What is a Nutrient Deficiency?
Your body requires many vitamins and minerals to function correctly. Some are produced naturally by the body and others must be obtained through a healthy diet. But when you aren’t able to supply these requirements to your body, you might start to experience mineral deficiency symptoms.
Nutritional deficiency happens when the body doesn’t get enough nutrients through diet and supplements. Left unchecked, nutrition deficiency can lead to larger health problems, such as issues with digestion, muscle spasms and cramps, bone fragility, skin disorders and more.
If you eat a healthy diet, it’s not as common to suffer the effects of nutrient deficiency. In fact, many foods are now fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, including milk, bread and cereals.
However, there are times when the body is unable to absorb these nutrients, thereby leading to a deficit.
So, what are the symptoms of nutrient deficiency? On this page, we break down some of the most common symptoms of mineral deficiency in humans. However, suffering from these symptoms doesn’t indicate a definitive deficiency. The only way to diagnose a deficiency is with particular blood tests.
What Causes Mineral Deficiencies?
Before we dive deeper into mineral deficiency symptoms, it’s vital to understand what causes them in the first place. The main cause of mineral deficiency is a lack of proper nutrition.
Eating a diet full of junk food is sure to lead to a deficiency. In addition, if a diet doesn’t include a variety of fruits and vegetables, it becomes difficult to get the nutrients that the body needs.
Low-calorie diets also lead to trouble — whether it is someone looking to lose weight or suffering from an eating disorder. This is why older adults who don’t have a strong appetite often have deficiencies.
Vegetarians, vegans and others with restrictive diets may also suffer from a mineral deficiency. And if you are lactose intolerant or have food allergies, it becomes more difficult to manage a healthy diet.
There are also conditions that cause trouble with digestion. If you suffer from one of these conditions, you may have difficulty absorbing enough of the nutrients your body needs:
- Disease of the gallbladder, kidneys, pancreas, intestines or liver
- Digestive tract surgery
- Chronic alcoholism
Some medications also interact with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. These medications include diuretics, laxatives, antibiotics and antacids. There are also certain times in life when more nutrients are needed. These occurrences may happen during pregnancy, lactation and menstruation for women.
Mild Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms
Mineral deficiency symptoms vary in severity from mild to severe. At first, you may notice more mild symptoms as your body becomes depleted of a particular nutrient. Additionally, it’s important to note that many of the common signs of nutrient deficiency may also be part of a larger health issue.
That’s why it’s vital to evaluate your diet anytime you encounter one of these symptoms. If you feel that it could be linked to a nutritional deficiency, it might be time to adjust what your eating and drinking.
Also, keep in mind mineral imbalance symptoms can often overlap. If you are missing magnesium, you may face some of the same symptoms as a person lacking proper calcium intake. That’s why you must focus on getting all of your nutrients and vitamins through proper dieting and supplementation.
And, because many trace mineral deficiency symptoms show up in the form of minor nuisances, they are also easy to ignore. Sure, some of them might interfere with your daily activities, but you might still be tempted to push through and look the other way. This is not an advisable option, as ignoring the minor symptoms could lead to a larger deficiency and put you in a more dire situation.
Life is busy and you might be quick to write-off your tiredness as simply doing too much, but it could also be linked to a primary nutrient deficiency.
Fatigue has been linked to deficiencies of the following vitamins and minerals:
However, fatigue is also a symptom that is common with many ailments, so it can be difficult to tell if a nutritional deficiency alone is causing it. Changing your diet will help you determine if the fatigue is related to nutrition or a cause for greater alarm. Additionally, you can have a blood test done to determine the levels of these vitamins and minerals and pinpoint which ones you need more of.
Brittle Hair and Nails
Biotin, which is a B-vitamin, helps your body convert food into energy. When you suffer from a biotin deficiency, you can suffer from brittle, splitting and thinning nails. Biotin deficiency also leads to other symptoms, such as muscle pain, chronic fatigue, tingling of the hands and feet, as well as cramping.
Those with the greatest risk of a biotin deficiency include pregnant women, those with digestive disorders and heavy drinkers or smokers. Additionally, taking anti-seizure medication or antibiotics for an extended period of time can lead to a lack of biotin in the body.
However, this deficiency is easily corrected by adding more biotin-rich foods, such as organ meats, dairy, egg yolks, fish, other meats, seeds, broccoli, spinach and bananas to your diet.
Before you reach for over-the-counter meds to cure your headaches, consider what your body might be trying to tell you. Some of the most common deficiencies that lead to headaches include:
Another top cause of a headache is dehydration. Water is often jam-packed with minerals that your body needs, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. In many cases, increasing your intake of water throughout the day might be enough to help you fend off headaches.
Muscle strain and overexertion are common causes for cramping, but nutritional deficiencies can also create problems. Additionally, dehydration can lead to muscle cramps.
