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Vitamin Deficiency: Do You Have a Nutritional Gap?

4 min read  |  July 28, 2022  | 

Not everyone eats a well-balanced diet of nutrient-rich vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. But, even if you do, you may lack certain vitamins and minerals your body needs daily. 

“Healthy individuals may develop vitamin deficiencies despite eating a well-balanced diet,” says Federika Garcia, M.S., RDN, LDN, CNSC, a clinical oncology registered dietitian with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System. You may have a nutritional deficiency “if you are not varying your food choices (changing and rotating the colors of fruits and vegetables, for example), or you’re eating insufficient quantities of nutrient-rich foods.” 

Other causes for vitamin or mineral deficiencies include genetics, racial ethnicity, and nutrient digestion and absorption issues. 

“Most frequently, health conditions, surgeries with anatomical changes and resections (such as a gastric bypass), and treatments for certain diseases raise the risk for developing deficiencies, despite eating a well-balanced diet.

“Drug-nutrient interactions are also prevalent. For example, some medications can induce vitamin/mineral deficiencies by interacting with their metabolism, absorption, transport, activation, and utilization,” Garcia says.

Do you have a vitamin deficiency?

The first indicators of a vitamin or mineral deficiency are symptoms associated with those conditions. In the United States, the most common vitamin deficiencies are vitamins D and B12, magnesium, folate, and potassium. 

  • If you’re not consuming or absorbing enough vitamin D, you may experience poor bone health (osteopenia, osteoporosis, or bone fractures) or depression.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency is often marked by poor memory and cognitive function, neuropathy, numbness, depression, fatigue, anemia, dementia, or canker sores.
  • If your diet is low in magnesium, you may experience muscle weakness and cramping, poor bone health, poor mental status, confusion, cardiovascular disease, constipation, fatigue, or poor sleep.
  • Folate deficiency can present with fatigue, irritability, or anemia.
  • Insufficient potassium levels can lead to muscle cramps and weakness, fatigue, hypertension, and/or cardiovascular disease.

If you are experiencing these symptoms without explanation, speak to your doctor. 

“It’s important to look at the full picture of your health, diet, and signs and symptoms of nutrient inadequacies,” Garcia says.

To confirm a deficiency, your doctor may recommend specific tests. There are limitations to these tests, and nutritional biomarkers are not available for every nutrient. 

“Blood tests, neurologic and gastrointestinal status, and nutrition-focused physical exams (i.e., looking at changes in appearance, texture, color, and shape of the eyes, hair, mouth, nails, and skin) are used to assess patients,” she says.

How can you correct a nutritional deficiency?

Eating the rainbow is a simple way to ensure you’re getting a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients instead of empty calories (added sugars and fiber-less white starches). Fill your plate with colorful veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins (not all brown, white, and yellow foods). Limit highly processed products, fast foods, and sodas.

But, a healthy diet alone may not provide everything your body needs.

“Once a deficiency is suspected and ideally confirmed via blood tests, physical signs, and symptoms that correlate with nutrient inadequacy, high-dose vitamin/mineral supplements may be recommended,” says Garcia.

Those considered high-risk (senior citizens, pregnant women, and the immune-compromised) and adults with a history of a deficiency may need higher doses of vitamins and minerals in addition to nutrient-rich whole foods.

“Others with medical conditions (like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease) or on certain medications (like PPIs and metformin) may benefit from close monitoring and supplementation with specific nutrients,” she says.

You may want to skip the vitamin aisle if you’re not nutrient deficient. 

Garcia warns that supplementing vitamins and minerals in high doses without the supervision of a medical professional can do more harm than good.

“If overconsumed without clinical oversight, some nutrients may accumulate in excess, leading to toxicity,” she says.

“Vitamin D and vitamin A toxicities, for example, can have negative health repercussions. Vitamins and minerals often act in synergistic and antagonistic ways. A nutrient consumed in excess without a deficiency can lead to a secondary nutritional deficiency. For example, excess zinc supplementation can lead to copper deficiency.”

The world of functional medicine and nutrition is constantly evolving. 

Speak with a registered dietitian to learn how to support your overall health safely and effectively reach your physical performance goals through enhanced nutrition. 

Keep an honest food journal for a couple of weeks, so your healthcare provider can start with an accurate picture of your nutritional intake. And keep in mind that there’s no magic pill to overcome a poor diet.


Dana Kantrowitz is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.


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