Maintaining a diet that meets all our body’s requirements to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be challenging. From vitamin D deficiency to a lack of folic acid — vitamin deficiencies can potentially affect a person’s overall well-being.
That’s why it’s important to recognize any signs of common vitamin deficiencies, their symptoms, and their causes. Additionally, understanding effective strategies to prevent these deficiencies will equip you with the proper knowledge to treat them as soon as possible. Read on to learn about complications that occur due to common vitamin deficiencies, risk factors, and how to treat them.
How do you know if you have a vitamin deficiency?
Vitamin deficiencies can manifest in various ways, and the symptoms can differ depending on the specific vitamin that is lacking. However, some general signs that might indicate a vitamin deficiency include:
- Fatigue: Feeling tired and lethargic even after getting enough sleep.
- Weakness: Experiencing general muscle weakness or a feeling of being physically weak.
- Cognitive difficulties: Problems with memory, focus, or concentration.
- Hair loss: Experiencing excessive hair loss or noticeable thinning of the hair.
- Brittle nails: Nails that are weak, brittle, or have ridges.
- Skin issues: Dryness, flakiness, or even rashes and dermatitis.
- Anemia: This can manifest as weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.
- Pain: That includes bone pain or muscle pain.
- Loss of feeling: Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
If you suspect you have a vitamin deficiency, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. They can perform a blood test to identify the specific nutrient deficiency and provide guidance on the appropriate dietary changes or vitamin supplements needed to address the deficiency.
The 4 most common vitamin deficiencies
According to Teresa Fung, an adjunct professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, some individuals may face nutrient deficiencies unless they intentionally exclude entire food groups or significantly restrict their diets. Despite this, she emphasizes that excessive consumption is a prevalent issue in the country. While food insecurity remains a concern in the United States, the regular consumption of multiple meals and a diverse range of foods generally prevents calorie or nutrient deficiencies.
However, certain factors such as age, hormonal changes, and even gender may make some people more susceptible to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Here is an overview of the nutrients that are most likely to be deficient:
Vitamin D deficiency becomes more common with age, primarily because only a few foods naturally contain high levels of it. While the summer months provide ample sun exposure for the conversion of vitamin D, balancing this benefit against the risk of skin damage is essential. Symptoms of deficiency include:
- Bone pain
- Mood changes
- Muscle aches
- Muscle weakness
The daily recommended intake is 600 IU for adults up to the age of 70 and 800 IU for those 71 and older. Daily 1,000-IU vitamin D supplements can also provide sufficient coverage, but the most effective way to supplement exactly what your body needs is by first starting with a blood test.
On the other hand, eating foods rich in vitamin D is a great way to fulfill this requirement including fortified cow’s milk and breakfast cereals, soy milk, mushrooms, canned tuna, shrimp, and fatty fish like salmon.
Adequate iron stores are vital for the red blood cell function, which carries oxygen throughout the body. However, since women go through pregnancy and may have heavy menstrual periods, they tend to be depleted of iron stores more often than men, leading to iron deficiency.
Plant-based diets are also a contributing factor, as the body absorbs iron more effectively from animal sources. Symptoms of iron deficiency include feeling cold, tired, or short of breath, as well as frequent headaches.
Iron-rich foods consist of meat, seafood, beans, lentils, grains, dark leafy greens, and fortified cereals. Women over 50 require 8 milligrams (mg) of iron daily, while younger women need 18 mg.
Essential for nerve function and red blood cells, absorbing vitamin B12 becomes more difficult as we get older. Vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of B12 deficiency due to the absence of this vitamin in plants. Symptoms of a B12 deficiency may include:
- Fatigue from anemia
- Numbness in the extremities
- Difficulty with balance and walking
- Memory impairment
Vitamin B12 is readily obtainable from fish, chicken, and dairy products like milk and yogurt. Plant-based options can include non-dairy fortified milk and cereals. The average adult requires 2.4 micrograms of B12 daily.
Apart from maintaining bone health, calcium regulates muscle and nerve function and controls the heartbeat. As estrogen levels decrease, the body’s ability to absorb enough calcium also diminishes. Vegan diets, which often exclude dairy products, can exacerbate the risk of calcium deficiency.
Focusing on eating foods that are calcium-rich is essential. These include cow milk, fortified soy or almond milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified cereals, and dark leafy greens and vegetables like kale and broccoli. While most adults require 1,000 mg of calcium daily, women over 50 need 1,200 mg.
