With the lack of variety in countless nutrition plans and the health of food dependent upon the ever-diminishing nutrients in soil, it’s no wonder that we’d be concerned with nutrient deficiencies. Add regular bouts of exercise, stress and medications to the mix, and all of the sudden we have a recipe for major nutrient scarcity.
How do you know if you’re deficient in nutrients?
Are your lips cracked? You may be deficient in riboflavin, niacin or pyridoxine.
Nutrient deficiencies can have a variety of effects throughout the body. Often the signs are subtle — perhaps you feel a bit “off” or your skin doesn’t look quite as glowing as it could. Occasionally the signs are more obvious. (For instance, it’s kind of hard to ignore your feet tingling, or uncontrolled muscle spasms.)
Now don’t worry — we’re not trying to scare you into buying stock with GNC and loading up on vitamin pills, or trying to turn you into a nutrient hypochondriac. We simply want to highlight some of the physical manifestations of nutrient deficiencies.
As you read through the following, you may fit the criteria for some of the deficiency symptoms. Instead of self-diagnosing and slamming a bottle of “vitamin [fill in the blank],” your concern should simply warrant further investigation into eating patterns and habits. If you notice any of the symptoms/signs fit you, then jot down some notes and initiate a dialogue with your dietitian, naturopath, chiropractor or physician (whoever you work with and trust).
Try to find a “food form” of your desired nutrient before you stock up on supplement bottles. Research suggests that nutrients tend to work better together, and are found in more complex forms in nature. For example, there are over six hundred known carotenoids, which give plants their red or orange colours. We don’t know what all of them do yet, but we’re pretty sure that many are important. Just taking a beta-carotene supplement on its own probably isn’t the same — in fact, as a few high-profile studies have shown, it may be actively harmful.
Also, as we indicate below, taking extra doses of certain vitamins doesn’t necessarily make things better. Nutrients work in complicated ways in the body, and they’re often related to one another (for example, as the amount of X increases, the body may make or absorb less of Y).
Here’s a handy guide to common deficiencies. Part 1 is organized by the body part affected, and alphabetized by part for easier navigation. Part 2 is organized by health conditions and people at risk for deficiencies.
Deficiencies by body part
|If you have…||You may be or have…|
|Brain||Memory problems, disorientation or dementia||Niacin (B3), vitamin B12, or thiamine (B1) deficiency|
|Eyes||Puffy, swollen eyes||Over-hydrated|
|Sunken, dull or dry eyes||Vitamin A or zinc deficiency; under-hydration|
|Dry eyes with gray spots||Vitamin A deficiency|
|Red or difficult-to-control eyes||Riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6), thiamine (B1) or phosphorus deficiency|
|Face||Acne||Vitamin C deficiency|
|Feet||Tingling feet||Pyridoxine (B6) or vitamin B12 deficiency|
|Gums||Sore and spongy or red and swollen||Vitamin C deficiency|
|Hands||Tingling hands||Pyridoxine (B6) or vitamin B12 deficiency|
|Lips||Cracked lips||Riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), or pyridoxine (B6) deficiency|
|Lungs||Shortness of breath||Over-hydrated|
|Mouth and mucous membranes||Dry mucous membranes||Under-hydrated|
|Sore mouth||Pyridoxine (B6) or vitamin B12 deficiency|
|Muscles||Muscle spasms||Calcium, magnesium or vitamin D deficiency|
|Nails||Brittle, thin nails||Iron deficiency|
|Saliva||Sticky saliva / dry mouth||Under-hydrated|
|Dry, scaly, pale or bruises easily||Iron, vitamin A, C, K, zinc, essential fatty acid or protein deficiency|
|Red spots under your skin’s surface||Vitamin C deficiency|
|Cool, pale, clammy skin||Under-hydrated|
|Scaly, greasy skin||Vitamin A, zinc or riboflavin (B2) deficiency|
|Tongue||Purple, white, or smooth and slick; painful||Riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), B12, zinc or iron deficiency|
|Sore tongue||Pyridoxine (B6) or Vitamin B12 deficiency|
|Dark coloured urine||Under-hydrated|
Part 2: Who’s at risk?
|Health condition||Deficiency risk|
|Alcoholism||Thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin, folic acid (B9)|
|Crohn’s disease||Vitamin A|
|Diabetes mellitus||Riboflavin (B2)|
|Excessive consumption of goitrogenic foods (cassava, cabbage, rutabagas, turnips, among others)||Iodine|
|Gastric bypass||Vitamin B12|
|Gluten intolerance (untreated)||Vitamin A|
|Gut flora irritation/alteration||Vitamin A|
|Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)||Vitamin C|
|Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)||Riboflavin (B2)|
|Increased energy needs (illness, intense training, injury rehabilitation, etc.)||Vitamin A|
|Inflammatory bowel disease||Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|Living in endemic areas with un-supplemented food supplies||Iodine|
|Menstruation (heavy or lengthy periods)||Iron|
|Pregnancy||Vitamin C, iron|
|Raw egg white consumption (excessive amounts)||Biotin|
|Sickle cell anemia||Zinc|
|Stress (excessive amounts)||Iodine|
|Sun exposure (insufficient amounts)||Vitamin D|
|Vegan diet||Vitamin B12|
Aminosalicylic acid – Vitamin B12 deficiency
Amitryptyline – riboflavin deficiency
Anticoagulant therapy – vitamin K deficiency
Anticonvulsants – vitamin D deficiency, folic acid deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency
Anti-thyroid therapy (methimazole, propylthiouracil) – iodine deficiency
Barbiturates – vitamin C deficiency
Carbamazepine – biotin deficiency
Cholestyramine – vitamin D deficiency
Colchicines – vitamin B12 deficiency
Colestipol – vitamin D deficiency
Corticosteroids – vitamin D deficiency
Cycloserine – pyridoxine deficiency, folic acid deficiency
Diethylenetriamine – zinc deficiency
Diuretics – zinc deficiency
D-penicillamine – zinc deficiency
EPO use – iron deficiency
Estrogen/oral contraceptives – vitamin C deficiency, folic acid deficiency
Ethionamide – pyridoxine deficiency
Hydralazine – pyridoxine deficiency
Imipramine – riboflavin deficiency
Iron megadoses – copper deficiency
Isoniazid – vitamin D deficiency, niacin deficiency, pyridoxine deficiency
Metformin – vitamin B12 deficiency
Methotrexate – folic acid deficiency
Neomycin – vitamin B12 deficiency
Nitrous oxide – vitamin B12 deficiency
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) – iron deficiency
Omeprazole – vitamin B12 deficiency
Penicillamine – pyridoxine deficiency
Pentamidine – folic acid deficiency
Phenothiazines – riboflavin deficiency
Phenytoin – biotin deficiency
Primidone – biotin deficiency
Probenecid – riboflavin deficiency
Pyrazinamide – pyridoxine deficiency
Pyrimethamine – folic acid deficiency
Salicylates – vitamin C deficiency, iron deficiency
Sulfasalazine – folic acid deficiency
Tetracycline – vitamin C deficiency
Triamterene – folic acid deficiency
Tricyclic antidepressants – riboflavin deficiency
Trimethoprim – folic acid deficiency
Valproate – zinc deficiency
Vitamin A megadoses – vitamin K deficiency
Vitamin E megadoses – vitamin K deficiency
Zinc megadoses – copper deficiency
There you have it. You’re now armed with more information than you ever wanted about nutrient deficiencies.
Again, if you are concerned about something, take notes and make an appointment with your health care provider.
Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.
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