If you frequently experience bouts of fatigue, pain, anxiety, brain fog, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, hair loss, or infections, you are not alone. Many of my clients come to me with these symptoms looking for answers they struggle to obtain elsewhere. As a holistic nutritionist, one of the first things I assess with my new clients is potential nutrient deficiencies. Because all too often, unexplained symptoms like the ones above result from insufficient intakes of essential vitamins and minerals. So, let’s break down the six most common nutrient deficiencies I see in my practice and how to overcome them.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is among the most common nutrient deficiencies in our modern age. From spending more time indoors away from sunlight to not getting enough through our diets, it’s no wonder Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise. This fat-soluble vitamin plays a vital role in promoting calcium absorption in the intestines, while simultaneously maintaining adequate serum calcium and phosphorous levels to aid in bone mineralization. Without adequate vitamin D, bones can become brittle, leading to conditions such as rickets in children and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D also has potent anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Most healthcare professionals believe a vitamin D level of 50 ng/L is sufficient, but from my own experience with my clients, 60-80 ng/L is the optimal level for disease prevention. Along with getting 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day, I recommend either consuming vitamin D-rich foods such as mushroom and fortified plant milk or taking a vitamin D3 + K2 supplement to meet your daily needs.
As the most abundant mineral in the human body, calcium is involved in a number of processes, including bone formation, muscle function, blood vessel contraction, nerve transmission, and hormone secretion. To carry out these functions, men and women need 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium each day. However, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report that many individuals in the U.S. fall short of the recommended intake. Therefore, it has been labeled a nutrient of public health concern. If you’ve ever flipped over a food package to read the Nutrition Facts, you will find calcium listed at the bottom to raise awareness of underconsumption. Symptoms of calcium inadequacy mirror those of vitamin D deficiency, and include reduced bone strength and osteoporosis. To avoid low levels, it’s important to eat a variety of foods that contain high amounts of calcium, such as tofu, tahini, leafy greens, and fortified plant milks.
Iron is a mineral that is essential for physical growth, cellular function, neurological development, muscle metabolism, and even the synthesis of certain hormones. But it is primarily involved in the production of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. When iron stores become depleted, your tissues and muscles no longer receive sufficient amounts of oxygen-rich blood. Therefore, iron deficiency anemia develops. As a result, I’ve seen many of my clients experience symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, hair loss, and frequent infections. If you suspect that you have iron deficiency anemia, ask your doctor to order blood tests to check your complete blood count (CBC), iron, hemoglobin, and ferritin levels—which is a measure of your body’s iron stores. To improve your iron levels, it is recommended that men consume 8 mg and women 18 mg per day from iron-rich foods such as beans, peas, pumpkin seeds, tofu, and spinach paired with vitamin C, for optimal absorption. For example, you could eat a spinach salad with citrus vinaigrette for an ideal combination of iron and vitamin C.
4. Vitamin B12
Similar to iron deficiency, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can also affect the health of your red blood cells—resulting in anemia. Left untreated, low B12 levels can even impair normal brain and nerve function. Unfortunately, vitamin B12 deficiency is common among older adults who don’t have enough hydrochloric acid to absorb B12 and in those who lack a protein called intrinsic factor that aids in B12 uptake. In addition, improperly planned vegan and vegetarian diets may lead to vitamin B12 deficiency. Common symptoms include feeling tired, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, tingling in the hands or feet, weight loss, and infertility. Therefore, it’s important for adults to consume at least 2.4 mcg each day. Although animal foods are the predominant source of B12, you can obtain enough B12 through supplementation or by regularly consuming dairy alternatives or nutritional yeast fortified with this essential vitamin.
Selenium is a lesser-known mineral that is critical for reproduction, DNA synthesis, immune support, protection from oxidative damage, and thyroid hormone metabolism. In fact, people who don’t get enough selenium in their diets may develop thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism, Hashimoto thyroiditis, and Graves’ disease. Selenium deficiency can also lead to the development of a type of heart disease called Keshan disease, as well as male infertility. That is why both men and women are advised to consume at least 55 mcg daily. My absolute favorite source of selenium is Brazil nuts—which contain a whopping 96 mcg in just one nut. Other sources include oatmeal, whole wheat bread, lentils, and brown rice.
Magnesium is an incredible mineral that is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body. It’s needed for muscle and nerve function, protein synthesis, blood sugar regulation, DNA synthesis, and blood pressure control. Even your body’s most powerful antioxidant, glutathione, requires magnesium for its production. However, most individuals are not getting the recommended 400 mg of magnesium per day. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include leg cramps, insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure, and fatigue. There are many reasons why magnesium intake has declined. But one of the main reasons is that magnesium is depleted in the soil, resulting in lower crop concentrations. However, this doesn’t mean our food is completely devoid of magnesium. You can still acquire the magnesium you need by eating a wide variety of plant foods, such as pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, soy milk, spinach, and black beans. If you do choose to supplement, I recommend starting with 100 mg of magnesium glycinate and gradually increasing your intake to 300-400 mg per day (though be sure to confirm with your healthcare practitioner first).
With all potential nutrient deficiencies, it is important to test and not guess. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above, seek professional care, and get routine lab tests done. After all, you deserve to get to the bottom of your health issues, so that you can feel your absolute best. For a more individualized approach and tailored supplement recommendations for the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies, consider booking a one-on-one consultation with me here.