We all have own eating habits and it’s not easy to know exactly what’s going into our bodies or the effects it will have on our health, well-being and mood. This can potentially lead to a deficiency, even with good intentions. The reasons for this are restrictions that include the tools to monitor, the time to study every food and the knowledge of your individual and ideal nutrient requirement. When these deficiencies are aggregated over a long period of time, they become more apparent and the negative impact on our health emphasised. This is why it’s important for us to know what to look out for and how to make small changes in what we eat to get the necessary nutrition that we need.
As always you should vary the foods (and colours of food) that you consume so you’re getting a balance of nutrients, and only consume in moderation. If you have any dietary requirements or medical conditions you should seek advice from your doctor/physician. If you suspect you are deficient, your doctor should give you a blood test to help identify any problems.
Please note that in this article we are focusing on deficiencies, but over-consuming vitamins can also have just as severe negative effects on the body, which is why a balance is always advised.
Here’s a list of the most common vitamin deficiencies, the signs of a deficiency, the long term effects, how to introduce the vitamins into your diet and the benefits of doing so.
1. Vitamin A
Benefits – maintains eye and skin health, reproductive health, the immune system and bone growth. It also supports cell growth, playing a critical role in the normal formation and maintenance of the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs.
Deficiency signs – having persistent skin conditions such as acne; dry, scaly skin and hair, throat infections and mouth ulcers and in extreme cases struggling to see at night or in low light ‘night blindness’,
Possible long term effects – blindness, higher maternal mortality rate for pregnant women, increased susceptibility and severity from infections.
Foods high in vitamin A – beef liver, spinach, kale, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkins, apricots, papaya and peach. Generally fruits and vegetables are good sources.
2. Vitamin B12
Benefits – aids the production of DNA, red cells and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Deficiency signs – numbness in the legs, hands or feet; problems with walking or balance; fatigue; weakness; swollen, inflamed tongue; memory loss; paranoia; and hallucinations.
Possible long term effects – anaemia, loss of touch, dementia, anxiety, depression.
Foods high in vitamin B12 – meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, yoghurt or foods fortified with B12.
3. Vitamin D
According to research, vitamin D deficiency affects more than 50% of the world’s population.
Benefits – helps regulate calcium and phosphate levels to maximise the development of bones and teeth, it also helps with the maintenance of teeth and bone health.
Deficiency signs – fatigue, muscle aches, bone and joint pain, weakness, low mood and gut trouble.
Possible long term effects – softening of the bones, stunted or defective bone growth, depression.
Foods high in vitamin D – beef liver, cheese, oily fish, eggs, foods fortified with vitamin D.
4. Vitamin E
Benefits – it’s key for healthy skin and eyes; bolsters the immune system to protect against toxins and cell damage; helps to build strong healthy muscles. Studies have also indicated it can help with cataracts, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but as yet have been inconclusive.
Deficiency signs – leg cramps, slow healing of tissues, muscle weakness, dry hair, decrease in sex drive.
Possible long term effects – anaemia, reproductive disorders, loss of hair, cataracts, neurological damage, gastrointestinal diseases.
Foods high in vitamin E – almonds, sunflower seeds, tofu, spinach, hazelnuts, olive oil, broccoli and shellfish.
The world health organisation estimate that over 30% of the world’s population suffers from anaemia which is caused by an iron deficiency.
Benefits – increases the production and effectiveness of red blood cells which transport oxygen around the body.
Deficiency signs – fatigue, pale skin, dull and thin hair.
Possible long term effects – anaemia.
Foods high in iron – beef, other red meats, eggs, beans, oysters, lentils, spinach and iron-fortified products such as cereal.
Benefits – maintaining healthy bones and teeth; helps the heart, nerves and muscles function properly.
Deficiency signs – fatigue, muscle cramps and poor appetite.
Possible long term effects – reduced bone mass leading to the weakening of bones, osteoporosis, convulsions, abnormal heart rhythms and in the most extreme cases death.
Foods high in calcium – milk, yoghurt, cheese, dark leafy greens. There are also calcium fortified products that you can buy.
Benefits – it’s primary function is to help build muscles by synthesising proteins, it controls the electrical activity of the heart and keeps essential body fluids such as the water and acid balanced in cells. It assists in the function of kidneys, heart and other vital body organs. This results in a reduced risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure, maintains both muscle mass and bone density.
Deficiency signs – muscle weakness, weight loss, dry skin, constipation, nausea, vomiting.
Possible long term effects – high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, paralysis, abnormal heart rhythms.
Foods high in potassium – bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocado, mushrooms, whole grains, yoghurt, tomatoes, beans and peas.
Benefits – supports bone and teeth health, vital in energy production. Activates muscles and nerves, regulates temperature and detoxifies the body.
Deficiency signs – loss of appetite, headaches, nausea, vomiting, cramping, constipation, fatigue and weakness.
Possible long term effects – type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, personality changes, asthma and colon cancer.
Foods high in magnesium – black beans, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, edamame, spinach, dark chocolate and seeds.
Benefits – helps create red blood cells, production of DNA, brain development and nerve system function.
Deficiency signs – fatigue, grey hair, mouth ulcers, poor growth and a swollen tongue.
Possible long term effects – reduction in total number of cells including large red blood cells and neural tube defects in an unborn child. Birth defects, anaemia and growth problems.
Foods high in folate – beans, lentils, pork, poultry, shellfish, leafy greens, citrus fruits and fortified cereals.
Benefits – supports healthy functioning of the thyroid; normal growth and development; maintaining energy levels; healthy hair, teeth and nails.
Deficiency signs – abnormal weight gain, constipation, fatigue, poor perception levels, coarse skin.
Possible long term effects – depression, reduction in mental capacity.
Foods high in iodine – seaweed, fish, shellfish.