mother’s health by nourishing her as well as keeping her tissues moist and hydrated (something new moms tend to experience particularly if breastfeeding) It’s a remedy that has an affinity for breast tissue as well. Although some don’t find it to be a very strong lymphatic herb, I’ve found it’s lymphatic quality to be quite beneficial in preventing clogged milk ducts, used as either tea, tincture or medicinal oils. In many cases it can be effective for mastitis as well, particularly at the onset. You can enhance the lymphatic decongestant, and immune stimulant action by adding Echinacea spp. Nicholas Culpeper says that it should “eseth pains in the head from wanting sleep” During the postpartum period sleep depravity and dehydration are common and headaches are often associated with this.

Michael Moore says that violet is slightly laxative, however some say this quality is due to the mucilaginous action of the herb, it helps bulk stools and promote lucidity through the intestines. Either way because of it’s gentle nature the syrup of violet flower is used for infants with constipation. It can be ingested by breastfeeding mama or given in tea for to a child that is drinking water.

Has a long traditional use of being used for cancer. This has more to do with the action of the herb ( it’s anti-inflammatory and supports detoxification) rather than the herb being “anti-canter”. There is some indication in old information about dissolving “tumors” or growths on the body. It was used in oil and tallow with beeswax and rubbed on the body.

Precautions & Contraindications:

This species is threatened in certain areas of the U.S- look at plant savers to see if it’s near you.

There are some violet look alikes that are toxic. Be sure to identify the correct species when foraging.

Violet can be sensitive to degradation be aware of this when drying and storing the herb.

Finding Vitality during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

Are Herbs Safe for Pregnancy?

Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of medical research on the safety and utility of herbs during pregnancy. However there is anecdotal, early empirical, and logical evidence to suggest that herbs can be extremely beneficial during those nine months.

Guiding principle for the use of herbs during pregnancy-

Avoid herbs known as abortifacients and emmenagogues. These are herbs that traditionally were used to induce abortion or bring on the menses.

Due to lack of research, most physicians will suggest completely avoiding all herb use during pregnancy. While this might be an appropriate approach in some cases, many have successfully used herbs during pregnancy to support their health. Not all herbs should be used as daily tonics. These herbs are taken briefly only when indicated for an individual. If you are supporting yourself with herbs or would like to during your pregnancy always be diligent about looking into what you’re taking. It’s best to consult with someone that is educated in herbal medicine and safety.

Supporting Yourself During Pregnancy

During pregnancy nutrients are required to create the cells needed to form two extra pounds of uterine muscle, the nerves, bones, organs, muscles, glands and skin of the fetus, several pounds of amniotic fluid, a placenta and a 50 percent increase in blood volume. In addition, extra kidney and liver cells are needed to process the waste of two beings instead of one. (11) This really puts into perspective just how important it is to have a healthy diet. Herbs not only can supply essential nutrients but they’ve also proven to be quite beneficial in treating common symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea, insomnia, swelling/edema, anemia, urinary tract infections and more. Here’s a few suggestions for common complaints.


Typically ginger (Zingiber officinalis) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) are recommended most frequently. Both can be very beneficial for some women, but exacerbate symptoms in others. Some have found raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) to be comforting. It’s a nutritive herb with a affinity for the uterus, praised for toning the muscle. It’s slightly astringent quality also has a tonifying effect on the stomach lining which in some cases can help. Occasionally, nausea correlates with low blood sugar. I found the nutritive quality of raspberry leaf to be helpful in stabilizing blood sugar and energy levels even when having a hard time keeping things down. Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) is used similarly for nutrition, but it also contains inulin which is an insoluble fiber that feeds your microbiota, assisting in regulating blood sugar levels as well.

During periods of nausea or sickness try using an antispasmodic herb. I particularly like using wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) or black haw (Viburnum opulus) for this. Both have an affinity for the uterus. I felt they draw energy downward and support relaxation. Taking sips of either tea or tincture diluted in water can help relieve the muscle spasms, aches, and/or cramping associated with nausea.

Swelling & Edema-

When swelling and edema occur address vascular health. A diet vast in color and diversity is extremely important. Swelling occurs when proteins leak through the capillary beds. Foods and herbs such as rose (Rosa canina), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), violet (Viola odorata), calendula (Calendula officinalis), and berries of all kinds are particularly high in vitamin C and flavonoids, which will support healthy vein integrity. If swelling is present, start to support liver and lymphatic function. Herbs such as burdock root (Arctium lappa), dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) support the liver. These herbs will help decongest, support digestion, and keep waste moving through the body. The use of lymphatics will assist in cleaning up any excess fluid that is hanging out where it shouldn’t be. Herbs useful for this purpose are cleavers (Galium aparine), violet (Viola odorata), and burdock (Arctium lappa).


Some find that supporting themselves with a nervine can be helpful for insomnia. Nervines commonly used include chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), lavender (Lavandula officinalis), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), milky oat or straw (Avena sativa), and linden (Tilia cordata). In most cases supporting the overall function of the liver can be helpful for individuals experiencing insomnia. Just like us the liver functions on a circadian rhythm. Liver enzymes that support metabolism and detoxification peak at certain hours of the day. It’s suggested that regulating the liver and supporting detoxification can balance the overall circadian rhythm and sleep cycle of a person.

