5 Body Signs of Nutritional Deficiencies
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies gone undetected or without cause for alarm over long periods can lead to life altering health complications. Different areas of your body can present with signs signaling to you that something is physiologically wrong. Being in tune with your body’s needs and aware of these signs of nutritional deficiency is critical to whole body wellness.
Optimal vitamins and minerals are required by the body to properly eliminate toxins from the body, promote the health needs of your digestive system, cardiovascular system, metabolism and total body strength. Signs can be both external and internal and can be caused by the over consumption of one vitamin or mineral which can leave your body out of balance and deficient in another mineral.
Learn these 5 body signs so that you can better detect how your body is functioning and to enable you to heal faster if you notice something is wrong. These small signs today are fixable and can prevent you from long term health problems.
Sign #1: Hair Loss and Skin Rash
Nutritional deficiencies affect a person’s entire life. Not only does nutritional malnutrition lead to a decline in physical health but many problems influence an individual’s ability to maintain a quality work and social life.
Hair loss and face rashes may impact one’s desire to feel comfortable in public settings and may be the first indicator that there is a hormonal imbalance or other physiological concern stemming from inadequate nutrient intake.
The body is unable to store the water soluble B7 vitamin called biotin. This makes it critical for a steady supply of biotin to be delivered to the body for optimal levels. Biotin is involved in several essential enzymatic reactions necessary for metabolism of glucose, amino acids and is especially critical in omega fatty acid metabolism (6, 7).
When biotin levels are depleted, a deficiency can result in alopecia or the loss of hair follicles in spots or patches on the head and body. Biotin deficiency is also associated with the appearance of an inflammatory skin condition characterized by a scaly, red rash around the body’s orifices. Biotin deficiency has been shown to be a key player in individuals with chronic liver diseases and is a sign that should not go untreated especially during infancy and early childhood. (6, 7)
You can test for a biotin deficiency through an organic acid test
Treatment for biotin deficiency lies in understanding a variety of potential causes and preventing the problem. Individuals who take anticonvulsant drugs and antibiotics are susceptible to biotin deficiency. Avoiding antibiotic treatment when possible is an essential strategy to maintaining biotin levels and supporting one’s health. (7)
Other individuals with intestinal malabsorption complications such as those with leaky gut syndrome or another inflammatory gut disorder should consider treatment to repair the intestinal tract and improve the ability of cells to receive biotin and other nutrients.
Eggs contain a protein called avidin that when consumed raw inhibits the ability of the body to effectively absorb biotin. Cooking eggs destroys the avidin protein disabling it from affecting biotin absorption. Eat foods rich in biotin such as almonds, sweet potatoes, raspberries, nuts, mushrooms, avocados, cauliflower and wild caught salmon.
When working with clients I often see low biotin levels using a home urine test called the organic acid test. When biotin levels are low, I almost always see other B vitamins low such as B2, B6, folate and often B12. I use a methylated B vitamin supplement that has the preactivated forms of all the B vitamins to help improve the utilization rate of the nutrients.
For general maintenance a supplement with 300-400 mcg (100-133% of RDA) of biotin daily is great. For slight deficiencies of biotin, I use 1 cap of B Strong – 2 times daily, which provides 800 mcg all together, 266% the RDA. For advanced cases of extreme biotin deficiency I will suggest supplementing with 2500-5000 mcg daily.
Sign #2: Oral Health Problems
Oral health reflects the relationship you have with consuming proper nutrients in your diet considering many of vitamins and minerals are responsible at protecting the oral cavity. Malnutrition can manifest in various ways in the oral cavity and develop into more severe health challenges down the road. For instance, consider the following nutrients and there effects on supporting structures in the oral cavity: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- Vitamin A & D: Supports tooth enamel formation and oral epithelium, aids in absorption of calcium and phosphorus deposit in teeth, assist in wound healing, supports salivary gland function
- Vitamin C: Fights infection, speeds up healing to stress on tooth cavity and gums, supports dentin and collagen formation, aids in calcium and iron absorption
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) & Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Aids in breakdown of carbs, proteins, fat and ketone bodies.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Helps convert energy from carbohydrates
- Vitamin B6: Aids in synthesis of red blood cells and assist in metabolism of proteins, fats and carbs
- Vitamin B12: Supports gum health and wound healing
- Iron: Supports salivary gland function, supports tooth, tongue and gum structure, regulates inflammation and is associated with ability to taste
- Zinc: The role involving zinc’s therapeutic effects on oral health is unclear but is an important mineral essential for a healthy immune response and prevention of complications to tongue
These symptoms are often associated with vegetarians who do not consume enough essential nutrients through diet because animal products contain many of the fat soluble vitamins needed to maintain oral health (1).