Certain deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can be linked to certain conditions and a number of diseases. Here are ten diseases that can be accompanied by a nutrient deficiency:
- Scurvy: Caused by a deficiency in vitamin C, scurvy can lead to weakness, anemia, gum disease, and skin problems.
- Rickets: Being deficient in vitamin D, may cause rickets which can result in soft, weak bones and skeletal deformities, especially in children.
- Osteomalacia: Similar to rickets, osteomalacia is a softening of the bones caused by a deficiency in vitamin D, leading to bone pain and muscle weakness in adults.
- Beriberi: Caused by a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine), beriberi can lead to neurological and cardiovascular issues, including nerve damage and heart problems.
- Anemia: Iron deficiency anemia, resulting from insufficient iron intake, can lead to weakness, fatigue, and impaired cognitive function.
- Osteoporosis: Low calcium levels can lead to weakened bone health, making individuals more susceptible to fractures and bone-related injuries.
- Goiter: Iodine deficiency can lead to the development of goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, which can cause swelling in the neck and difficulties with swallowing and breathing.
- Night blindness: A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to night blindness, a condition that causes difficulties seeing in low light conditions.
- Pellagra: Caused by a deficiency in niacin (vitamin B3), pellagra can lead to skin rashes, gastrointestinal issues, and neurological symptoms.
- Kwashiorkor: Protein-energy malnutrition, including a deficiency in various essential nutrients, can lead to kwashiorkor, characterized by swelling, skin lesions, and an enlarged liver.
It’s important to eat foods that make up a well-balanced diet to prevent these deficiencies and associated conditions. If you suspect you have a nutrient deficiency, consult a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and guidance.
How often should I check my vitamin levels?
Regular monitoring of one’s vitamin levels is as crucial as maintaining your overall well-being, and regular blood tests are a great way to do that. In a recent poll conducted by Medpage Today, insights emerged from a sample of 2,200 participants, resulting in approximately 69% of respondents advocating an annual evaluation of their vitamin levels.
The reason for these regular checks is that they help catch the lack of important nutrients, like vitamin D, that often go unnoticed until the test is done. Putting off these tests can have serious effects, making you more prone to conditions like muscle pain, brittle bones, weak muscles, and other long-term pain.
Regular vitamin checks help you deal with deficiencies early, reducing the risk of problems and ensuring better overall wellness. Making this a habit aligns with taking charge of your well-being, giving you the chance to maintain proper nutrient levels and prevent various conditions related to severe vitamin deficiency.
Vitamin deficiency treatment
Vitamin deficiency treatment primarily involves addressing the specific nutrient shortfall through dietary adjustments and, in some cases, supplementation. Treatment strategies may vary depending on the particular vitamin deficiency. Here are some common approaches to treating vitamin deficiencies:
- Dietary modifications: Introducing foods rich in the deficient vitamin can help improve levels. Including a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products can be beneficial.
- Supplements: In cases where dietary changes are insufficient, vitamin supplements may be the next step. These supplements can come in various forms, including pills, capsules, or liquid forms, depending on the individual’s needs and preferences.
- Sun exposure: For vitamin D deficiency, spending time in sunlight (or by implementing red light therapy into your wellness routine) can aid the body in synthesizing this essential nutrient. However, it’s crucial to balance sun exposure to minimize the risk of skin damage.
- Injections or intravenous therapy: In severe cases of vitamin deficiency, especially when the gastrointestinal system is unable to absorb nutrients effectively, you can try vitamin injections or intravenous therapy to ensure efficient absorption.
- Underlying condition treatment: Sometimes, vitamin deficiencies might be a result of underlying conditions that affect nutrient absorption. Treating these underlying conditions is crucial to address the root cause of the deficiency.
It is essential to consult a professional for guidance on the appropriate treatment for a specific vitamin deficiency. Self-diagnosis and treatment without professional supervision and testing can lead to complications and adverse effects. Regular follow-ups with a healthcare provider can help monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and ensure that nutrient levels are adequately restored.
Vitamin deficiencies, genetics, and supplements
Understanding your body and its vitamin deficiencies is the first step towards optimal wellness. Many people are surprised to find out that genetics play a significant role in which specific vitamin deficiencies you’re prone to. So a genetic test paired with a comprehensive blood test are good places to start.
Try our genetic test today to see which areas of your body require enhancement and get a personalized roadmap to get started! You can also check out 10X Health’s supplements for an extra boost to your wellness routine!