Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on
August 25, 2022
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on:

Do you often feel tired and run down, even though you’re getting enough sleep? Do you have trouble focusing at work or school? You may be suffering from a nutrient deficiency.

A lack of essential nutrients can cause all sorts of health problems, including brain fog and cognitive decline.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes and symptoms of nutritional deficiencies, as well as the best ways to treat them.

Let’s get started.

What exactly is nutritional deficiency?

Nutritional deficiency occurs when your body does not get enough of the nutrients it needs to function properly. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants.

A lack of essential nutrients can cause a wide variety of health problems. The most common symptoms of nutrient deficiencies include:

  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle weakness
  • hair loss
  • dry skin
  • cravings for certain foods
  • digestive problems

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor or nutritionist to rule out other potential causes.

Once other causes have been ruled out, they can help you determine if you have a nutritional deficiency and develop a treatment plan.

What causes nutritional deficiencies?

There are a variety of factors that can lead to a lack of nutrients, including:

Poor Diet

This is the most common cause of nutrient deficiencies. If you don’t eat a varied and balanced diet, you may not be getting all the nutrients your body needs.

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions can lead to nutrient deficiency. For example, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease can make it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients from food.

Altered nutrient metabolism

Certain medicines, such as antacids and diuretics, can alter the way your body metabolizes nutrients. This can lead to deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals.

Medications

Certain medications can interfere with the absorption of nutrients or increase the excretion of nutrients in urine.

Alcoholism

If you abuse alcohol, it can lead to a lack of nutrients. Alcoholism can lead to a poor diet, and it also interferes with the absorption of nutrients.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your nutritional needs are increased. If you don’t eat enough or if you have a medical condition that makes it difficult to absorb nutrients, you may develop a deficiency.

What are the most common nutrient deficiencies?

There are many different nutrient deficiencies that can occur, but some are more common than others. The most common of lack of nutrients include:

Iron Deficiency

Iron is a mineral necessary for producing hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood.

A lack of iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

It can be caused by a number of factors, including poor diet, blood loss, and certain medical conditions.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • pale skin
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • cold hands and feet
  • cravings for non-food items like dirt or ice
  • brittle nails
  • spoon-shaped nails

If left untreated, iron deficiency can lead to anemia. Anemia is a condition in which your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

You can solve your iron deficiency by taking iron supplements and eating iron-rich foods, such as:

  • spinach
  • kale
  • chicken
  • beef
  • beans
  • lentils
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • enriched loaves of bread and cereals.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A is a nutrient that’s essential for vision, immunity, and cell growth.

A lack of vitamin A can lead to night blindness, which is the inability to see in low light or darkness. Night blindness is often the first symptom of vitamin A deficiency.

Other symptoms include:

  • dry eyes
  • skin problems
  • weak immunity
  • slow growth

You can solve your vitamin A deficiency by taking supplements and eating foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as:

  • sweet potatoes
  • carrots
  • squash
  • spinach
  • kale
  • collard greens

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that’s essential for the production of red blood cells and DNA. It’s also important for nerve function.

A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia, which is a condition in which your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells.

Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • shortness of breath
  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • depression
  • memory problems

You can solve your vitamin B12 deficiency by taking supplements and eating foods that are rich in vitamin B12, such as:

  • beef
  • liver
  • eggs
  • dairy products
  • fortified nutritional yeast

Vitamin C Deficiency

Vitamin C is a nutrient that’s essential for the formation of collagen, which is a protein that’s found in your skin, bones, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also important for wound healing and immunity.

A lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy, which is a condition that’s characterized by easy bruising, bleeding gums, and fatigue.

Other symptoms of being deficient in vitamin C include:

  • dry skin
  • joint pain
  • poor wound healing
  • irritability
  • weight gain

You can solve your vitamin C deficiency by taking supplements and eating foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as:

  • oranges
  • lemons
  • limes
  • strawberries
  • kiwis
  • broccoli
  • bell peppers

These are just some of the most common nutrient deficiencies. If you think you may have a deficiency, it’s important to talk to your doctor so that you can get tested and treated.

Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is a mineral that’s necessary for strong bones and teeth. It’s found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods.

A lack of calcium can lead to:

  • osteoporosis
  • bone pain
  • fractures
  • muscle cramps
  • tetany (involuntary muscle spasms)

You may be at risk for calcium deficiency if you don’t eat enough dairy products or leafy green vegetables.

Other risk factors include being deficient in vitamin D because your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium properly.

You can solve calcium deficiency by consuming more calcium-rich foods and drinks, such as:

  • milk
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • kale
  • broccoli.

You can also take calcium supplements as directed by your doctor or nutritionist.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium. It’s found in fatty fish, eggs, and fortified foods.

Vitamin D can also be made by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight.

A deficiency in vitamin D is common, especially in the winter. It can lead to a number of health problems, including:

  • osteoporosis
  • bone pain
  • fractures
  • muscle weakness
  • impaired wound healing

You may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency if you don’t get enough sunlight or if you have dark skin.