Individuals also susceptible to a vitamin deficiency in which symptoms manifest in the oral cavity include people with gastrointestinal diseases, thyroiditis, autoimmune disorders, and people who consume proton inhibitor medications (3).
Common vitamin and minerals associated with poor oral health include a complex of B vitamins including riboflavin (B2), B12 and niacin (B3) as well as minerals like iron and zinc. The effects of a deficiency for each nutrient listed above can result in the following problems: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- Vitamin A & D: Deficiency results in thinning enamel
- Vitamin C: Deficiency leads to bleeding gums and slow wound healing associated with gingivitis
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) & Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Deficiency causes inflammation of tongue, cracked lips, and burning or dryness of oral cavity
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Deficiency results in cracked lips and inflammation of mouth such as burning tongue or muscle weakness
- Vitamin B6: Deficiency can lead to burning sensation in mouth and periodontal disease
- Vitamin B12: Deficiency can cause inflammation in oral cavity, ulcers in the mouth and periodontal disease
- Iron: Deficiency causes inflammatory conditions of mouth, anemia, painful and burning sensation of tongue as well as dysfunction of the salivary gland
- Zinc: Deficiency can cause BMS or burning mouth syndrome
A deficiency in any of these nutrients can result in weakened immunity and a higher risk for infection. Unless you have specific dietary restraints, excellent protein sources containing iron, zinc and B vitamins are found in wild caught salmon and tuna, free-range poultry and organic and free range sourced eggs.
Watch out for phytate containing foods such as grains, legumes and nuts. These phytic acids bind to minerals like zinc and iron and reduce our ability to absorb them. Soaking and sprouting nuts and seeds removes the phytic acids and enhances the bioavailability of the nutrients in the nut or seed. Additionally, be sure to use fermented foods which have a higher amount of B vitamins and good bacteria and enzymes to enhance the digestive process.
Add more vegetables to your diet high in vitamin C to boost the availability of iron into the body. Such foods include kale, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli, tomatoes, red bell peppers and citrus fruits like lemons and limes. Especially if you follow a specific diet, it is crucial to receive B vitamins from foods like avocados and dark leafy green vegetables.
The infographic below has some additional helpful nutrition tips to improve your oral health.
Sign #3: Muscular Cramps in Legs
Frequent muscle cramping in the calves, arches of the feet and a stabbing sensation in your toes may be a sign that you are deficient in one of the critical nutrients that work in balance to control other ions. You may just be working up a sweat more often than before which increases your loss of electrolytes. However, whether your cramps occur over short or long term periods this symptom should be treated accordingly.
Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutrients we are deficient in. It is also one of the most critical minerals in supporting healthy nerve function in the body aiding in muscle relaxation and contraction, and acting as an electrolyte in bodily fluids amongst other life-giving functions. Depleted magnesium levels can lead to the imbalance in calcium ion channels throughout the body which manifest as a number of health symptoms. (8)
Along with magnesium, a potassium deficiency can cause cramping in leg muscles. Potassium is also involved in maintaining the integrity of cellular fluid and works closely with other minerals like calcium to support nerve function and smooth muscle tone (10).
Inadequate calcium absorption or deficiency may also be to blame for those tight muscles. Calcium is involved in muscle contractions and assists in generating nerve impulses. Vitamin D is critical to regulate and increase the absorption of calcium and may be an underlying cause or another underlying issue of your calcium deficiency. However, because the three nutrients play a role in preventing muscle cramping, any one deficiency in magnesium, potassium or calcium should not be ruled out. (12)
Excellent sources of magnesium in foods are found in avocados, pumpkin seeds and unsweetened cacao while Brazil nuts and almonds contain high amounts of both magnesium and potassium (9, 11). Both calcium and magnesium can be received in combination with a healthy ratio of vitamin D3 to regulate calcium absorption in fermented foods like kefir, yogurt and milk from 100% grass-fed animals. Coconut water and coconut water kefir are great sources of potassium.
The most effective combination I have found includes doing 3 Epsom salt baths each week, 3 days of sunbathing at least 30 minutes with 40% or more of the body getting high quality sun exposure (or taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D3/K2 daily), using fermented foods and drinks like coconut water kefir and an avocado daily. In addition, I recommend using generous amounts of pink Himalayan salts on food and hydrating well throughout the day. Consume some dark green leafy veggies each day for calcium and anti-oxidants.
Many essential oils have natural antispasmodic qualities, which help inhibit problems associated with spasms, cramps and muscle pulls. Some good ones include lavendar, chamomile, rosemary or cypress. You can massage these onto your legs, diffuse them in your home and put them into your Epsom salt bath.
Finally, for individuals under more stress, I recommend doing 1-2 scoops of Brain Calm Magnesium in water daily. I have found this protocol to work great!
