Vitamins are vital for the body to function correctly. They help regulate metabolism, maintain healthy skin, support the immune system, promote eye health, and much more. But if you don’t get enough from your diet or through supplements, you may be at risk for a deficiency, leading to serious health problems down the line. In this article, we’ll take a look at the Most Common Vitamin Deficiencies and How to Get Enough of them in your diet.

See What Are The Different Types Of Vitamins And Their Benefits and Vitamins For Heart Health. 

What are vitamins?

Vitamins are organic substances the body needs to stay healthy and function properly. They are essential nutrients that must be acquired through diet, as the body cannot produce them on its own. Currently, there are 13 essential vitamins, namely vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate, B6, and B12.

These vitamins are further divided into two categories: fat-soluble vitamins, which means they need fat to be absorbed into the body and can be stored in the body’s fat cells and released slowly over time, while others are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in liquids, cannot be stored in the body at all, and need to be consumed every day.

Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K, while the rest are all water-soluble.

Each vitamin has specific functions in the body, and knowing your facts about them can help you make an informed decision about changing your diet to include more foods rich in a specific vitamin.See, Fat-Soluble Vs. Water-Soluble Vitamins

Common Vitamin Deficiencies

What Causes Common Vitamin Deficiencies?

Vitamin deficiencies may be caused by several different things. First, you need to consider if you’re getting enough of such vitamins in your diet. Your body can only hold a limited amount at one time, so it’s important to make sure you get enough every day. If you aren’t eating foods high in specific vitamins, you could miss some key benefits.

Another cause of deficiencies could be a condition that interferes with your ability to absorb the vitamins. The best solution for this is to get checked for proper management.

In addition, people following a particular diet such as a vegan diet may also be at risk of deficiencies, especially for vitamins such as vitamin B12 which are lacking in plant foods.

Finally, your geographical location may also impact some vitamin availability, such as vitamin D. This is a vitamin produced when the body is exposed to sunlight. People from harsh winter regions or those with long winter months may have low sun exposure, which translates to low vitamin D levels. If that’s you, consuming more of certain foods or taking a supplement could be beneficial.

Common Vitamin Deficiencies

1. Vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that helps maintain vision, promote cell growth, and boost the immune system, among other functions.

It’s found in foods like carrots, sweet potato, winter squash, kale, collard greens, sweet red pepper, and turnip greens. While vitamin A benefits are countless, it’s important to understand what happens when you don’t get enough of this vitamin in your diet.

Vitamin A deficiency is a common occurrence, especially in developing countries and it’s the world’s leading cause of blindness. It also causes a couple of other health issues, including

  • Increased risk of respiratory infections
  • A weakened immune system
  • Dry eyes and skin
  • Infertility
  • Delayed growth
  • Poor wound healing
  • Acne and breakouts
  • Increased risk of certain cancers

A deficiency in vitamin A usually results from inadequate intake, fat malabsorption (since it’s a fat-soluble nutrient and needs fat to be absorbed), and liver disease.

Diagnosis is based on low vitamin A levels and ocular exams. If you suspect low vitamin A levels, consult your doctor to get tested and ensure you’re tackling your deficiency appropriately.

2. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that’s required for red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and maintenance of neurological function. Without adequate vitamin B12 in your body, you can become fatigued and develop issues with mood or memory.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common condition worldwide, especially in vegans and people purely on a plant-based diet. This is because plant foods and the soils they grow in have been depleted of the vitamin, making it impossible to get this vitamin in plant foods. It’s, however, present in various animal foods for those that consume animal products.

It’s also often added to breakfast cereals, fortified foods and can naturally be found in nutritional yeast, sauerkraut, and certain mushrooms. However, these sources are often not sufficient to meet your daily requirements. So getting a vegan vitamin B12 supplement is always recommended for anyone on a plant-based diet.

A common sign of vitamin B12 deficiency is anemia and weakness. People who don’t get enough vitamin B12 may experience megaloblastic anemia, a type of anemia characterized by a few abnormally large red blood cells. And since red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body, this defect may interfere with this function, causing an under perfusion of vital organs.

A severe vitamin B12 deficiency can even cause nerve damage.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s required for good health. It helps in calcium absorption, strengthens bones, protects against rickets in children, reduces pain from inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis, improves asthma symptoms, and has even been linked to lower cancer risk.

According to experts, most people get enough vitamin D from 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure on their face and hands two or three times a week between 8 a.m and noon. Supplementation may be necessary if you live at high latitudes (north or south).

A deficiency in vitamin D may cause all these symptoms. For instance, it may cause symptoms such as muscle aches, fatigue, brittle bones, depression, and mood disorders. Studies have shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune disease, heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), allergies, and asthma. If you experience any of these conditions, it is important to see your doctor immediately.

What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?

There are a variety of causes for vitamin D deficiency. Sunlight is a great way to maintain healthy vitamin D levels, but not everyone has easy access to natural sunlight.

Also, some foods have lower concentrations of vitamin D than others, so a poor diet can also lead to deficiencies in Vitamin D.

