Vitamin and mineral deficiency is a growing problem. The majority of Americans are at severe risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. There are many causes for this, primarily:
- Consumption of processed foods
- Degradation of quality of soil
- Abundance of stress
Addressing nutrient deficiencies isn’t as straightforward as simply taking a multi-vitamin. Far from it, in fact. Fixing nutrient deficiencies requires a multi-pronged approach, including testing, dietary changes, and possibly supplementation with high-quality supplements.
Vitamin and mineral deficiency testing can be a useful reference point to understand your underlying health. Vitamin and mineral tests are done by taking a small blood sample and measuring the amounts of nutrients in the blood.
Vitamin and mineral testing is a routine part of functional medicine checkups. If you are using a conventional doctor, they often won’t include this as a part of your standard check-up. If you want to get tested, you’ll need to request the tests from your doctor. Most primary care doctors will accommodate this when asked.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also show up in a number of ways in the body. For example, you may not realize fatigue is linked with vitamin B12, and Iron deficiency or that vitamin-A deficiency can contribute to eczema.
If you are unsure whether or not you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, look out for these symptoms.
- fatigue and lethargy
- poor night vision
- bleeding gums
- cracks in the corner of the mouth
- restless leg syndrome
- feeling cold or numb
- constant headaches
- thin, dull, brittle hair or nails
- hair loss
- changes in the tongue color
- brain fog and mental cloudiness
- decaying teeth
- difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
- heart palpitations
- join pain or tenderness
- cracked, dry, or bleeding skin
- spoon-shaped nails
- acne or skin disorders
- eyelid twitches
The causes of vitamin and mineral deficiency
The primary cause of a vitamin and mineral deficiency is your diet. If you eat a Standard American Diet, you are likely not receiving all of your essential nutrients.
It is imperative to eat an abundance of fresh, locally-sourced or organic fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, fish, meat, and eggs. However, it’s not just about what you’re eating. Many factors influence nutrient absorption.
What matters isn’t just what you eat but what you can digest, absorb, and assimilate. Any issues with your digestion can throw off nutrient absorption. Gut-biome imbalance, excess gas, bloating, or GI inflammation can damage your ability to absorb nutrients properly. You are more likely to have a vitamin and mineral deficiency if you have SIBO, IBS/D, Chrohn’s disease, and celiac disease. You’ve got to fix your digestive issues to absorb and assimilate the nutrients you eat correctly.
Also, it’s not only the quantity of what you eat; it’s also the quality. Local produce you get at the farmer’s market can have more than 3x the number of minerals than produce at a big-box market.
Long histories of medication use like methotrexate can also cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Age is another contributing factor in your ability to absorb necessary vitamins and minerals correctly. As we age, our stomach enzymes and acids deplete. This makes it harder for our stomach to break down foods to absorb nutrients properly.
The importance of testing for vitamin and mineral deficiency
Vitamins and minerals are essential building blocks for every process in your body. If you have a nutrient deficiency, your body will not perform optimally.
If you don’t have enough micronutrients, you may start to witness many of your bodies functions start to decline, including:
- Hair and skin quality
- Mental performance and the ability to focus
- Energy Levels
- Quality of sleep
- Ability to manage stress
Many people reach for temporary fixes to these issues when the underlying problem is nutrient deficiency. Medication, coffee, or trendy superfoods are only band-aid solutions if you don’t address the underlying deficit. If you do not manage your deficiency, it can lead to long-term, more severe, and debilitating health problems.
The Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies
According to Healthline, the most common nutrient deficiencies are iron, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin A, and magnesium. It is essential to get tested rather than try to self-diagnose as it’s almost impossible to know without the data.
Iron deficiency can often lead to the consequences of anemia. This results in fatigue, weakness, a deficient immune system, and impaired mental ability. Your body needs two types of iron– heme and non-heme iron. The best sources of heme iron are red meat, organ meat, shellfish, and canned sardines. The best dietary sources of non-heme iron include legumes, seeds, and dark, leafy greens. Supplementing with iron capsules is only necessary if you are chronically low, otherwise it can be harmful if you are taking too much. Vitamin C can assist in absorbing iron, so it may be ideal to eat the iron-rich foods listed above with vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, for example.
Iodine deficiency can lead to impaired thyroid function and hormonal disorders. An enlarged thyroid gland is a common symptom of an iodine deficiency. Great sources of iodine include seaweed, fish, dairy, eggs, and table salt with added iodine.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is a common deficiency in many people, especially during the winter months or if you live in a year-round cooler climate. 41.6% of the population has a vitamin D deficiency, with the highest rate seen in blacks (82.1%) and Hispanics (69.2%).
