How To Spot Common Nutritional Deficiencies

From stunted growth, eye problems to muscle weakness, nutritional deficiencies can lead to serious health issues. Here’s how you can spot some common nutritional deficiencies and help prevent them.

By D Tejaswi
04 Sep 2022

According to 'The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020' report, 14 per cent of India's population is undernourished. The report states 189.2 million people have nutritional deficiencies and over 30 per cent of the children aged under five in India are stunted.


Inadequate nutrition affects not only physical health but also mental health and sleep. The paper, Effects of diet on sleep quality finds that low protein intake (<16% of energy from protein) results in poor sleep quality. Another paper titled The Impact of Nutrients on Mental Health and Welbeing says that insufficient vitamin intake can result in dysregulation of stress hormones and increased inflammation. Conversely, when you meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of various minerals and vitamins, it helps reduce stress and lessens the probability of other stress-related diseases such as obesity and depression.


By now, you already know that you need vitamins and minerals to keep your body and mind healthy. To keep a watch on whether you are meeting all your nutritional requirements, watch out for these signs of nutritional deficiencies.


1. Brittle hair and nails

Do your nails often flake off or feel fragile? Nails that may occasionally feel "soft" or bend easily might be the result of a lack of Vitamin B7, also known as biotin. Alongside, you may also have other symptoms such as chronic fatigue, muscle pain, cramps, and tingling in the hands and feet, notes the book Dietary Reference Intakes.


Biotin promotes good skin health and is also necessary to produce keratin, a protein that is responsible for strong nails and hair. But your body doesn’t produce biotin naturally and you need it to obtain it from the food you eat.


How to fix biotin deficiency?

Anyone above 18 years of age should have 30 mg of biotin a day. You can get biotin from a variety of foods including green peas, legumes, lentils, sunflower seeds, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, egg yolks, and whole grains including barley and corn. The key is to consume these foods in their whole, unprocessed forms to get the highest quantity of biotin, notes Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.


Biotin is also available in multivitamins and supplements. Talk to your doctor before you begin to take them.


Related Story: Do You Have Brittle Nails And Feel Fatigued All The Time? You Could Be Deficient In This Mineral


2. Cracks in the corners of the mouth or mouth ulcers

While cracked or split lips may also be caused due to cold weather, or exposure to bacterial or fungal infections, they can be also due to a lack of a group of B vitamins including Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B12, and low iron levels, says Journal of Clinical Diagnostic Research, 2013.


Dry, red lips that crack on one or both sides of the mouth are a symptom of the lack of Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2. The itchy and painful cracks may further form white scabs and cause bleeding.


How to fix Vitamin B deficiency?

While immediate treatment typically involves applying medicated lip balms, long-term treatment requires working on the deficiency. Consuming foods rich in Riboflavin such as legumes, nuts, eggs, spinach, beans help gain enough of this vitamin.


Vegans, vegetarians, pregnant women, and people who drink alcohol frequently are likely to need more of this vitamin and thus, should ensure eating these foods, finds Statpearls.


Related Story: Vegan Diet – All You Need To Know


3. Bleeding gums

Inflamed and bleeding gums can be a sign of Vitamin C deficiency, says Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, a book published by National Academic Press. It explains that Vitamin C plays a role in building healthy gums. On the other hand, a lack of this vitamin causes gum tissue to weaken, and get inflamed, thus causing blood vessels to bleed more easily.


As you also know that Vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing and immunity, it's never a bad idea to increase your intake of Vitamin C-rich foods. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 90 mg/day for men and 75 mg/day for women.


How to fix Vitamin C deficiency?


Because the body does not make Vitamin C on its own, you should get it through diet. Include foods like strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bell peppers, tomatoes, and citrus fruits like oranges. Other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower as well have high levels of Vitamin C. But it would be best to avoid prolonged cooking of these foods because the nutrient content often gets altered with high heat. A healthy way to cook Vitamin C-rich foods is stir fry or blanch them.


4. Poor night vision

Do you know what helps to see you better at night? It is Rhodopsin, a pigment found in your retina. You need Vitamin A to produce rhodopsin. And lack of this vitamin can cause poor night vision. Low intake of Vitamin A causes night blindness, notes Community Eye Health Journal, 2020. It further says that when not paid attention to the condition can further damage the cornea and ultimately cause blindness.


Your body also produces other signs of Vitamin A deficiency such as skin irritation, stunted growth, and bitot spots (hazy vision).


How to fix Vitamin A deficiency?

The good news is that the combination of right supplements along with Vitamin A rich foods such as sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, squash, spinach, lettuce, oily fish, cod liver oil can help treat mild forms of Vitamin A deficiency. Note that Vitamin A is most readily absorbed in fat particles, so it’s helpful to have some healthy fats in your meals.


But when you notice any severe signs of Vitamin A deficiency, it is always advisable to get in touch with a doctor immediately.


5. Pale skin

Skin that is paler than usual is caused by low levels of iron because lack of iron makes the blood less red (hemoglobin in red blood cells gives blood its red colour). And so, if your skin is losing some of its warmth or colour, you may be iron deficient. Other symptoms you should look for include extreme fatigue, dizziness, palpitations or breathlessness.


According to a 2014 study published in the Frontiers in Pharmacology, iron is essential for healthy skin, mucous membranes, hair and nails. And, so if you also notice dark circles, slow wound healing or excessive hair loss, you should pick up on your iron intake. The amount of iron men need is 19 mg a day and 29 mg a day for women.


How to fix iron deficiency?

Good sources of iron include red meat, red kidney beans, dried apricots, chickpeas, nuts and liver. Iron supplements help too. According to the NHS, UK, drinking a glass of orange juice after you take the iron supplement helps your body absorb the iron.


6. Frequent headache

While you know the important relationship of Vitamin D with bone health, certain studies show that a lack of the sunshine vitamin can also cause frequent headaches. As per Nutrients, 2020, vitamin D supplementation benefits people suffering headaches, mainly migraineurs, to reduce the frequency of headaches. Another study performed on 100 adults with chronic tension-type headache found that these people were significantly deficient in Vitamin D and are more likely to experience muscle and bone tenderness.


What you should know is that while there is no direct correlation between headache and Vitamin D due to the small size of the study's sample, it is always safe and advised to take the recommended doses of Vitamin D to help manage frequent headaches.


How to fix Vitamin D deficiency?

The RDA of Vitamin D for adults 19 years and older is 15 mcg daily for men and women. The good news is that the body creates Vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. Daily exposure to 10 minutes of morning sun is all you need. Secondly, you can also include sources of Vitamin D found in a small number of foods such as oily fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines), red meat, egg yolks and fortified foods (milk, cheese, mushrooms).


Related Story: Vitamin D Deficiency: What You Need To Know


Lastly, it is important to note that blood tests are always helpful in determining the vitamins and minerals you need. Paying attention to your body from time to time and communicating your concerns with a doctor can help you take early precautions and manage any nutrient deficiencies.






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