Sign #4: Itchy Red Rashes, Acne & Blemishes
Several skin problems are associated with nutrient deficiency. Skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, severe acne and even skin pigmentation disorders may have you trying to alleviate the problem with skin moisturizers and anti-inflammatory drugs.
However, understanding the cause will help you find a cure. Learning if your skin blemishes are caused by a lack of adequate nutrients in your diet may be the first step to fixing to your problem. The most common deficiencies with these conditions include fat soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E. Also, omega 3 fatty acids and gamma linoleic acid (GLA) are key for healthy skin.
Most people wouldn’t realize this, but if I don’t consume a healthy diet and have a lot of stress, I develop a lot of skin blemishes. To remedy this, I load up on foods rich in vitamin A and E such as grass-fed butter and vegetables and I supplement with a high quality omega 3 supplement with added GLA each day. Now, I have outstanding skin and I plan to keep it that way for life!
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that vitamin A deficiency is a public health concern affecting more than half of the globe and vitamin D is virtually an epidemic considering 90% of the population is deficient in this critical nutrient (13, 14). Most people are also deficient in omega 3 fatty acids and GLA.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A, also referred to as retinol in skin care products, is critical to be maintained at normal levels. Vitamin A is necessary for a healthy immune response in the skin and can inhibit inflammatory skin reactions like persistent acne.
Perhaps more severe than acne, vitamin A supports the integrity of cells that make up epithelial tissue and a lack of vitamin A in diet can cause dry, scaly skin that stimulates premature aging. (19)
Vitamin D Deficiency
The Vitamin D Council summarizes the latest news and research on vitamin D and estimates that individuals who experience skin issues like eczema are commonly found to be deficient in this nutrient (15). Furthermore, studies show that individuals with the lowest levels of vitamin D exhibit more severe eczema symptoms than those with higher concentrations (16).
Eczema involves inflammation of the skin and can appear anywhere on the body. A rash can be characterized by dry and flaky skin but can also be more severe causing extreme redness that is itchy and looks infected. Similar to eczema, psoriasis causes skin irritation and redness that is commonly treated with synthetic vitamin D3 ointments (17).
Foods rich in vitamin A include liver, organic eggs from pastured chickens, dark green vegetables, carotenoid containing produce like carrots and sweet potato as well as milk from 100% grass-fed cows. One of my favorite sources of vitamin A is grass-fed butter or ghee. I recommend use these generously each day.
Although the sun is the primary origin of vitamin D synthesis for your skin, grass-fed butter is also high in vitamin D. You may consider supplementing your diet with cod liver oil as this provides a healthy balance between vitamin A and D. (18) Be sure to to keep all sugar out of your diet and look out for other triggers like dairy proteins and gluten.
I would also recommend adding in probiotics to support gut health and applying coconut oil and gentle essential oils like lavender to your face to help improve the skin’s microbiome and reduce inflammation on the surface of the skin. You can also find non-toxic facial cleansers with agents like activated charcoal that can be very helpful.
A great source of the omega 3 fatty acids and GLA is through a purified fish oil that is rich in EPA and DHA and also contains added borage oil for the GLA component. I always recommend the oil form as you get much more omega 3’s and GLA for your dollar than capsules. For mild cases, take 1 tsp daily. For moderate to advanced cases take 1 tbsp – 2x daily.
#5: Abnormal Sensations in Hands or Feet
Have you ever experienced a tingling in your toes? How about a numbness in your hands or the sensation of pins and needles in your feet? These minor and seemingly insignificant symptoms can be a sign of a serious health problem. Symptoms may be slow to develop but become more severe and lead to serious health consequences over time.
Vitamin B12 & Folate (Vitamin B9): Since the intrinsic relationship between vitamin B12 deficiency and disease was first recognized in 1849, researchers have fought to understand the many metabolic roles this vital nutrient plays in maintaining health. Vitamin B12 is involved in a key reaction that regulates nerve function, supports DNA synthesis and helps regulate specific amino acid levels like homocysteine from becoming toxic. (21, 24)
Folate is another B vitamin involved in similar neurological pathways. A deficiency in vitamin B12 and folate are associated with inflammatory conditions throughout the body. However, severe problems that can arise from a vitamin B deficiency like Crohn’s Disease may be masked by less problematic symptoms early on. One of these early body signs is neurological damage manifested as numbness or tingling in areas of the body such as hands and feet. (21)
Vitamin B6: Although vitamin B6 is present in many food sources and many people in developed countries have healthy levels, there are risk factors that can increase vitamin B6 deficiency. For instance, vitamin B6 deficiency is more common in the elderly, women and smokers.
Even in a margin of the population, vitamin B6 deficiency is still a concern as it assists in many metabolic functions including neurotransmitter function and the metabolism of carbs, fatty acids, amino acids and organic acids. (22, 23)
Vitamin B6 is also involved in nerve conduction and impulse due to its many interactions with other nutrients (23). A lack of vitamin B6 can trigger nerve damage if gone untreated over a lengthy duration.
