Symptoms of vitamin deficiency include brittle hair and nails, mouth ulcers, hair loss, scaly skin patches, and more. Recognizing these signs can help you adjust your diet accordingly.
A well-balanced and nutritious diet has many benefits. On the other hand, a diet lacking in nutrients may cause various unpleasant symptoms.
These symptoms are your body’s way of communicating potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
This article reviews the 8 most common signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies and how to address them.
1. Brittle hair and Nails
Brittle hair and nails can be caused by various factors, including a lack of biotin, a vitamin B7 that converts food into energy. Biotin deficiency is rare but can cause symptoms like brittle, thinning, or splitting hair and nails. Pregnant women, heavy smokers, and people with digestive disorders are at higher risk. Prolonged use of antibiotics and anti-seizure medications is also a risk factor. Raw egg whites contain avidin, which can reduce biotin absorption.
Biotin-rich foods include egg yolks, organ meats, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, yeast, whole grains, and bananas. Supplements with biotin may provide 30 micrograms per day, but only a few studies have shown benefits. A biotin-rich diet may be the best choice for those with brittle hair or nails.
2. Mouth ulcers or cracks in the corners of the mouth
Lesions in and around the mouth may partly be linked to an insufficient intake of certain vitamins or minerals.
For instance, mouth ulcers, also commonly referred to as canker sores, are often the result of deficiencies in iron or B vitamins.
One small study notes that patients with mouth ulcers appear to be twice as likely to have low iron levels.
In another small study, around 28% of patients with mouth ulcers had deficiencies in thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and pyridoxine (vitamin B6).
Foods rich in iron include poultry, meat, fish, legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Good sources of thiamine, riboflavin, and pyridoxine include whole grains, poultry, meat, fish, eggs, dairy, organ meats, legumes, green vegetables, starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
If you experience these symptoms, try adding the foods above to your diet to see if your symptoms improve.
Summary People with mouth ulcers or cracks at the corners of the mouth may
want to try consuming more foods rich in thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and
iron to alleviate symptoms.
3. Bleeding gums
Tooth brushing techniques can cause bleeding gums, but a diet lacking vitamin C can also be a contributing factor. Vitamin C is crucial for wound healing, immunity, and antioxidant protection. It is rare for individuals to consume enough fresh fruits and vegetables daily, but many fail to do so. Studies estimate low vitamin C levels in 13-30% of the population, with 5-17% being deficient. Consuming too little vitamin C for extended periods can lead to symptoms like bleeding gums, tooth loss, and scurvy.
Common signs include easy bruising, slow wound healing, dry scaly skin, and frequent nosebleeds. To maintain adequate vitamin C levels, consume at least 2 pieces of fruit and 3-4 portions of vegetables daily.
4. Poor night vision and white growths on the eyes
A nutrient-poor diet can cause vision problems, such as night blindness and xerophthalmia. Vitamin A is essential for producing rhodopsin, a pigment in the retinas that helps see at night. Untreated night blindness can progress to xerophthalmia, which damages the cornea and leads to blindness. Bitot’s spots, white growths on the conjunctiva, can be removed but disappear once treated. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in developed countries, and insufficient intake can be improved by consuming more vitamin-A-rich foods.
Most people should avoid taking vitamin A supplements unless diagnosed with a deficiency. Excessive fat-soluble vitamin A consumption can lead to toxic symptoms like nausea, headaches, skin irritation, joint pain, and even death.
5. Scaly patches and dandruff
Seborrheic dermatitis (SB) and dandruff are part of the same group of skin disorders that affects the oil-producing areas of your body.
Both involve itchy, flaking skin. Dandruff is mostly restricted to the scalp, whereas seborrheic dermatitis can also appear on the face, upper chest, armpits, and groin.
The likelihood of these skin disorders is highest within the first 3 months of life, during puberty, and in mid-adulthood.
Studies show that both conditions are also very common. Up to 42% of infants and 50% of adults may suffer from dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis at one point or another.
Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis may be caused by many factors, with a nutrient-poor diet being one of them. For instance, low blood levels of zinc, niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and pyridoxine (vitamin B6) may each play a role.
Foods rich in niacin, riboflavin, and pyridoxine include whole grains, poultry, meat, fish, eggs, dairy, organ meats, legumes, green vegetables, starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Seafood, meat, legumes, dairy, nuts, and whole grains are all good sources of zinc.
6. Hair loss
Hair loss is a very common symptom. In fact, up to 50% of adults report hair loss by the time they reach 50 years of age.
Meat, fish, eggs, legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are good sources of iron and zinc.
Niacin-rich foods include meat, fish, dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. These foods are also rich in biotin, which is also found in egg yolks and organ meat.
Leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and vegetable oils are rich in LA, while walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and soy nuts are rich in ALA.
Many supplements claim to prevent hair loss. Many of them contain a combination of the nutrients above, in addition to several others.
These supplements appear to boost hair growth and reduce hair loss in people with documented deficiencies in the aforementioned nutrients. However, there is very limited research on the benefits of such supplements in the absence of a deficiency.
Vitamin and mineral supplements without deficiencies may worsen hair loss, as excess selenium and vitamin A are linked to hair loss.
Unless your healthcare provider confirms a deficiency, it’s best to opt for diets rich in these nutrients, rather than supplements.
7. Red or white bumps on the skin
Keratosis pilaris is a condition that causes goosebump-like bumps to appear on the cheeks, arms, thighs, or buttocks. These little bumps may also be accompanied by corkscrews or ingrown hairs.
The condition often appears in childhood and naturally disappears in adulthood.
The cause of these little bumps is still not fully understood, but they may appear when too much keratin is produced in hair follicles. This produces red or white elevated bumps on the skin.
Keratosis pilaris may have a genetic component, meaning that a person is more likely to have it if a family member has it. That said, it has also been observed in people with diets low in vitamins A and C.
Thus, in addition to traditional treatments with medicated creams, people with this condition may consider adding foods rich in vitamins A and C to their diet.
These include organ meats, dairy, eggs, fish, dark leafy greens, yellow-orange colored vegetables, and fruit.
8. Restless leg syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a nerve condition that causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs, as well as an irresistible urge to move them.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, RLS affects up to 10% of Americans, with women twice as likely to experience the condition. For most people, the urge to move seems to intensify when they’re relaxing or trying to sleep.
For instance, several studies link low blood iron stores to increased severity of RLS symptoms. Several studies also note that symptoms often appear during pregnancy, a time during which women’s iron levels tend to drop.
Supplementing with iron generally helps decrease RLS symptoms, especially in people with a diagnosed iron deficiency. However, the effects of supplementation may vary from person to person.
Since higher iron intakes appear to reduce symptoms, increasing the intake of iron-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, may also be beneficial.
It may be especially handy to combine these iron-rich foods with vitamin-C-rich fruits and vegetables, as these can help increase iron absorption.
Using cast-iron pots and pans and avoiding tea or coffee at meals can also help boost iron absorption.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that unnecessary supplementation can do more harm than good and may reduce the absorption of other nutrients.
Extremely high iron levels can even be fatal in some cases, so it’s best to consult your healthcare provider before taking supplements.
Finally, some evidence suggests that magnesium insufficiency may play a role in restless leg syndrome.
The bottom line
A diet that provides an insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals can cause several symptoms, some of which are more common than others.
Often, increasing your intake of foods rich in the appropriate vitamins and minerals can help resolve or greatly reduce your symptoms.