Common Nutritional Deficiencies and How Dietary Supplements Can Help Fill in the Gaps

Did you know that your body requires many different types of nutrients to work properly? While most adults in the United States can get enough nutrients through eating a well-balanced diet every day, some do not – which can negatively affect their health.

Nutrients – like vitamins and minerals – are required daily for many important processes in the body. Nutritional deficiencies, if left unmanaged, can lead to health issues such as digestive problems, heart disease, and brittle bones. While the best way to get nutrients is through the food you eat, dietary supplements are also another option to help fill in nutritional gaps.

What are some of the most common nutritional deficiencies?

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Some Americans do not get the daily recommended levels of all of the important nutrients they need from their diet. While signs and symptoms of a deficiency vary depending on the nutrient, mild deficiencies may not cause any signs or symptoms for months or even years.

Here is what you need to know about some of the most common nutritional deficiencies:

Vitamin D

About 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D, a nutrient that is important to the body’s immune system, ability to form strong bones, and maintain muscle performance. The amount of vitamin D you need each day depends on your age.

People become vitamin D deficient if they do not get enough of the nutrient through their diet by eating foods such as cheese, egg yolk, and mushrooms, exposure to sunlight, or if their kidneys or liver are not properly working. Taking certain medicines can also lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin K, which is found in broccoli, eggs, and green leafy vegetables, can help your body better absorb vitamin D.

Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Dark skin
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Obesity
  • Poor or restricted diet

People who have a vitamin D deficiency may experience:

  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression and other mood changes
  • Muscle weakness, aches, or cramps

Calcium

You may know that calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones. But your heart, muscles, and nerves also rely on calcium to work properly. The amount of calcium you need each day depends on your age.

People become calcium deficient if they do not get enough of the nutrient through the foods they eat – such as milk, cheese and other dairy foods. Old age, not getting enough vitamin D, and taking certain medicines can also impact your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Vitamin D and vitamin K can both help your body better absorb calcium.

Risk factors for calcium deficiency include:

  • Old age
  • High caffeine or alcohol consumption
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor or restricted diet
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Teens, especially teenage girls

People who have a calcium deficiency may experience:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Bone fractures
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers
  • Loss of height
  • Stooped posture

Iron

Each year, 2.8 million visits to doctor offices result in an iron deficiency anemia medical diagnosis. This type of diagnosis means a person does not have enough iron in their body, which helps to make red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. The amount of iron you need each day depends on your age, your sex, and whether you follow a mostly plant-based diet.

People can become iron deficient for a number of reasons, such as losing more blood cells and iron than your body can replace, not adequately absorbing iron, being pregnant, or not eating enough foods that contain the nutrient – such as red meat, seafood, and beans. Vitamin C, which is found in orange juice, broccoli, and grapefruit, can help your body better absorb iron.

Risk factors for iron deficiency include:

  • Being a female
  • Old age
  • Poor or restricted diet
  • Routinely donating blood
  • Cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, or heart failure

People who have an iron deficiency may experience:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Brittle nails
  • Shortness of breath or heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Swelling and soreness of the tongue

Should I take a dietary supplement if I have a nutritional deficiency?

If you think you have a nutritional deficiency, it is important to speak with a doctor or other healthcare professional. Most nutritional deficiencies can be identified through a simple blood test.

If you learn that you are deficient in a specific nutrient, you may need to eat more foods rich in that nutrient or take a dietary supplement. Make sure to follow the dosage recommendations printed on the label or suggested by your doctor.

Additionally, some Americans take multivitamin/mineral supplements to increase their nutrient intakes and help get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals when they cannot or do not meet these needs from the food they eat. Typically, when a nutrient gap exists in a generally healthy person, it represents a range of 20 to 40% of recommended levels and usually for only a handful of nutrients, including the nutrients highlighted above. It’s always best to try and eat a nutrient rich diet of fruits and vegetables as food choices are always a good way to make sure your nutrient requirements are met. When that’s not possible, look for a multivitamin/mineral supplement that provides 35-50% of the recommended daily amounts of most of the vitamins and minerals needed.

And remember, it’s always helpful to speak with a healthcare professional to help you figure out whether you should take a multivitamin/mineral supplement and, if so, which one is best for you.