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The body needs a range of essential nutrients to function optimally, and it can be difficult to know if you are getting all you need through your regular diet. Nutrient deficiencies are more common than one might think; not just in underdeveloped countries where famine prevails. In fact, many people in the Western world suffer from minor to major deficiencies, despite having access to an abundance of food and supplements.

The difference is that you have the privilege to do something about it before it becomes a serious problem.

So how do you recognize a nutrient deficiency? A nutrient deficiency affects bodily functions and processes at a deep cellular level; including water balance, enzyme function, nerve signaling, digestion, and metabolism. Not only can a deficiency impair basic physical function, but worse comes to worst, it can lead to various diseases. Below are some of the most common deficiencies along with symptoms and long term repercussions:Calcium What it Does:  Calcium is crucial not only for strong bones, but also for muscle control and nerve function.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Severely low calcium levels are characterized by fatigue, muscle cramps, poor appetite and abnormal heart rhythms. Deficiency may also manifest in a variety of other ways such as insomnia, inability to lose weight, tingling, tremors and poor memory.

Long term Repercussions: Long term, severe calcium deficiency can result in a disease called hypocalcemia. Hypocalcemia is very serious and can result in severe consequences such as osteoporosis, seizures and even heart failure.

Increase your intake: Good food sources of calcium are cheese, yogurt, milk or calcium-infused almond milk, dark leafy greens like spinach, and sardines.

Vitamin D What it Does: Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium, which in turn promotes bone growth. Vitamin D also blocks the release of parathyroid hormone, which reabsorbs bone tissue and causes it to become brittle and thin. Researchers speculate that Vitamin D also supports a number of other important bodily functions, such as muscle function and immune health.

Symptoms of Deficiency: It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of Vitamin D deficiency at first as they can be quite subtle. Symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches and general weakness can indicate a need for additional supplementation.

Long term Repercussions: The most prominent – and thus far established – consequence of long term Vitamin D deficiency is osteoporosis or bone deformation, although scientists are investigating its role in a number of other diseases such as breast and colon cancer.

Increase your intake: The easiest way to get more Vitamin D is to spend more time in the sun, but you can also get Vitamin D from foods like milk, yogurt and salmon.

Potassium What it Does: Potassium helps the kidneys, heart, and other organs function optimally, and assists the communication between muscles and nerves. It also helps move nutrients into the cells while transporting waste products out of the cells. A potassium rich diet can also help offset high sodium levels and their subsequent effect on blood pressure.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Common symptoms of potassium deficiency, (hypokalemia) include weight loss, constipation, nausea, cramping and muscle weakness.

Long term Repercussions: In more severe cases, hypokalemia can cause abnormal heart rhythm, which may lead to heart failure if left untreated. 

Increase your intake: Good sources of potassium include bananas, whole grains, milk, beans, peas, yams, spinach and a variety of other vegetables.

Iron What it Does: Iron assists your bodies effort to create red blood cells. When iron levels are low, it diminishes your body’s ability to carry oxygen.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Iron deficiency can cause low blood cell levels, which is called anemia. Symptoms include dizziness, lethargy, light headedness, malaise, brittle nails, hair loss, headache, irritability, restless legs syndrome, or shortness of breath.

Long term Repercussions: Anemia rarely causes long term, serious complications, but many people find that it greatly affects their life in a variety of ways. Some common complaints include extreme tiredness, frequent infections, and a fast heartbeat. More severely, anemia may lead to heart failure. Pregnant women often experience anemia, and in more severe cases this can lead to premature birth and low birth weight, among other issues. 

Increase your intake: Good food sources of iron include dark-green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals or bread, brown rice, pulses and beans, nuts and seeds, white and red meat, fish, tofu, eggs and dried fruit.

Vitamin B12 What it Does: Vitamin B12 aids DNA production as well as the making of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Vitamin B12 deficiency is increasingly common, with a rising number of vegans and people who have had gastric bypass surgery being especially vulnerable. Typical symptoms include numbness in the lower or upper extremities, walking and balance impairment, anemia, fatigue, general weakness, memory loss or paranoia, as well as inflamed and/or swollen tongue.

Long term Repercussions: Untreated Vitamin B12 deficiency can have serious long term consequences, including but not limited to; vascular disease, including stroke, myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, and deep vein thrombosis.

Increase your intake: To increase your intake of Vitamin B12, eat more fish, chicken, milk, and yogurt. If you are vegan, eat foods which have especially been fortified with B12; like non-dairy milk and certain meat substitutes.

Folic Acid What it Does: Folic Acid (also called Folate) is a crucial nutrient for women of childbearing age, which is why prenatal vitamins include a large dose of this vitamin. Folic Acid helps the nervous system function properly and works synergistically with Vitamin B12 to help create red blood cells and facilitate the work of iron in the body.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Symptoms of Folic Acid deficiency include fatigue, graying hair, mouth ulcers, and inflamed tongue.

Long term Repercussions: Folic Acid deficiency can decrease the total number of cells and large red blood cells, as well as cause poor fetus growth and neural tube defects during pregnancy.

Increase your intake: Foods that are rich in Folic Acid include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, lentils rice, and pasta. Pregnant women are usually recommended to take a prenatal supplement that includes the appropriate dose.

 Magnesium What it Does: Magnesium is important for bone health and energy production, but it also regulates hormones and blood sugar among other things.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Magnesium deficiency is often characterized by loss of appetite, nausea/vomiting, fatigue and general weakness.

Long term Repercussions: Serious Magnesium deficiency is quite uncommon in otherwise healthy people, although people who take certain medications or consume excessive amounts of alcohol may be at risk. Severe consequences include numbness, muscle cramps, seizures, abnormal heart rhythm and even personality changes.

Increase your intake: Good food sources of Magnesium include almonds, cashews, peanuts, spinach, black beans, and edamame beans.

If you suspect you may suffer from a nutrient deficiency, take a simple blood test to find out for certain. To avoid deficiencies in the first place, eat balanced diet and take a daily multi-vitamin to ensure that you get all the nutrition your body needs.

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