This can lead to muscle weakness, bone loss, soft bones, fatigue, a deficient immune system, and even an increase in cancer.
The best way to address a vitamin D deficiency is by getting more sun, especially in the morning. Bonus points if you get sun on your stomach, which is what stimulates your body to produce the most Vitamin D through yoru skin.
You can also get Vitamin D in your diet. The best sources of vitamin D are cod liver oil, fatty fish, and egg yolks. Taking a vitamin D supplement can also be helpful, especially when it is paired with vitamin K.
Vitamin D and Vitamin K together are crucial to the health of your bones. Suppose you have critically low Vitamin D throughout your adolescence, the 20s, and 30s. You will likely be at high risk for chronic bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis— especially if you are a woman or are in your 40s, 50s, or 60s.
Vitamin B Deficiency
There are a variety of B vitamins. The most common deficiency is a vitamin B12 deficiency, most common in vegetarians and vegans as animal products are high in B vitamins. Vitamin b deficiencies have been shown to correlate with increased cognitive decline as we age.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a variety of issues such as megaloblastic anemia, where your red blood cells are enlarged and impaired mental function, and high homocysteine levels. The best dietary sources of vitamin B12 include shellfish, organ meat, meat, eggs, and milk products. Vitamin B12 is often poorly absorbed as aging increases, so supplementing is a good idea, especially for vegetarians and vegans who are likely deficient.
Calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, fragile bones, and rickets. The best dietary sources of calcium include boned fish, dairy products, and dark, leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, bok choy, and broccoli. Calcium supplements may be helpful to those who are not getting enough in their diet, though there have been some studies that calcium supplements may increase your risk of heart disease.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency is often associated with skin disorders, suppressed immune function, and eye disorders such as blindness. The best dietary sources of vitamin A include organ meat, fish liver oil, sweet potatoes, carrots, and dark, leafy green vegetables.
Magnesium deficiencies have been proven to be co-factors in various adverse health symptoms, including heart palpitations, muscle cramps, fatigue, headaches, restless legs, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, or poor teeth structure. Magnesium deficiency can also cause digestive issues like constipation and acid reflux.
You can increase your magnesium through your diet sources by eating more whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate, and dark, leafy green vegetables is imperative.
Magnesium supplements like Calm are also commonly available at most health food stores.
How to test for vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Testing for micronutrient deficiencies will help you take control of your health. There’s lots of variability in testing results and room for interpretation of what are optimal levels. So choosing how you get your tests is essential.
Blood and urine tests are the best way to test for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Hair samples or other methods are not recommended to indicate your micronutrient status, as they are a less comprehensive view of your nutrient levels.
1. Getting Tests Through a functional medicine doctor or Naturopathic Doctor.
Getting your blood labs done through a functional or naturopathic doctor is usually the best to evaluate your nutrient levels comprehensively. These tests are standard for most functional and naturopathic doctors as a routine part of taking new patients.
A functional doctor will give you a very different perspective on your nutrient levels because they gauge your levels based on what is optimal.
The difference between a traditional primary care doctor and a functional medicine doctor is that a functional medicine doctor will get to the root cause of your deficiencies, rather than just throwing vitamins at you.
Holistic and functional medicine doctors offer various lab tests to test for specific vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. A functional doctor will take a holistic approach to your health and consider all lifestyle, environmental, physical, emotional, and spiritual factors when choosing the test for you. They will find the deficiencies and address them with the proper diet, supplements, and dosages for your body. A good functional medicine doctor can also help you heal any malabsorption issues, which are crucial to fixing the issue.
2. Getting Tests through your primary care doctor.
If you ask for a test, many primary care doctors will offer them. Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, magnesium, and calcium are standard tests in a blood nutrient testing setting. However, it is not as common to do a whole comprehensive panel in a conventional medical doctor setting.
Conventional doctors compare your results to a minimum or average standard of vitamins and minerals to prevent major diseases. This is not necessarily the best reflection of what is truly optimal for your body.
3. At-Home Testing.
Companies like EverlyWell and Routine offer at-home testing options.
At-home tests can be more convenient but are typically less accurate than what you’d get in a lab. They use small blood or urine samples rather than a full vial.
The bottom line
Getting your vitamins and minerals checked should be an essential and regular part of your health maintenance. Getting your levels checked every couple of years is recommended. If you want a more comprehensive view of your nutrient panel, try getting your tests through a functional or naturopathic doctor.
Addressing deficiencies is not always as simple as just taking a vitamin. Addressing deficiencies is managing all the factors that influence nutrient absorption, including your gut biome, core diet, and eating habits. This can take a significant time investment, but it will pay off long term in your pursuit of better health.