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Common Vitamin Deficiencies (and What to Do About Them)

Iron

Iron deficiencies are very common in children, people who menstruate, vegetarians and vegans. Children are very likely to have iron deficiencies unless they are given iron-rich foods on a regular basis. Menstruation causes iron deficiencies because of the regular loss of blood that occurs. Because meat is a very good source of iron, many vegetarians and vegans do not have enough iron in their diets.

Iron deficiencies can also be caused by anemia, when your body does not have enough red blood cells to carry enough oxygen around your body. If you have an iron deficiency, you might experience weakness, fatigue, brain fog, a weakened immune system, or even raised ridges in your nails.

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Iodine

Iodine is essential for a properly functioning metabolism and thyroid. It is involved in many hormone processes, so a deficiency in iodine can easily make premenstrual symptoms worse.

Iodine is necessary for many important functions in the body. It is also essential for proper brain function and development, and iodine deficiencies in children have been linked to mental and developmental abnormalities.

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Vitamin D

It is very easy to develop a vitamin D deficiency if you do not live in a sunny environment, if you spend most of your time indoors, or if you have dark skin or wear sunscreen daily. Vitamin D forms when cholesterol comes in contact with sun rays, and there are few dietary forms of vitamin D,  so it is common for people in these situations to have deficiencies in vitamin D.

A vitamin D deficiency usually doesn't show symptoms until after a prolonged period of time.  It may appears subtly in the form of bone and muscle weakness. This deficiency has even been linked to cancer. Some people say that vitamin D is also important for maintaining mental health, and it’s possible a vitamin D deficiency plays a role in Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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Vitamin B12

A vitamin B12 deficiency is very common in vegetarians and vegans. Particularly, vegans will not receive adequate B12 from their diet because it is found only in meat, seafood, eggs, and milk products. Vegetarians are still very likely to have a deficiency as well.

If vegetarians, and especially vegans, do not supplement with a plant-based supplement form of vitamin B12, they will be deficient. B12 is necessary for proper blood formation and brain and nerve functioning, so it is very important that everyone gets an adequate amount of B12, whether through eating animal products or taking a plant-based supplement.

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Calcium

Calcium is necessary for proper bone health. We’ve all been told to drink milk for strong bones, and that is because milk is a good source of calcium. You can also find it in dark green vegetables and sardines or anchovies.

Calcium is transported around your body through your blood, and it stores the extra calcium in your bones. So, when the stores are running low, your bones are weaker, which makes them more prone to breaking, especially with age. Brittle nails are also a sign of calcium deficiency.

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Vitamin A

There are two forms of dietary vitamin A, and one of them can be found in meat and animal products, while the other is found in fruits and vegetables like carrots and leafy greens. Both are necessary for our bodies, but in the western culture, we typically have more than enough in our diets, so deficiencies are not as common.

However, these deficiencies are very common in developing countries, and Indian women, in particular, are more likely to suffer from a vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is necessary for skin, teeth, and bones as well as cell membranes in general. Deficiency in vitamin A can lead to blindness.

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Magnesium

Another important mineral for your bones and teeth is magnesium. A deficiency may be the result of drug use, poor digestion, or just not getting enough magnesium in your diet. Hospital patients are prone to magnesium deficiencies.

Symptoms of a deficiency can include migraines, cramps and irregular heartbeat, because magnesium is not only necessary for your bones and teeth, but it is also important for helping your muscles relax. That is why Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is good for a relaxing bath.

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Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids are the “good” fats found in nuts, seafood and avocados, but really what makes them the “good” fats is that we get a disproportionate amount of omega 6 fatty acids in the standard western diet. Omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids need to be paired in a balanced ratio, so really what an omega 3 deficiency could mean is that you are also getting way too much omega 6 compared to omega 3 in your diet.

Either way, signs of an omega 3 deficiency are problems with hair, skin, and nails, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, menstrual irregularities, and cardiovascular concerns. These concerns can also be present if you are deficient in iron or calcium, which can also pair with an omega 3 deficiency.

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Folate

Folate deficiencies have the most severe consequences in the early stages of pregnancy since this can cause neural tube defects in their growing fetus. This can cause a baby to be born with a birth defect called spina bifida, which is why all sexually active people who could become pregnant are strongly encouraged to be on a multivitamin with folate.

However, folate isn't just important for those who can become pregnant. People who do not eat enough vegetables and fruits, or only overcooked vegetables and fruits, are also at risk of getting symptoms like fatigue, hair loss and trouble breathing.

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Vitamin C

While it is uncommon for people nowadays to get a vitamin C deficiency as severe as scurvy, not getting enough vitamin C every day can still interfere with some of your normal bodily functions. Vitamin C is important for hormone and amino acid formation, which involve nearly every part of your body.

