20 Surprising Signs You Have a Vitamin Deficiency
Find out which vitamin deficiency symptoms you should be on the lookout for.
Nutrition deficiencies are alarmingly common, even in developed countries like the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 10.5 percent of the U.S. population has a vitamin B6 deficiency; 8.1 percent has a vitamin D deficiency; 6 percent has a vitamin C deficiency; and less than 1 percent has a vitamin A deficiency. So how are you supposed to know whether you're lacking in essential nutrients? Well, in addition to getting your levels checked every year at the doctor's office, you can familiarize yourself with these surprising signs of vitamin deficiency.
Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms
Vitamin A deficiencies often manifest in the eyes. And this makes sense, since beta carotene—a precursor to vitamin A—is often recommended for optimal eye health.
"Vitamin A is crucial for eye health," explains functional medicine physician Yeral Patel, MD. So what sorts of eye symptoms should you be looking out for? Well, Patel notes that "vitamin A deficiency is often found in those who suffer from dry eye." One 2013 paper published in the Community Eye Health Journal similarly notes that severe vitamin A deficiency often presents as dryness of the conjunctiva, otherwise known as xerophthalmia.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness among adolescents, particularly in developing countries. They estimate that up to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children lose their sight annually.
And it's not just the youth who are at risk. The organization also notes that pregnant women, particularly those without access to health care, are equally vulnerable to this deficiency in the third trimester.
If you get diagnosed with anemia—or a red blood cell deficiency—and you're not sure what the root cause is, you should consider getting your vitamin A levels checked. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements notes that "people with vitamin A deficiency … tend to have low iron status, which can lead to anemia."
However, if you discover that a deficiency is the cause of your anemia, there are ways to get better. One 2013 meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrients concluded that vitamin A supplements can both prevent iron deficiency anemia and reverse it.
Vitamin B Deficiency Symptoms
According to nutritionist Lisa Richards, author of The Candida Diet, an interesting sign of B12 deficiency is "mouth ulcers." The vitamin B-mouth ulcer connection was proven in 2009, when physicians at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev gave subjects a nightly dose of vitamin B12 and found that it prevented canker sores.
According to Richards, many patients with a B12 deficiency also experience dizziness. That's because, as with a vitamin A deficiency, having a vitamin B deficiency can lead to anemia, which reduces the number of healthy red blood cells in the body and disrupts the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Does your heart sometimes feel like it's about to burst out of your chest? Well, according to WebMD, anemia brought on by a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause this symptom. If left untreated, anemia can lead to some serious complications, so make sure to stay on top of your vitamin B intake.
It's not only vitamin B12 you need to stay on top of: A lack of B2, also known as riboflavin, can manifest in surprising ways, too. "Deficiency [in vitamin B2] can cause inflammation of the skin," says Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at MemorialCare Medical Group in California. If you are on an extreme diet or have a digestive issue like celiac disease, then pay extra close attention to this subtle symptom.
Vitamin C Deficiency Symptoms
"Too little vitamin C will increase signs of aging such as wrinkles," explains certified nutritionist Ann Ramark. That's because vitamin C regulates the production of collagen, the protein responsible for your skin's elasticity and youthfulness, she explains.
So what can you do if your vitamin C levels are low? Ramark says that "just by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, you could see a dramatic effect on your skin."
Broken Blood Vessels on the Skin
A vitamin C deficiency doesn't just impact your skin by making wrinkles more visible. According to physician Greg Burrell, co-founder of Carbon Health, this issue can also lead to "broken blood vessels on the skin."
If you think you have a vitamin C deficiency causing skin issues, there is hope. When treated, "symptoms resolve fairly quickly," Burrell says. "The severe symptoms can resolve within a day or two, [and] the others within a few weeks."
It's entirely possible that your vitamin C deficiency symptoms are hiding in your mouth. According to dentist Daniel Balaze of Balaze & Gregg Dentistry, this type of vitamin deficiency often manifests in the mouth "in the form of red, swollen, and irritated gums." If your gums feel especially sensitive and you aren't sure why, talk to your primary care provider about the possibility of a vitamin C deficiency.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
"A deficiency in vitamin D has been associated with many changes in sleep such as fewer sleeping hours and sleep that is less restful and restorative," says Burrell. "It has also been linked with increased inflammation of the nose and tonsils, which can lead to sleep apnea and disturbed sleep." One 2018 meta-analysis of nine studies published in the journal Nutrients concluded that people with a vitamin D deficiency have a 50 percent increased risk of sleep disorders.
"One surprising sign of a vitamin D deficiency is hair loss," says Richards. That's because, as a 2019 study published in Dermatology and Therapy explains, this nutrient is involved in the synthesis of keratin, the protein that makes up hair.
Unfortunately for people with a vitamin D deficiency, the nutrient plays a role in mental health as well as physical health. If you have a vitamin D deficiency, "something you may notice is a change in your overall mood—feeling down and tired, or even experiencing signs of depression," notes nutritionist Robert Thomas, co-founder of men's health website Sextopedia.
The link between your mood and your vitamin D levels exists thanks to serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone. As one 2015 study published in The FASEB Journal notes, vitamin D helps maintain adequate serotonin levels in the brain.
If you find that it's taking your body a long time to heal wounds and other skin injuries, that could be another surprising symptom of vitamin D deficiency. "Vitamin D is involved in many body processes, and when your body is injured, higher amounts of this vitamin are needed for proper recovery," says Thomas. "Vitamin D affects and regulates cell growth—so therefore, sufficient levels of the vitamin are crucial for forming new skin."
Vitamin E Deficiency Symptoms
Though vitamin E deficiencies are uncommon, they are sometimes seen in people with cystic fibrosis or celiac disease, says Arthur. And if you're worried you might have one, she says a common symptom to watch out for is "balance problems." In short: If you're falling more frequently and you know you are at risk for vitamin E deficiency, it may be time to get your levels checked.
Nerve pain, which the Cleveland Clinic describes as feeling "more like burning, stabbing, or shooting pain," can be caused by a vitamin E deficiency. A pivotal 1999 case study published in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation describes a vitamin E-deficient patient who, after nine months of being treated with vitamin E, was able to overcome his nerve pain and reduced motor function.
Vitamin E plays a huge role in the maintenance of your muscles. One 2013 study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that subjects who took 400 IU daily of vitamin E saw reduced muscle damage.
And yet, what most people don't realize is that muscle pain and soreness can be a symptom of a vitamin E deficiency. Of course, feeling sore after a workout isn't a cause for concern, but if your muscles are weak and achy, and you're relatively inactive, take note.
Vitamin K Deficiency Symptoms
As the NIH explains, vitamin K is a vital part of hemostasis, or blood clotting. People with absorption issues like cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and short bowel syndrome should pay extra close attention to how they clot, as they are at an increased risk of vitamin K deficiency.
Do you bruise like a peach? If so, you should consider getting some bloodwork done. Arthur says that "easy bruising" is one of the surprising signs of a vitamin K deficiency.
Blood in the Stool
Spotting blood in your bowel movements is almost always a cause for concern. And according to Arthur, this phenomenon can be a symptom of a vitamin K deficiency. No matter what, bloody stools are worth getting checked out by a medical professional.