I routinely test for B6, folate and B12 status as well as other key B vitamins through an Organic Acid test that you can find here
Foods containing a complex of B vitamins are primarily of animal origin such as meat, eggs, dairy and poultry. This is why vegans and vegetarians are at an increased risk of vitamin B deficiency (20). Although vitamin B12 is bound in protein in animal products, vitamin B6 can be obtained from meat as well as green leafy vegetables.
Some individuals have genetic issues such as pyroluria that cause them to need much higher B6 levels. Other people have a dysbiotic gut and the bacteria are unable to produce adequate B6 levels. This is where fermented foods can be especially helpful sources of highly absorbable B6.
If I see low B6, folate and B12 levels on lab testing, I will use B Strong, 1 cap – 2x daily for mild deficiencies. Some individuals will need a methylated B12 that bypasses the digestive tract and gets right into the blood stream. For these cases I use B12 Power, 1 cap – 1x daily away from meals for individuals with moderate deficiencies and 1 cap – 2x daily for individuals with severe B12 deficiencies.
3 Reasons for Nutritional Deficiencies
1. Poor Diet
Making wise dietary choices is the first step to fine tuning the nutritional disturbances that your body is facing. Without optimal nutrients, the body is less able to absorb and utilize what nutrients it does consume and increases the risk for systemic dysfunction.
Experts recommend consuming lean protein to acquire your body’s nutritional needs for both essential and non-essential amino acids. Non-animal proteins are high in folate and fiber but generally lack essential amino acids. Healthy fats such as coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, avocados and olive oil should be used generously. Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D as well as omega fatty acids.
Above all, consuming a wide variety of nutritional antioxidants sourced from all the colors of the rainbow in fruits in vegetables can help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Consider eating a superfood every day and choose to have a salad as one of your meals. Be sure to choose organic produce to consume foods with the highest nutritional density.
AVOID: Processed and commercialized meats should be avoided all together. When choosing to eat red meat, make the choice to consume only grass-fed red meat. You should also consider the following dietary recommendations:
- Avoid unhealthy fats high in trans-fats or partially hydrogenated oils found in butter substitutes, ice cream, vegetable oil and generally all processed foods.
- Avoid, if not limit your intake of fermentable carbohydrates from processed foods.
- Avoid simple sugars including high fructose corn syrup and table sugar which feed carcinogenic bacteria and create metabolic disturbances.
- Do choose to drink purified water, probiotic beverages like coconut water kefir and herbal teas in replacement of your soda, juice and energy drinks.
2. Chronic Stress
Everyday stress to the body can create a vicious cycle which can cause nutrient deficiency and induce symptoms of stress such as depression and anxiety which further depletes the body storage of vital vitamins and minerals (8). Especially as you age, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients and detoxification pathways are further hindered.
Nutrients are one of several environmental influences that can either support or impede epigenetic gene expression. From this perspective of gene regulation, diseases may not only be inherited but modified and expressed through changes in an individual’s environment. Researchers have recently begun to show how the intake of nutrients and their bioavailability is essential to maintaining health especially under stressful conditions. (25)
The stress response is another influencing factor for epigenetic gene regulation which reduces the availability of bioactive food compounds and uses up antioxidant supplies. Quality nutrition is critical to combating the damage to cells and tissue in the body resulting from stress responses.
3. Digestive Disturbances
The health of the gut microbiota is a significant contributor to the body’s ability to effectively absorb nutrients from food. Different species of bacteria inhabit the gut providing a variety of benefits for health. Amongst these duties includes their ability to breakdown food into micronutrients which can be easily taken up and transported to cells (27).
The gut is a common site further impacted by chronic stress. Stress creates inflammation on the gastrointestinal tract reducing the ability of hair-like projections called microvilli from absorbing nutrients (26).
Inflammatory gut conditions further provide an environment for carcinogenic bacteria like Candida and E. coli to thrive (28). These bacteria can be found in small concentrations resulting from food contaminants but can promote intestinal infection and nutritional deficiencies resulting from their overgrowth. Consuming probiotic and prebiotic foods such as grass-fed kefir and yogurt can help keep these harmful bacterial colonies at bay (29).
If you are not producing enough stomach acid, you may not be optimally absorbing nutrients. The lack of ability for the gut to absorb vitamin B12 is one of the two mechanisms which generally triggers vitamin B12 deficiency; the other being diet. A chronic inflammatory stomach condition known as atrophic gastritis is a major cause for the lack of vitamin B12 absorption in the gut. This results in the loss of glandular secretions and a reduction in enzymes that metabolize nutrients such as pepsin. (21)