By Vincent Giampapa MD
It’s important to determine your nutrient deficiencies so you can learn main deficiency signs to look out for and how our supplements can help.
While we tend to think that only the very poor or the very ill have nutritient deficiencies, the truth is that anyone can suffer from poor nutrition. Nearly 95 percent of adults in the United States do not get the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of vitamin D, for example, and just over 52 percent do not get the magnesium they need . Having a well-balanced diet can be tricky when you have a busy lifestyle, but the good news is there are supplements that can fill in the gaps in your diet. One common question our customers ask is ‘what supplements do I need?’ First, you must determine your nutrition gaps to understand what nutrients are missing in your diet and how you can supplement them.
What Vitamins and Supplements Do I Need to Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies?
Taking a blood test is the best way to tell if you are nutritionally deficient and which supplements you may need. You can either go to your doctor or get one shipped to your door from health and wellness testing companies like EverlyWell or LetsGetChecked. In the absence of a blood test, though, some signs and symptoms can indicate the presence of a nutrient deficiency.
What nutrients am I missing?
A simple blood test for vitamin and mineral deficiencies is a powerful tool that can help you identify nutritional problems early and prevent the development of certain diseases. Your digestive tract absorbs nutrients from the food you eat, which is how you get most of your nutrients. Your body also manufactures some nutrients. Your bloodstream delivers these nutrients to the rest of your body. Taking a small sample of blood helps you determine the levels of the individual vitamins and minerals in your body. In fact, a blood test is the only way to get objective data on whether any deficiencies are present.
Every cell, tissue, fluid, and organ of your body needs specific vitamins and minerals to function properly. There are about 30 vitamins and minerals your body needs to get from your diet because it cannot manufacture them in sufficient amounts. These are called “essential micronutrients.” Below are five of these essential nutrients:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
Without the right balance of nutrients, cells and organs cannot function correctly, and these dysfunctions can lead to health problems and disease. Nutrient deficiency symptoms often develop slowly and are sometimes easy to overlook, but ignoring them could have negative health consequences.
Specific Nutrients and the Roles They Play in Your Health
Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to different parts of your body. The human body uses iron to make myoglobin, a protein that allows muscle cells to accept, store, transport and release oxygen. Your system also uses iron to make some hormones.
While the human body stores iron, poor iron intake can deplete these stores to cause iron-deficiency anemia. Symptoms of this mineral deficiency include:
- Fatigue and feeling lethargic
- Headache, lightheadedness, or dizziness
- Pale skin
- Chest pain, shortness of breath or fast heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
- Nails that are brittle
- Soreness or inflammation of your tongue
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as dirt, ice, or starch
- Poor appetite, particularly among infants and children with iron-deficiency anemia 
Iron deficiency happens in a number of ways, including a lack of iron in your diet, blood loss, pregnancy, and an inability to absorb iron from food. Certain people may be at higher risk for iron deficiencies, including women who have heavy menstrual periods, infants and children, vegetarians, and those who donate blood frequently.
Iron-rich foods include:
- Red meat, poultry, and pork
- Spinach or other dark green leafy vegetables
- Raisins, apricots, and other dried fruit
- Iron-fortified cereals, pastas and breads
Your body absorbs iron from red meat more readily than from other sources. If you do not eat meat, you may need to increase your intake of iron-rich plant-based foods or take iron supplements.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body . In addition to building strong teeth and bones, this mineral enables your blood to clot, your muscles to contract, and your heart to beat.
You lose calcium every day through your skin, hair, nails, perspiration, urine, and feces. Your body cannot make calcium – the only way you get this important mineral is through food. When you lose more calcium than you take in, your body makes up the difference by removing some of the calcium from your bones.
Calcium deficiency, also known as hypocalcemia, has widespread effects. In the early stages, calcium deficiency may not cause symptoms. As the condition progresses, though, symptoms may develop. These symptoms may include:
- Confusion or memory loss
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle cramps
- Numbness or tingling in your hands, feet, and face
- Weak and brittle nails
- Bones that fracture easily
Some people are at higher risk for developing calcium deficiency. You may have an increased risk for this condition if you:
- Have had poor calcium intake over a long period, especially during childhood
- Take medications that prevent your body from absorbing calcium from food
- Have an intolerance to foods rich in calcium
- Have hormonal changes, especially if you are a woman
- Have certain genetic factors
You can get the calcium you need by consuming calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products, along with sardines and dark leafy greens. You can purchase calcium-fortified products, such as almond milk, soy milk, and cereals. To keep your calcium at healthy levels, you may want to try calcium supplements .
You can get vitamin D through food, but only a few foods naturally contain this important nutrient. Fish liver oils and the flesh of fatty fish, such as trout, tuna, salmon, and mackerel are the best sources of vitamin D, according to the National Institutes of Health. Beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, and mushrooms contain small amounts of vitamin D. Fortified foods, such as fortified milk, provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet.
You can also get vitamin D, also known as “the sunshine vitamin,” when the ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight strikes your skin to trigger the synthesis of this vitamin. Older people and those with dark skin are less able to produce this nutrient from sunlight. We always recommend wearing SPF to prevent negative effects of UV light on your skin.
Other factors may put you at risk for vitamin D deficiency. You may develop a vitamin D deficiency if you have a condition that prevents your body from handling fat properly, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, as vitamin D needs fat to be absorbed into your body. Obesity can put some people in danger of a vitamin D deficiency because their body fat binds to some vitamin D in a way that prevents the nutrient from moving into the blood. Those with osteoporosis, chronic kidney or liver disease, certain hormone imbalances, or who have had gastric bypass surgery may also be at risk. Certain medications, such as laxatives and steroids, can affect the way the body metabolizes vitamin D.
If you are vitamin D deficient, taking supplements can help you avoid symptoms of vitamin D deficiency . These symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness, muscle aches, or muscle cramps
- Bone pain
- Mood changes, such as depression
As many as 43 percent of American adults may have a vitamin C inadequacy . Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is essential for the development, growth, and repair of skin, bones, and connective tissue. Vitamin C helps your blood vessels function, maintains healthy teeth and gums, speeds healing, and even helps your body absorb the iron it needs to make red blood cells. This vitamin is also an antioxidant that protects cells from free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can damage cells.
Vitamin C deficiency is usually the result of a diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, sweet peppers, and strawberries. It is important to focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, as cooking can destroy some of the vitamin C in food.
Other causes of vitamin C deficiency may include:
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding
- An overactive thyroid gland
- Disorders that cause inflammation or a high fever
- Diarrhea that lasts a long time
- Smoking, which increases the body’s vitamin C requirement by 30 percent
Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include fatigue, weakness, and irritability. Weight loss, muscle aches and joint aches may occur.
As the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, magnesium plays an important role in your health . The mineral supports muscle and nerve function, for example, and the production of energy within your body. Low levels of magnesium can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
Magnesium helps your body metabolize vitamin D. This means that, without enough magnesium, your body cannot use any vitamin D you get through food or supplements. In fact, taking vitamin D supplements can be unsafe or even dangerous if you have a magnesium deficiency.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Muscle cramps
- Irregular heartbeat
- Mental health conditions
- Weak bones, also known as osteoporosis
Up to half of all Americans do not get the magnesium they need . Many do not eat enough foods rich in magnesium, such as green vegetables, egg yolk, soybeans, brown rice, and cashews. Others have health conditions that cause them to lose magnesium, such as diabetes, poor nutrient absorption, chronic diarrhea, celiac disease, and hungry bone syndrome. Taking a magnesium supplement can help make up for this!