 Age and illness may also decrease an individual’s ability to absorb vitamin D from food sources or sunlight. In addition, some medications may also lead to decreased vitamin D absorption into your body.

While these factors can cause you to become deficient in vitamin D, you should still get checked by a doctor if you experience any prolonged vitamin D symptoms. Untreated deficiencies may be more serious than one might think. A simple blood test can measure how much vitamin D is present in your bloodstream.

How Do you Treat Vitamin D Deficiency?

The best treatment for vitamin D deficiency is simply to supplement with more of it, especially if you live in a place with minimal sunlight.

There’s a long-standing debate over what happens if you have too much vitamin D circulating in your bloodstream—does it have toxic effects? If so, how toxic is too much? Ultimately, there has been very little evidence that high levels of vitamin D cause problems or toxicity.

However, it can increase calcium buildup, leading to weakness, frequent urination, nausea, and vomiting. In severe cases, too much vitamin D can cause bone pain and kidney issues, including calcium stones.

To avoid these complications and deficiencies simultaneously, experts recommend keeping your intake to below 100 micrograms. 10 micrograms daily are often enough for most people. See Vitamins For Bones.

4. Vitamin E deficiency

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals in the body and protect the brain and heart from oxidative stress. Vitamin E deficiency can have unpleasant effects, especially if you have an underlying chronic condition like diabetes and heart disease. So it’s important to keep your levels high by eating plenty of vitamin E-rich foods.

The symptoms of vitamin E deficiency tend to be related to blood circulation, with many people experiencing a lack of energy, heart palpitations, and chest pain. Other symptoms include migraine headaches, tingling in arms and legs, numbness in fingers or toes, and muscle cramps.

A deficiency in vitamin E can be a serious problem if you don’t take steps to prevent it. The best sources of vitamin E are nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy greens, and avocado.

5. Folate deficiency

Folate, or folic acid, is one of the B vitamins that the body needs to function properly. This water-soluble vitamin helps your body form DNA, RNA, red blood cells, and prevent neural tube defects. Also, your body needs folate to help make new cells, which supports tissue growth and repair.

Deficiencies in folate can cause anemia, low blood platelets, low red blood cells, and other issues.

A folate deficiency can occur when your diet doesn’t contain enough of it or if you’re unable to absorb it into your body properly.

Folate deficiency can also occur if you have a condition that prevents the conversion of folate into its usable form in the body, as a side effect of certain medications, or if you are drinking excess alcohol.

Folate is particularly important in women of childbearing age since a deficiency, especially in pregnancy, can lead to birth defects. Moreover, women lose blood through menstruation each month, and thus, maintaining a high folate intake can keep their red blood cells within normal.

If left untreated, folate may cause serious conditions, including depression, memory loss, heart disease or anemia, and many more. See Folate Benefits.

How can you prevent folate deficiency?

To prevent deficiency and maintain normal folate levels,  a diet high in fruits, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts is essential.

The more you can do to avoid alcoholic beverages and cigarettes—both of which deplete your folate levels—the better.

Even if you don’t have a family history of birth defects or heart disease risks or don’t have a condition that puts you at risk of deficiencies (such as Crohn’s disease or an autoimmune disorder), talk to your doctor about getting tested every couple of years.

6. Vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that serves as an antioxidant and helps keep your immune system strong. Some common signs of vitamin C deficiency include mouth ulcers, bleeding gums, scurvy, and gum disease. You may also experience bone pain and frequent colds due to low levels of vitamin C in your body. Other signs include fatigue, impaired healing, and skin infections like acne. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is crucial for getting enough vitamin C every day.

Good examples include citrus fruits, such as oranges and tangerines; cantaloupe; strawberries; sweet peppers; potatoes; spinach, and other leafy greens. There are also vitamin C supplements available in most grocery stores that you can easily add to your diet.

However, supplements should always be your last resort unless your levels are too low. Using natural food as your means of attaining nutritional requirements provides more than a single nutrient, which can further contribute to good health. See Plant-Based Vitamin C.

General Signs of Vitamin Deficiency

While different vitamin deficiencies present with various symptoms, there are overall symptoms that may give you a clue of reduced levels of vitamins in the body.

These may include

  • Cracked corners of the mouth or mouth ulcers
  • Bleeding gums
  • White growth in the eyes or poor night vision
  • White or red bumps on the skin
  • Acne
  • Dry skin
  • Easy bruising
  • Easy fractures
  • Unexplained fatigue

Final Thoughts

Vitamins are essential micronutrients that help the body function properly. They are generally categorized into two groups; water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. They both help the body convert food into energy and maintain a strong immune system.

Unfortunately, low dietary intake, the inability of the body to absorb the nutrients, certain medications, and chronic consumption can contribute to deficiencies of some of these nutrients. The commonly experienced deficiencies include vitamins A, B12, E, D, and B9. However, this can be improved with a proper diet or by the use of supplements, especially for those with an existing condition that interferes with nutrient absorption or depletion.

That being said, always strive to have all your requirements met through diet or your daily food intake.

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  5. Should Vegans Take Supplements?

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