Vitamin C and iron work hand in hand, and if you do not consume enough vitamin C, you are more likely to have an iron deficiency as well. No matter how much iron you consume, without vitamin C, it will not be absorbed. So if you are showing signs of an iron deficiency, it could actually be a vitamin C deficiency.

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Zinc

Zinc deficiencies are rare in the average population, but people with gastrointestinal diseases, sickle cell disease, people who are vegetarian, alcoholics, or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding are all more likely to lack the proper amount of zinc either due to malabsorption or not getting enough in their diet.

Zinc is vital for proper immunity and immune system function, so people who are lacking in zinc may get sick more often or get more sick from smaller issues. Symptoms of deficiency may also include upset stomach and diarrhea.

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Vitamin B6

People who suffer from severe decreased kidney function, autoimmune disorders, or alcohol disuse are more likely to also suffer from a vitamin B6 deficiency because of their decreased ability to absorb this vitamin.

Vitamin B6 is important for many enzymatic functions in your body, and a deficiency can cause symptoms like anemia, rashes or a swollen tongue. Symptoms even as severe as seizures could be a sign of vitamin B6 deficiency.

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Fiber

While fiber is not a vitamin or mineral, it is something you should consider supplementing and making sure you get enough of in your diet, just like you would with any other vitamin or mineral.Not eating enough fiber is associated with an increased risk of type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not to mention an unhealthy digestive tract. Make sure you are getting enough fiber in your daily diet, and if you cannot, consider a fiber supplement.
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Potassium

Even though potassium is relatively abundant in many of the foods we typically eat, some people may not be getting enough potassium because of certain medications that they are taking or if they have irritable bowel disease.

This type of deficiency is usually due to malabsorption, and can present itself as aches, spasms, muscle weakness, gastrointestinal issues and mood changes. There are also many other possible symptoms of potassium deficiency.

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Choline

Choline is a vital nutrient for memory, mood, muscle control, and cell membrane formation, so it is very important that we consume choline in our everyday diets. It is mainly found in animal products but plant-based sources also exist.

Because choline is so vital for proper brain and muscle function, symptoms of deficiency include: low energy, memory loss, muscle aches and pains, nerve damage, and even changes in mood.

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Solution: Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

A holistic and sustainable option for combatting vitamin deficiencies is to add a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. You should also be eating a wide variety of grains, seeds, nuts, and animal products, but if you eat vegan, vegetarian, or paleo, you would need to supplement to make up for any deficiencies in your diet.

Eating a wide variety of foods will make sure that you are also getting a wide variety of nutrients. A good way to think about it is the more colorful your plate is, the more nutrients you are giving your body, provided the colors aren’t coming from artificial food dyes.

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Solution: Take a Supplement

If you simply cannot add a food that is high in a certain nutrient to your diet because of allergies or lifestyle preferences, such as being vegetarian or vegan, then you will need to supplement that essential nutrient with a multivitamin or supplement specific to what you need.

As we mentioned before, if you are vegetarian or vegan, you need to take a vitamin B12 supplement because all dietary forms of B12 come from animal products. So, a good plant-based B12 solution is in the form of a supplement.

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Solution: Eat Fortified Foods

Certain foods are fortified with common essential vitamins and minerals. For example, because calcium and vitamin D go hand-in-hand when it comes to absorption, you will see a lot of milk at the store that is fortified with vitamin D, meaning vitamin D was added to the milk as it was being processed.

The same happens to many kinds of flours, breads and cereals, where companies add in minerals like iron and folate to allow more people to consume these necessary nutrients without really having to think about it. Looking for these products at the store is also another way to up your intake of certain vitamins and minerals.

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Solution: Get Outside and Exercise

Another solution is to get outside and exercise. This will most directly affect your vitamin D levels if you go outside during the day for sun exposure. This is the only way to get vitamin D outside of a supplement, so take advantage of the free supplement: the sun!

Exercise is also great for your health in general and may assist in your body’s healing process from certain ailments that could be causing malabsorption of certain vitamins and minerals. Exercise could also help you manage certain symptoms like stress, anxiety and depression, all of which could be worsened by a deficiency.

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Solution: Talk to Your Doctor

While it is relatively safe for most people to take small doses of these vitamins and minerals each day, you should also talk to your healthcare provider before taking any new supplements to make sure they will not negatively interact with any medications you may be taking or preexisting conditions you may have.

They will also be able to figure out if you do in fact have a deficiency in a certain vitamin or mineral, or if it could be a symptom of something more serious. Many of these solutions will not work if your deficiency is due to malabsorption, so it is best to talk to your doctor for solutions to find out how to treat your deficiency. If you take one piece of information away from this list, it should be to talk to your doctor if you believe you may have a vitamin deficiency.

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