Nutrient deficiency symptoms to watch out for and what they mean

Any of these symptoms could indicate a vitamin deficiency (Image:

Modern diets and sedentary lifestyles have left people with a host of nutrient deficiencies that they may not even be aware of.

While someone’s body may desperately need more iron, zinc or vitamin b12, they ignore symptoms because they don’t seem that important.

Insufficient sleep and brittle nails can easily be passed over as a result of a busy work schedule or the weather – but it can be more than that.

D., an internist at RUSH University Medical Center. “There are many obvious symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies,” says Patricia Graham.

“But the good news is that if you take steps to correct the deficiency, the symptoms will either improve or go away completely.”

While some vitamin deficiencies can be easily remedied with a few carefully selected supplements (like Vitamin D pills during the winter months), others may need a more wholesale approach to diet and exercise.

Here are some signs to look out for and what to do about them.


Fatigue is a common symptom shared by many diseases, but it can be caused specifically by a lack of iron in the blood.

Iron is a mineral that the body uses to create hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. If you have an iron deficiency, your body will feel tired because not enough oxygen is getting around.

Iron-rich foods such as beef, lamb, chicken, broccoli and strawberries can be consumed to help maintain balance.

dry hair

If your hair is shaggy and straw-like, it may be due to poor iron (see above) and protein levels in your diet.

As with fatigue, it’s caused by a lack of oxygen circulating through your body and reaching your follicles. To solve this, add a little more chicken, eggs and nuts to your diet.

protruding nails

If you have ridges along your nails, they could be a sign of nutrient deficiency. Small indented lines on nails known as ‘Beau lines’ can be associated with diabetes and vascular disease.

However, in some cases, it can also be a sign that a person needs more zinc in their diet. Zinc helps the body’s cell growth, and some of the foods that contain it are red meat, chicken, and avocado.

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Red meat, chicken, and avocado can help your body throw zinc (Image: Getty)

burning mouth

Burning mouth syndrome, as the name suggests, can feel like your mouth is on its own. The emotion can come on suddenly and disappear again just as quickly.

Different causes of the condition include vitamin b12 and iron deficiencies. As with protruding nails, this symptom can also be caused by a zinc deficiency in a person’s diet.

“If you’re experiencing this, it should definitely raise an alarm,” says Graham.

Plant-based diets increase the risk of deficiency by eliminating most B12-rich foods (meat and dairy products). But you can get your daily dose of almond milk, nutritional yeast, and fortified soy and coconut milk.

muscle spasms

Muscle spasms, also known as hypokalemia, occur when the body lacks potassium. This helps your nerves and muscles work through electrical signals sent by your brain.

When you’re not getting enough, you may notice that your muscles start twitching randomly. Bananas are the most famous remedy for potassium deficiency, but other foods such as beans, potatoes and green vegetables can also suffice.

brittle nails

Brittle nails can be a sign of poor health in general, but there are two deficiencies specifically associated with it: iron and biotin.

As above, iron contributes to oxygen in the blood, while biotin raises the levels of keratin-forming amino acids. This is a type of protein found in epithelial cells such as nails, hair, and skin.

numb fingers

If you experience numbness or tingling in your fingers, it could be a sign of a serious calcium deficiency.

Calcium is essential for nerve health, and losing it can mean that peripheral nerve functionality may begin to decline. Dairy products such as milk and cheese are the best options for adding more calcium to your diet.

bleeding gums

If your gums bleed frequently after brushing or flossing, it may be due to a vitamin C deficiency. The vitamin is essential for the body’s healing process and promotes the growth of blood vessels.

A lack of vitamin C means your body can’t repair the damage, causing bleeding. In addition to citrus fruits – it also includes broccoli, peppers and tomatoes. You can also find vitamin C supplements at most drugstores.


If your gums bleed after flossing, it may mean you need a little more vitamin C (Image: Getty Images)

night blindness

Obviously we cannot see in pitch dark, but the human eye must be well adapted to see in dim and low light conditions.

If a person’s eyes are not able to adapt to changes in the surrounding light, this may be a sign that they have a rhodopsin deficiency in their eyes. This is a protein made by the body, and a lack of vitamin A can have an effect on the process.

Vitamin A is found in green leafy vegetables as well as peppers, fish and dairy products.


Dandruff is a very prominent condition and can be a result of scalp dryness caused by zinc deficiency.

Zinc is common in meats, nuts, seeds, and many vegetables. Increase your intake and your black clothes will thank you.

smooth tongue

A very smooth tongue (glossitis) may not be a cause for concern, but in some cases it can be the result of a nutrient deficiency.

Known as folic acid, vitamin b9 is very important for the development of DNA and RNA in the body. Scientists aren’t sure why, but sometimes those with vitamin-deficient diets can get a smooth tongue.

Folic acid is found in dark green vegetables, nuts, beans and fish.


If you feel nauseous regularly—especially in the morning—it could be a sign that something is wrong.

You may be deficient in magnesium, an essential mineral and electrolyte linked to energy levels and muscle and nerve function.

The best way to get relief from nausea is to increase the amount of greens in your diet. Things like spinach, broccoli, and beans should appear regularly on your plate for you to feel good.

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