Most people get nearly all of the nutrients they need to function from their diet. For times when they don’t, vitamin supplements can act as a safety net to fill the gaps for what you’re not eating.
But did you know that you can still be vitamin deficient while taking a multivitamin or eating a balanced diet? That’s because everyone is different, and our bodies need different things. A general multivitamin may not address a significant deficiency in certain nutrients. It’s important to know the symptoms of vitamin deficiencies so you can spot them if they crop up and adjust your diet accordingly.
What is a vitamin deficiency?
Vitamin deficiencies are exactly as the name implies: Your body operates without enough of a particular nutrient. They are incredibly common; it’s estimated that 2 billion people worldwide have a vitamin deficiency.
Vitamin deficiencies are divided into two categories — primary and secondary deficiencies. A primary vitamin deficiency means that you need to take in more of the foods the vitamin contains. In this case, you can often tailor your diet to ensure you address these needs. Or take a supplement if you have dietary limitations that keep you from eating these foods, which is the case with food allergies.
Secondary deficiencies occur when your body isn’t absorbing nutrients as it should. This can happen because of an underlying condition such as celiac disease or cystic fibrosis. Additionally, secondary deficiency results from our bodies absorbing fewer nutrients as we age. Then the malabsorption can compound and cause other deficiencies, like in the case of calcium and vitamin D. Older adults whose body has stopped making vitamin D can develop a calcium deficiency because vitamin D is crucial for the absorption of calcium.
Common signs you may have a vitamin deficiency
Vitamin deficiencies are common. However, they don’t always present with symptoms you may associate with a vitamin deficiency. Here are the common signs of vitamin deficiencies that you may be ignoring.
One of the most prevalent vitamin deficiency symptoms is fatigue or feeling weak and tired. Many things can cause this, which makes it difficult to separate symptoms that stem from something else, like sleep deprivation. Chronic fatigue that doesn’t go away no matter how much you sleep or rest may indicate a vitamin deficiency.
Fatigue signals a deficiency in:
Laura Olivas/Getty Images2. Muscle weakness and pain
Another common sign of vitamin deficiency is muscle weakness or cramps. Again, this one is hard to pinpoint directly to nutrients, given that you could be sore or have achy joints for many reasons. The most well-known deficiency associated with muscle weakness is vitamin D. However, several B vitamins and magnesium can also contribute to weakness.
Muscle weakness and achy joints can indicate a deficiency of:
Addressing your diet to see where you’re lacking is the first step you can take to address a vitamin deficiency. It’s worth visiting your doctor if you can’t find obvious gaps in your nutrition.
3. Severe hair loss
Hair loss can happen for several reasons like genetics, medical conditions, hair treatment and hormonal imbalances. Missing out on key hair growth nutrients also may be the cause. If your hair is thinning or isn’t as healthy as it used to be, it may be because you’re not getting enough of these nutrients:
It’s important to note that unless your hair loss or damage is due to a vitamin deficiency, taking vitamins won’t make your hair grow back thicker. Finding the source of your hair loss is the only way to know how to address it. Hair growth vitamins can help you keep your health healthy only if you have a deficiency, but they’re not magic pills. You’re always better off focusing on your diet that supports hair health.
4. Dry skin
Even if you use moisturizers and everything you’re supposed to, you can still be left with dry skin or dandruff. Your diet may be to blame for this. Having enough of the right vitamins and minerals is essential for healthy, hydrated skin and scalp. It’s not just dry skin — scaly patches, bumps and dandruff all indicate a possible vitamin deficiency.
If you’re experiencing dry skin, you may be deficient in these vitamins:
svetikd/Getty Images5. Slow-healing wounds and a weak immune system
Several vitamins are essential to a functioning immune system: vitamins E, C and K. Vitamin K is the nutrient required to form clots. Without an adequate amount in your body, a normal cut can turn into a big problem. This also applies to internal bleeding, which is difficult to identify without medical intervention.
Vitamin deficiencies don’t only determine how long you bleed; they also affect how long it takes a wound to heal. Vitamin C functions with anti-inflammatory properties that help close wounds. A deficiency will slow tissue repair.
Nutrient deficiencies in these vitamins can affect your immune system and ability to heal wounds:
6. Mood changes
Vitamin deficiencies can also dictate how you feel. Most people are familiar with seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that happens when there is less sunlight to give us vitamin D. However, mood changes and depression because of a vitamin D deficiency aren’t limited to winter months. It’s estimated that 42% of Americans are not getting enough vitamin D.
Vitamin B6 deficiencies have also been found to contribute to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. While more research is needed, several studies suggest that taking vitamin B6 supplements can help reduce symptoms because it produces chemical messengers that inhibit brain impulses, which results in a calming effect.
7. Changes in vision
In addition to naturally occurring changes in our vision that happen with age, a vitamin A deficiency can contribute to vision problems. Vitamin A plays a key role in vision by aiding the production of pigments for the retina. Without enough vitamin A, production stops, leading to night blindness or the compromised ability to see in low light and darkness.
Night blindness can occur independently of vitamin A deficiencies, so you shouldn’t start taking a supplement unless you know the source. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that it accumulates in our body’s fat stores. An excess is called vitamin A toxicity, marked by symptoms like headaches, joint pain and nausea.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that’s essential for eye health. A deficiency can lead to vision loss over time.
8. Tingling in fingers or toes
A lesser-known and more alarming sign that you may have a vitamin deficiency is tingling in the hands, legs and feet. The main culprit of this deficiency is vitamin B12, which plays a role in our nervous system by producing myelin. Myelin is the protective layer that wraps around the nerve. A lack of B12 means your body won’t produce enough myelin, and your nerves are susceptible to damage. Then you feel prickling or pins and needles on your hands and feet.
Nutrients that are related to tingling in the hands and feet:
If you’re experiencing any tingling or numbness that persists, talk to your doctor immediately to find the cause and make a treatment plan.
Too long; didn’t read?
Anyone can have a vitamin deficiency. They’re often overlooked because of how common some of the symptoms are. However, symptoms shouldn’t be ignored, especially those affecting your ability to move, lift and see. Making lifestyle and dietary changes is the best way to stop deficiencies. Though taking supplements is also common.
Talk to your doctor if you’ve had persistent symptoms that aren’t linked to anything else. They can run blood tests to definitively diagnose and create a treatment plan.