Other risk factors of being deficient in vitamin D include being obese, having liver or kidney disease, and taking certain medications.

You can solve vitamin D deficiency by consuming fortified foods and drinks, taking supplements, and spending more time in the sun.

You can also get your vitamin D levels checked with a blood test. If you are deficient, your doctor may recommend that you take a supplement.

Vitamin E Deficiency

Vitamin E is a nutrient that’s found in vegetable oils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables. It’s an antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage.

A lack of vitamin E can lead to a condition called ataxia, which is characterized by problems with movement and coordination.

Other symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • muscle pain
  • impaired vision
  • loss of balance
  • poor coordination
  • difficulty walking

You can solve your vitamin E deficiency by taking supplements and eating foods that are rich in vitamin E, such as:

  • vegetable oils
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • green leafy vegetables
  • fortified cereals

Vitamin K Deficiency

Vitamin K is a nutrient that’s found in green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, and soybeans. It’s important for blood clotting and bone health.

A lack of vitamin K can lead to a condition called hemorrhagic disease of the newborn, which is a type of bleeding disorder that can be deadly for infants.

Other symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include:

  • easy bruising
  • heavy menstrual bleeding
  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • blood in the urine or stool
  • joint pain

You can solve your vitamin K deficiency by taking supplements and eating foods that are rich in vitamin K, such as:

  • green leafy vegetables
  • vegetable oils
  • soybeans
  • fortified cereals

Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium is a mineral that’s necessary for hundreds of biochemical reactions in your body. Dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables are found in dark chocolate.

A lack of magnesium can lead to:

  • muscle cramps
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • headaches
  • mood swings.

You may be at risk for magnesium deficiency if you have certain medical conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease. Other risk factors include being pregnant or breastfeeding and taking certain medications.

You can solve magnesium deficiency by consuming more magnesium-rich foods and drinks, such as:

  • dark chocolate
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • spinach
  • chia seeds
  • pumpkin seeds.

You may also want to consider taking magnesium supplements but make sure to consult your doctor first as it may interact with other medications and types of supplements you may be taking, such as zinc.

Iodine Deficiency

Iodine is a mineral that’s necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. It’s found in seafood, dairy products, and fortified foods.

A lack of iodine can lead to:

  • goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
  • hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • cognitive problems

You may be at risk for iodine deficiency if you don’t eat enough seafood or dairy products.

Other risk factors include being pregnant or breastfeeding and having certain medical conditions, such as celiac disease.

You can solve iodine deficiency by consuming more iodine-rich foods and drinks, such as:

  • seafood
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • fortified foods.

You can also take iodine supplements as directed by your doctor or nutritionist, but be careful not to consume too much iodine as it can lead to side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc is a mineral that’s necessary for a strong immune system, wound healing, and fertility. It’s found in meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, and seeds.

A lack of zinc can lead to:

  • impaired immune function
  • slow wound healing
  • infertility
  • diarrhea
  • hair loss
  • depression.

You may be at risk for zinc deficiency if you don’t eat enough meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, or seeds.

You can solve zinc deficiency by consuming more zinc-rich foods and drinks, such as:

  • chicken
  • beef
  • oysters
  • cashews
  • pumpkin seeds.

Zinc supplements can be helpful, but make sure to listen to your body and not consume too much at once as it might lead to negative side effects like nausea or vomiting.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are necessary for brain health. They’re found in oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, as well as in nuts and seeds.

A lack of omega-threes can lead to:

  • dry skin
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • cancer
  • depression
  • ADHD
  • joint pain.

You may be at risk for omega-s deficiency if you don’t eat enough oily fish, nuts, or seeds.

You can solve your omega-3 deficiency by consuming more omega-rich foods and drinks, such as:

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • flaxseeds
  • chia seeds
  • walnuts.

You can also take omega-3 supplements, but it’s best to check with your doctor first as they may interact with other medications you’re taking or have negative side effects.

Potassium Deficiency

Potassium is a mineral that’s necessary for proper muscle and nerve function and a healthy nervous system. It’s found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

A lack of potassium can lead to:

  • muscle cramps
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • constipation.

You can solve potassium deficiency by consuming more potassium-rich foods and drinks, such as:

  • sweet potatoes
  • white beans
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • spinach.

Potassium supplements are also an option, but it’s wise to consult with your doctor first since they may interact with other drugs you’re taking or have negative side effects.

Concluding Thoughts

If you think you may be deficient in any of these nutrients, it’s essential to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to get their professional opinion and find out what the best course of action is for you.

They can also order blood tests to check your nutrient levels and make recommendations based on those results.

Additionally, there are many online quizzes and symptom checkers that can help you determine if you might be deficient in certain nutrients. However, these should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.

If you want to learn more about improving your overall health, especially your cognitive performance, we have plenty of helpful resources in our blog.

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