As cliché as it sounds, life is just really busy for everyone. To combat the never-ending feeling of not having enough hours in the day, we try to maximize our time and get the most out of each day, taking shortcuts wherever—and however—we can. Cooking wholesome and vitamin-rich meals can end up taking a back seat. Convenience is king, so with an increase in processed foods and on-the-go meals, vitamin deficiencies are something to be mindful of. "If your body is depleted of the proper nutritional foods it needs, it could drastically affect your physical and mental health in a myriad of ways,” says Dr. Carrie Lam, MD of Lam Coaching, based in California. "This is a state where the body is deprived of the optimum dose of nutrients it needs, but any illness has yet to arrive. Consider it a grey zone between wellness and sickness."
These deficiencies can be worsened by the demands placed on the body by stress, which actually can worsen the deficiencies themselves. It's a catch-22 of sorts. This is why mental health and wellness is just as important as your physical being. “When your body is experiencing prolonged stress and a never ending task list, it continues releasing adrenaline and cortisol hormones into your bloodstream to combat the stress,” explains Dr. Lam. “This can lead to a disruption of your NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response System that can lead your body to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. This can lead to a weakened immune system, weakness, headaches, reduced libido, unexplained hair loss, and so much more."
Essentially, due to excessive stress, your metabolic, hormonal, reproductive, digestive, and other bodily systems are not properly functioning. Eating a diet that’s bursting with vitamins and minerals from whole foods not only boosts your mood, but gives your body the vitality and stamina it needs to decrease your risk of countless health conditions down the road.
So how do you know if you’re low on essential vitamins and minerals? Well, the only way to really know is to get a blood panel, something that’s available to you by way of your primary care physician. Outside of that, listen to your body and stay mindful of any changes. Here’s a list of common symptoms that result from nutrient shortfalls.
A common and early sign of any vitamin deficiency is fatigue, but this is often brushed off and dismissed as a symptom of a busy lifestyle. Fatigue is also the first symptom of dehydration, so make sure you’re giving your body plenty of water. If the fatigue is unrelenting and you can't find relief after some decent nights of sleep, it’s a sign you may be deficient in a few nutrients. “Almost all nutrient shortfalls are tied to fatigue,” says Dr. Susan Mitmesser, VP of Science and Technology for nurish by Nature Made, “The nutrient shortfalls with the biggest impact are the cellular energy nutrients of iron, vitamin B12, and magnesium. It’s important to pay attention to symptoms that won’t go away.”
Iron plays a huge role in your overall well-being, especially for pregnant or menstruating women. “Iron is an essential component of red blood cells that carries oxygen to all the body’s tissues,” says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, member of Persona Nutrition’s medical advisory board. “Inadequate intake of iron deprives the muscles, organs, and brain of oxygen and may result in anemia, fatigue, weakness, and poor concentration.” The good news? This is an easy one you can check up on. During your next blood panel, make sure you ask your doctor for a Serum Ferritin test, which can detect iron deficiency before it develops into anemia.
General Aches and Pains
Muscle pain, which is often mistaken for a natural aging or even exercise-related symptom, is a sign of vitamin D and magnesium deficiencies. “Muscle stiffness, tightness, and cramping is often associated with low magnesium, while muscle weakness, muscle pain, and bone pain are associated with low levels of Vitamin D,” says Dr. Mitmesser. Both vitamin D and the mineral magnesium come in supplemental form by way of vitamins and tinctures.
Changes in Mood
Sure, everyone has a bad day every now and again, but it’s essential to get plenty of the key nutrients that support brain health and mental wellness. When you’re feeling like you’re in a funk, increase your omega-3 fatty acids. Critical for normal brain function and cell communication, they can be found in fatty fish (try salmon and sardines), and also in algae.
Changes in Hair Texture
A change in the quality and texture of your hair can be a sign you’re not getting enough folic acid, B12, B6, and/or iron. These nutrients help to support a healthy blood supply that carries oxygen to the hair and scalp. “Poor intake can lead to reduced or fragile red blood cells, which can suffocate the hair and scalp,” says Somer.
Changes in Eyesight
There are some vision issues that are signs your diet is low in vitamins C and E, as well as two compounds called lutein and zeaxanthin. “The lens of each eye filters ultraviolet light, a potent source of highly reactive compounds called free radicals,” says Somer. “Lutein and zeaxanthin act as internal sunglasses to shield deeper layers of the eyes from damage.” These two compounds are found in spinach, so eat up!
If you’re suffering from an atypical amount of bloody gums or aggressive gingivitis, you may need to increase your intake of Vitamin C. Dr. Gerry Curtola, DDS based in New York, suggests supplementing your diet with a minimum of 2000mg a day by eating foods like broccoli, cantelope, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, papaya, and strawberries.
Anyone familiar with the discomfort that is TMJ? The temporomandibular joint is the sliding hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull. Any jaw pain, clicking and locking, or difficulty chewing are all symptoms. Dr. Curtola suggests this could be a sign that you’re deficient in magnesium in addition to calcium. “Supplementing with magnesium malate is best,” he says. “I’ve seen positive effects with daily doses of up to 2,500mg.” Magnesium-rich foods include dark, leafy greens like baby spinach, collard greens, kale, or Swiss chard.
Prickling Sensation in Fingers or Toes
If prickling sensations are coupled with depression, weakness, or even fatigue, there’s a chance you might be deficient in the vitamin B12, affectionately known as the energy vitamin. It’s primarily found in meat, dairy and eggs, so those following a plant-based diet are more at risk for this type of deficiency. “A multivitamin and/or B complex that includes B12 is usually the first recommendation for correcting the deficiency,” advises Brittany Michels, MS RDN LDN and The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council Expert. “If absorption issues inhibit normalization of B12 levels, then B12 injections are required."
Dry Skin or Eyes
If you’re noticing that your skin is on the drier side, and you feel your eyes are dry and unable to produce tears, then beware of a vitamin A deficiency. “Difficulty seeing in dim light (also known as night blindness) is another issue,” says Dr. Peterson Pierre, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist based in California. He suggests adding meats, dairy, eggs, as well as red, yellow, orange, and green plant foods to your diet.
If you’re experiencing muscle cramps, along with fatigue or numbness and tingling in the arms, legs, feet, and around the mouth, you may need to up your intake of calcium. “Calcium is needed for muscle contraction, blood vessel function, and the secretion of hormones and enzymes,” says Dr. Michael A. Smith, Director of Education at Life Extension. “If you are low in calcium, it is recommended you take a daily allowance of 1000 mg if you’re under 50 and 1,200 mg if you’re over.” Be sure to take supplements along with vitamins D and K for better absorption and healthy distribution of calcium throughout the body.
If you find blood in your urine or stool, have heavy periods, bleeding gums, frequent bloody noses, or if you easily bruise, you may have a vitamin K deficiency. The best food sources for replenishment are green leafy vegetables, fish, liver, meat, and eggs.
Outside of increasing your whole foods intake and supplementing your diet with vitamins, make sure you’re getting a full blood panel checked annually. It’s your body, and you’re really the only one who can make sure it’s in optimal health.