Nutritional deficiency (or malnutrition) is the result of the body not getting enough of the nutrients it actually needs. If you eat a well-balanced food, you’re probably giving your body enough amounts of vitamins and minerals it needs in order to function properly.
If not – there is a great chance your body is lacking in essential nutrients. Even though you eat good, some other factors – as certain health ailments (digestive problems and others) and your age – can impact the ability of your body to absorb the nutrients in the food.
In the meantime, storage time, soil quality, and processing may significantly influence the levels of some nutrients in your food, such that even healthy products might not be as nutrient-rich as you think.
Nutrient deficiency can be sneaky, as well. We often fail to recognize that mineral and vitamin deficiencies are making us unwell, and instead we turn to medicine or look for a diagnosis. So, why not turn to the safest approach first?
Unless you are really deficient for some time, you might notice not a single symptom, leading you to think (falsely, of course) that you are getting all the nutrition that your body needs.
But, many times, such deficiency do cause symptoms that can range from minor to severe. Except you know what to look for, though, you’re likely to mistake the symptoms for something else…
Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiency
The nutritional deficiency symptoms depend on which nutrient your body lacks.Testing for nutrient deficiencies is significant for everyone to do to know where they stand. But… how do you find out? Here are some common symptoms you may experience, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Pallor (pale skin)
- Unusual food cravings
- Hair loss
- Periods of lightheadedness
- Feeling fainting or faint
- Heart palpitations
- Tingling and numbness of the joints
- Poor concentration
- Menstrual problems (such as very heavy cycles or missed periods)
You may experience all of these symptoms or just some of them. Over time, many people adapt to these symptoms, and this could cause the problem to go undiagnosed. Therefore, you should schedule a check-up with your GP if you have prolonged periods of poor concentration, weakness, or fatigue. These symptoms could be a sign of the beginning of a serious deficiency.
Types of Nutritional Deficiency
Following, you can find the most common types of nutritional deficiencies:
1. Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is the most widespread deficiency worldwide. It can lead to anemia, a common blood disorder that causes weakness, fatigue, and many other symptoms.
Iron is found in foods such as red meat, egg yolks, and dark leafy greens. It helps our bodies make red blood cells.
2. Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A belongs to the group of nutrients vital for eye health and reproductive health. It also plays a great role in strengthening the immune system against various infections. A lack of vitamin A is the main cause of preventable blindness in children, according to the WHO. Pregnant women who are lacking in vitamin A have upper maternal mortality rates, too.
For babies, breast milk is the best source of vitamin A. For everyone else, it is significant to consume plenty of foods that are rich in vitamin A, including eggs, milk, orange vegetables (as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and carrots), green vegetables (as spinach, broccoli, and kale), and reddish-yellow fruits (as papaya, peaches, and apricots).
3. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) Deficiency
Thiamine is a significant part of your nervous system. A lack of thiamine can result in fatigue and weight loss, as well as certain cognitive symptoms like short-term memory loss and confusion. Many grain products and breakfast cereals in the United States are fortified with vitamin B1. Pork is also a great source of thiamine.
4. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Deficiency
Niacin, like thiamine, helps our bodies convert food into energy. A severe deficiency of vitamin B3 is usually referred to as pellagra. This vitamin is found in most proteins. Accordingly, this condition is really rare in meat-eating groups. Symptoms of pellagra include skin problems, dementia, and diarrhea. You can often treat it with a well-balanced diet and niacin supplements.
5. Vitamin B9 (Folate) Deficiency
Folate (folic acid is the synthetic form found in fortified foods or supplements), helps our bodies create red blood cells and produce DNA. Plus, it helps nervous system functioning and brain development. You can find vitamin B9 in foods, including citrus fruits, asparagus, lentils and beans, leafy green vegetables, fortified grain products, shellfish, and meats such as pork and poultry.
6. Magnesium Deficiency
About 80 % of people in the U.S. may be deficient in magnesium. This mineral is a crucially significant for optimal health, performing various biological functions, including activating nerves and muscles; helping digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins; creating energy in the body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP); acting as a precursor for neurotransmitters as serotonin, and serving as a building block for DNA and RNA synthesis.
Early signs of magnesium deficiency include a headache, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, and fatigue. An ongoing magnesium deficiency could lead to even more serious symptoms.
7. Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is truly essential for healthy bones. Approximately 40 % of the population in the whole world is affected by vitamin D deficiency. People with dark skin are at a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. Usually, vitamin D deficiency has been linked with rickets, a condition in which the bone tissue does not properly mineralize, causing soft bones and even skeletal deformities. This vitamin is found naturally in just a few foods, like fatty fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks, mushrooms, and liver.
8. Calcium Deficiency
Calcium helps our bodies develop strong teeth and bones. It also helps the nerves, muscles, and heart work properly. A calcium deficiency often does not show any particular symptoms, but it could lead to serious health issues over time. Calcium deficiency can lead to bone loss.
The best sources of calcium are dairy products such as yogurt, milk, cheese, small fish with bones, and calcium-set tofu. Vegetables like broccoli and kale also have calcium, and many grains and cereals are calcium-fortified.
9. Potassium Deficiency
Potassium helps the heart, kidneys, and other organs work properly. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you could be lacking in potassium in a short term due to vomiting or diarrhea, antibiotics, or excessive sweating, or because of certain chronic conditions as kidney disease and eating disorders. Symptoms of a deficiency include muscle weakness, weight loss, constipation, and in some serious cases, an abnormal heart rhythm. Foods that contain potassium are bananas, vegetables, peas, beans, milk, and whole grains.
10. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 helps make neurotransmitters in your brain and aids the production of DNA. According to Harvard Health Publications, with increasing number of individuals who’ve had weight loss surgery and vegans, vitamin B12 deficiency is becoming very common. The most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are numbness in the hands, feet, or legs; fatigue; anemia; weakness; problems with walking and balance; a swollen, inflamed tongue; memory loss; hallucinations, and paranoia. Find more about vitamin B12 deficiency and how to fix it!
How is Nutritional Deficiency Diagnosed?
Your GP will discuss your eating habits and diet with you if they suspect you experience a nutritional deficiency. They will ask about the symptoms you’re having. Remember to mention if you have suffered from any periods of diarrhea or constipation, or blood has been present in your stool.
The nutritional deficiencies can also be diagnosed during routine blood tests, as well as a complete blood count (CBC). This way doctors identify anemia.
Do These Tests to Find Out If You Have a Nutrient Deficiency
Many tests require a stool, saliva, urine, hair sample, or blood spot. You can do these tests in your doctor’s office, or you can even find an online doctor. Plus, you can find an expert on staff at a health food store, too. All of these tests come with great instructions and mailers. Here are the most common tests for nutrient deficiency:
Depleted level of nutrients could lead to life-threatening conditions and limit the body’s ability to fight off many infections and diseases. Vitamin and nutrition blood tests are able to detect mineral, gluten, iron, magnesium, calcium and many other deficiencies, and tell you which nutrients you lack and which you are getting enough of natural sources. Do not just take supplements, your doctor will tell you how much and which ones you should take. You can even order online blood tests or panels for nutritional deficiencies.
Hair Mineral Testing
Hair mineral test includes a little sample of your hair. This test gives lots of good clues about your digestion, mineral status (including mercury), diet, digestion, and the balance between the different minerals.
Organic Acid Testing
This test gives the complete picture of what is actually happening in the cells. It’s a functional test – it looks at the products that the cells produce they have not enough or enough of the different nutrients. It includes a first-morning urine sample, which gives important information about deficient energy production (to see if you are properly burning fats, carbs, and proteins for energy rather than storing them as fat), detox problem, anti-oxidant status, neurotransmitter deficiencies, fungal/bacterial overgrowth, and more.
Tips to Boost Your Diet with Essential Nutrients
Try to get the nutrients your body requires from whole foods. I recommend leading a healthy, well-balanced diet. This means avoiding processed foods as much as possible and focusing on fresh produce, healthy fats, pastured poultry and grass-fed meats, organic free-range eggs, raw dairy products, seeds and nuts, and moderate amounts of fruits. The tips that follow will give you a great start:
- Juicing – it will help you “pre-digest” the vegetables for you, thus, you will get most of the nutrition.
- Sprouts – are very rich in enzymes and will allow your body to extract more amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and fats from the food you consume.
- Fermented foods – support the “good “bacteria in the gut that helps with absorption of minerals and plays an important role in producing nutrients as vitamin K2 and B-vitamins.
- Homemade bone broth – it contains a high amount of magnesium, calcium, and other essential nutrients.