Here are some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies that lead to muscle cramps:
Most of these vitamins and minerals can be obtained by eating a healthy diet. However, not only does a diet lacking these nutrients cause a deficiency, but taking diuretics can also cause depletions.
Abdominal pain and Stomach Issues
Having pain in your abdomen can range from a dull ache to a stabbing or throbbing sensation. You may also experience digestive issues. Many of these symptoms are caused by something lacking in your diet.
Here are a few to consider:
People with existing digestive issues may find it more difficult to keep up with recommended nutritional intakes. This is also the case for people suffering from a poor appetite or eating disorder.
Severe Signs of Nutrient Deficiency
If you allow minor mineral deficiency symptoms to continue without treatment, you face the risk of dealing with larger, more severe consequences. Once you’ve crossed into this level, you also put your body in danger of more serious illnesses and medical issues. By addressing any minor symptoms as they arise by responding with a proper diet change, you can prevent severe symptoms from setting in.
If you do start to experience these severe deficiency symptoms, you may want to start thinking about treatment for nutrient deficiency. Whether this is through a radical diet change, supplementation, or help from a healthcare provider, it’s vital that you take steps to protect your health.
Anxiety and Depression
Mental health and nutrition are linked together more than you may realize. As your body lacks essential nutrients, your brain health can suffer. This deficiency could lead to anxiety, depression and confusion.
Here are the most common minerals and vitamins you need for optimal mental health:
While a direct link between mental health and mineral deficiencies has yet to be scientifically established, it’s important to consider the possibility that any mental health issues you’re experiencing could be linked to — or exacerbated by — a lack of specific vitamins and minerals.
An Irregular Heart Beat
Calcium, potassium and magnesium are all vital nutrients for proper heart functionality. Calcium regulates the heartbeat, so a deficiency could lead to arrhythmia and chest pains.
Potassium and magnesium both also help to keep your heart stable. If you lack these nutrients, you could deal with an irregular heartbeat, combined with general muscle weakness and irritability.
When the body’s blood has the proper amount of electrolytes, the heartbeat is regulated. These electrolytes trigger the electrical impulses in the heart. But a lack of calcium, magnesium or potassium can create an electrolyte imbalance, causing arrhythmia.
Weak Immune System (Frequently Getting Sick)
Possibly the most important of all the nutrient deficiency examples is what can happen to the immune system. When your body is lacking vital nutrition, it becomes more susceptible to diseases and illness.
Some of the most important vitamins and minerals to consider related to the immune system include:
Nutrients boost the immune system in several ways. Some act as a physical barrier to dangerous invaders, while others support immunity at the cellular level. Additionally, the majority of vitamins and minerals promote some form of antibody production to ensure maximum protection.
Numbness and Tingling in the Hands and Feet
Vitamin B-12 is essential for keeping the nerves in your body healthy. A B-12 deficiency could lead to tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. It can also lead to severe nerve damage.
Additionally, magnesium and potassium are needed for proper nerve function. If your body is lacking either of these, you might suffer from numbness and tingling.
Other neurological symptoms of nutritional deficiencies have also been studied, including:
- Decreased reflexes
- Vibratory sensory loss
- Loss of vision
- Brain fog
- Altered mood
If your symptoms reach this level, it’s time to seek help before permanent damage to your body occurs.
How to Determine Which Nutrients You’re Deficient In
There’s enough of a correlation between vitamins, minerals and overall health to show that we must pay attention to how much of each essential vitamin and mineral we’re getting.
However, determining you definitely have a mineral deficiency isn’t as simple as you may think.
Some people just assume it’s best to take vitamins to promote optimal nutrition, but there isn’t a clear-cut solution. In fact, people who eat healthy foods might not need to take supplements.
However, supplementation has a purpose, which is why you want to know the status of vitamin and mineral levels in your body. While looking at mineral metabolism disorders symptoms is a good place to start, it can’t answer all of your questions. You need to know which nutrients you’re lacking.
The best way to find out is with a vitamin and mineral deficiency blood test. These tests measure the exact amount of nutrients in your body to determine what you may need more of. Once you know that, you can move forward with the changes required to avoid common mineral deficiency symptoms.
How to Correct Mineral Deficiencies
Once you gain an idea of which minerals your body is lacking, it’s time to make some changes. Ideally, you want to get your nutrients from your diet. In general, many superfoods are jam-packed full of nutrients and minerals. Consider adding these foods to your day:
- Dark leafy greens
You can compare your daily intake of vitamins and minerals to the recommended amounts laid out by the Office of Dietary Supplements. If you are having trouble reaching these recommendations, you might prefer to add a high-quality supplement to ensure you reach the recommended daily intake.
However, supplementation isn’t right for everyone. If you have a pre-existing condition or are taking medication, you should speak with your doctor before starting any new regimen. With some vitamins and minerals, it is possible to take too much, which is why you must exercise caution.