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What is a Vitamin Deficiency?

There is a wide range of vitamins and minerals that the body needs in order to function well. Vitamins do a vast array of amazing things in the body. They are responsible for many of the functions that allow us to live; from metabolic processes that enable the body to get energy from food, to healing damaged tissue and growth of new tissue. They are necessary for the nervous system to function, sending messages to and from cells, glands, and organs. They keep our organs running, they ensure our skin is healthy and countless other essential things that we don’t even realize our bodies are doing. Our bodies are absolutely incredible, and how they work is so complex; vitamins are an essential part of that, and so ensuring we have enough of the key vitamins that are needed for health, is crucial.

Many of these vitamins are only needed in small amounts, some we need larger quantities of. We absorb vitamins through our food, and so the key to ensuring we have enough and aren’t at risk of a vitamin deficiency is to ensure a healthy diet. A diet incorporating nutritionally dense foods that will deliver the vitamins we need is one of the best things we can each do for our health on a daily basis.

Vitamins and You

There are 13 essential vitamins, and different vitamin deficiencies will affect the body differently. However, many of the physical symptoms could point to more than one vitamin deficiency. The following information is designed as a guide for information only. It is extremely important to seek medical advice from a professional if you are feeling unwell, experiencing negative effects or have any reason to believe you may be lacking in a particular vitamin. A doctor can test you for vitamin deficiency and give you advice tailored to your unique requirements. To learn more about food, nutrition and stay up to date with guidance, check out the National Agricultural Library’s Dietary Guidance.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A is essential for many functions in the human body including skin health, vision, reproductive health and for the immune system. It is rare in the western world to be deficient in vitamin A, but some groups of people are more at risk, for example, pregnant women and children.

Symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency include;

  • Vision problems – dry eyes, the inability to produce tears and night blindness are characteristic of Vitamin A deficiencies. This can even lead to dying corneas and blindness.
  • Poor growth and healing – stunted growth in children, slow healing, or failure to heal.
  • Skin problems – skin problems including inflammation and dry conditions such as eczema, as well as acne.
  • Reproductive and fertility issues – difficulty getting pregnant, miscarriage and birth defects.
  • Frequent infections – especially throat and respiratory infections.

B Vitamin Deficiencies

The B vitamins are a group of related but separate vitamins with different functions. Many of the symptoms of B vitamin deficiencies are similar but each has different effects on the body.

Symptoms of Vitamin B deficiency include;

  • B1 – tiredness, irritability, poor appetite, nausea, and vomiting are some general signs of vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, but more specific symptoms such as muscle weakness, blurred vision, tingling in the limbs and even reduced reflexes can occur.
  • B2 – tiredness, weakness, mood changes, skin problems especially around the mouth, cracked lips, sore throat and anaemia are all signs of Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency, although this is rare to occur alone without other vitamin deficiencies.
  • B3 – although extremely rare in the western world, deficiencies of vitamin B3 can cause fatigue, nausea, depression, vomiting and diarrhoea as well as an usual scaly skin rash that is reactive to sunlight and mouth rash. Problems with memory, feelings of being disorientated and confused can also occur.
  • B5 – a person lacking in vitamin B5 may experience tiredness, depression, and irritability alongside insomnia. Stomach issues such as pain and vomiting may also occur, as may uncomfortably hot feet and a tendency toward respiratory infections.
  • B6 – not having sufficient vitamin B6 can result in skin rashes, and particularly in the mouth where cracked lips and a swollen, sore red tongue might occur. Tingling in the extremities, especially the feet can occur. The person is also likely to experience tiredness, depression, and mood changes. Seizures can also occur.
  • B7 – Some of the most common symptoms of B7 deficiencies include tiredness, lack of energy, depression, poor appetite, and nausea. Other, more specific, symptoms include dermatitis, skin rash and facial redness, conjunctivitis, hair loss, hallucination, and issues with movement (ataxia).
  • B12/ folate – symptoms of B12 deficiency include anaemia, fatigue, mood changes, tingling of the skin, depression, and irritability. Problems in the mouth include ulcers and a painful red tongue. The skin may take on a yellowish color and the vision may also be affected. Some people will experience changes in how they move, and behavioral changes affecting how they think and feel. Memory loss and confusion may also occur.
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Vitamin C Deficiency

Vitamin C is important for immunity and healthy skin, hair and nails, but it also plays many other roles in essential bodily functions, including iron absorption and calcium stores.

Symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency include;

  • Iron-deficiency Anemia – Those lacking in vitamin C are often lacking in iron, this is because the body requires vitamin C in order to absorb iron.
  • Skin problems – the roughness of skin, ‘chicken skin’ texture and redness around the air follicles resulting in a ‘pinprick’ rash or simply dry, damaged skin.
  • Hair issues – ‘twisty’ shaped hair, hair loss
  • Unusual nail growth – ‘spoon-shaped’ nails, with lines, bumps or marks are a common sign of vitamin C deficiencies.
  • Bruising – those lacking in vitamin C tend to bruise more easily.
  • Poor Immunity – Vitamin C is important for immunity, so those with a deficiency may become more susceptible to illness and disease. It also takes longer to heal and regenerate when the body is lacking in essential Vitamin C.
  • Joint pain – pain in the joints and stiffness can be a result of connective tissue problems.
  • Weak bones – bines that break more easily can be a result of low levels of vitamin C.
  • Gum disease – gums that are sore or swollen, bleeding gums and even tooth loss can occur.

Vitamin D Deficiency

We get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. People are more likely to experience vitamin D deficiency if they live far from the equator, spend little time outdoors, wear sunscreen all the time or have darker skin.

Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include;

  • Tiredness, fatigue and apathy – feeling extremely tired or reluctant to do things is one sign of vitamin D deficiency but can also be caused by many other causes.
  • Chronic pain – muscle pain appears to be a sign of Vitamin D deficiency, as this vitamin plays an important role in nerve cells and pain receptors.
  • Depression – this is especially telling when the sufferer experiences worse depression in the winter months when they have less exposure to the sunlight that prompts the body to produce vitamin D.
  • Poor immunity – getting ill often, being susceptible to infection and being slow to recover are common symptoms of low vitamin D levels.
  • Slow healing – slow recovery from illness, slow wound healing and poor tissue regeneration may be signs of low vitamin D levels.
  • Bone pain/bone loss – the body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, and so lacking vitamin D may cause problems with the bones.
  • Hair loss – thinning hair and hair that falls out easily are common signs that a person is lacking in a vitamin or mineral. Vitamin D deficiencies can be a common cause of thinning hair, notably in women.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is important for hair, skin and nails, but it is also crucial for the immune system to function healthily, as well as for the vision and nervous system.

Symptoms of Vitamin E deficiency include;

  • Poor Immunity – Low levels of vitamin E can leave a person more susceptible to illness and disease, resulting in frequent infections.
  • Weakness and tiredness – As with many vitamin deficiencies, a common sign that the level of vitamin E might be low.
  • Muscle pain – Aches, pains and muscle stiffness can accompany this vitamin deficiency.
  • Movement problems – Difficulty with movement, changes to movement patterns and becoming more uncoordinated or clumsy can be unusual signs that point to vitamin deficiency. This can also be accompanied by a sense of disorientation.
  • Disturbed Vision – poor vision, or vision that deteriorates more quickly over time, can point to a vitamin deficiency.
  • Change of Limb Sensation – tingling, numbness or unusual sensations in the limbs – known as peripheral neuropathy – can result from problems in nerve receptors, and this can be caused by low levels of vitamin E.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a very important vitamin, and while deficiencies are not common, they can be very dangerous. This is because of the role vitamin K plays in the blood.

Symptoms of Vitamin K deficiency include;

  • Bleeding – Excessive bleeding is the main symptom of a vitamin K deficiency. Bleeding may be internal, external from a wound or cut or it may mean heavy menstrual periods for women. Nosebleeds may occur, or there may be bleeding in the urine or stool.
  • Bruising – Those who are lacking in vitamin K may bruise easily or experience unexplained bruising
  • Dark Stool – this may happen as a result of internal bleeding.
Diagnosing a Vitamin Deficiency

Having a deficiency in a particular vitamin will not often give all of the symptoms listed here, and there may be other symptoms that can occur which have not been included in this list. This guidance is designed to give information only. In order to get personal medical advice on your vitamin levels and any potential deficiencies, it is important you see a medical professional. For more info on nutrition, check out the governmental advice at Nutrition.gov.