Postpartum Health

Herbs are quite valuable postpartum. Breastfeeding requires a lot of nutrition so providing an optimal amount of trace elements and minerals in the diet is essential. Low milk supply is a common concern after pregnancy. Very often the problem stems from a nutrient deficiency, dehydration, or a dryness in constitution. Consider whether or not the mother is getting quality nutrition, if they’re drinking enough liquid, or if they’d benefit from a demulcent herb.  A demulcent herb is an herb that contains mucilage, a constituent within a plant that soothes, moistens, and coats tissue. Think of it as lotion for your insides.

When a low supply is present, try making an overnight infusion or a medicinal bone broth.  Both of these will deeply nourish the body, address dehydration, and either a demulcent herb in an infusion, or fat content in the bone broth will soothe any mucous membrane dryness.

Overnight Infusion-

  • When making an infusion, put about 15-30 grams of herb in a quart mason jar, pour hot or cold water over the herb matter, let sit overnight, then strain and drink in the morning. If the taste is too strong add lemon or honey to taste, and/or dilute with water and drink throughout the day.

Some common herbs used in overnight infusions: Alfalfa leaf (Medicago sativa), chickweed (Stellaria media), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), nettle (Urtica dioica), marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) , rose hips (Rosa canina), hawthorn (Crataegus), violet (Viola odorata) burdock root, (Arctium lappa), fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgarism)

Medicinal Bone Broth-

  • Decocting an herb is when we cook herbs in water or broth on simmer for at least 1 hour, but longer is optimal. Think about using herbs that take more heat and saturation to break down like seeds, roots, bark and berries.

Some common Herbs for medicinal bone broth:

Nettles (Urtica dioica), shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes), reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), hawthorn berry (Crataegus), burdock root (Arctium lappa), ginger root (Zingiber officinale), dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), fennel Seed (Foeniculum vulgares), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), turmeric root (Curcuma longa), astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)…

SIDE NOTE: Jim McDonald is an herbalist from Michigan that makes an incredible medicinal chicken bone broth! Check it out here-


Some exhaustion can be expected after having a baby. A few ways to cope are supporting yourself with adequate nutrition, sleeping when you can, and addressing insomnia if needed. Exhausted individuals often run to adaptogenic herbs to support themselves. Most adaptogens are stimulating, making people feel like they have more energy. However they do not provide free energy and over suggestion of adaptogens can lead some more vulnerable individuals to burn out. Adaptogenic herbs are said to increase the body’s natural resistance to stress, but this definition is quite vague when you consider just how different they can be in quality and action. Therefore, some adaptogens would be contraindicated for certain individuals. Be cautious if you want to support yourself with an adaptogenic herb postpartum. This is a time for rest and relaxation and move slowly through your transition. Adaptogens can be stimulating and can make mama start moving too fast too soon! Also, if breastfeeding, adaptogens can be quite stimulating to the baby. If you are using an adaptogen, be kind to yourself and pay close attention to any changes in your baby’s digestion and sleep cycles.

Immune support-

The immune system is extremely complex. Ideally, strong immunity should be a result of a diverse and colorful diet. Vitamin C and other flavonoids are important because enhance immune response. Although supplementing with vitamin C can be helpful, a whole foods source is recommended. This is because vitamin C works synergistically with flavonoids and other antioxidants required for absorption. Vitamin C is the body's main water soluble antioxidant. We only store it in small amounts, so it is a vitamin we need to replenish daily. It’s recommended a healthy person consume 100-400 mg/day to maintain adequate stores. If you’re someone under a lot of stress you’ll need more, this is because the presence of stress hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol weaken immune function.

Vitamin D also plays an important role in our immunity as it modulates immune response to infection and controls systemic inflammation. Vitamin D2 and D3 are the two forms of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 is harder for our bodies to utilize but is present in sun exposed fungi and yeast. Vitamin D3 comes from the absorption of sunlight through the skin. To a lesser degree, it can also be sourced from animal products such as cod liver oil, oily fish, butter, cream, and egg yolks. Practitioners often recommend Vitamin D3 supplementation of 2,000- 5,000 IU per day, or if autoimmunity is present up to 10,000 IU/day.

Contrary to some belief, taking immunomodulating herbs like echinacea does not equate to strong immunity and depending on circumstances, can even exacerbate symptoms in more vulnerable individuals. Still the question arises, is echinacea safe during pregnancy and lactation? In Simon Mills and Kerry Bone’s book, The Essential Guide To Herbal Safety, they consider it a category A herb during pregnancy. This means a large number of women have taken it during pregnancy with no concern. However, it’s not an herb I would suggest taking as a daily tonic. Echinacea is an immunostimulant which means it stimulates the immune system. It is best to take echinacea at the onset or through an illness, then terminating use. More chronic immunity issues should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, but a couple herbs to support overall immunity are astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), elderberry (Sambucus nigra), calendula (Calendula officinalis), rose hips (Rosa canina), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes). Think about using some of these in a medicinal bone broth, or mushroom broth!



  1. Romm, Aviva. (2010) Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingston.













*This article was previously published in the July/ August edition of Home Herbalist Magazine.

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